Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Shut Up and Listen (And Other Advice for First-Time Leaders)

by Scott McDowell


Unless you’re a solo freelancer, chances are you will eventually be thrust into a leadership position. As creatives, we must embrace this challenge and not shy away from it, as a fear of being a leader can subconsciously hold us back from advancing in our career.

Being entrusted with a leadership role in your workplace requires a shift in mindset. Leaders cannot afford to compartmentalize like the worker. They must simultaneously juggle the long- and short-term while inspiring those around them to do great work.

But being a great leader is hard, and great leadership is hard to understand. “Leadership” is a term that’s been abused. Everybody wants it, no one’s quite sure what it means. As a new leader, first try to adopt three specific (often counterintuitive) mindsets of good leadership:

  1. You may think you have to have all the ideas yourself and a direction worked out before assuming a leadership role. Fear not, you just have to shepherd the ideas to life. Instead, you must be a steward of people and ideas. Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to you.
  2. Some people think leadership is a matter of consenting, as in politics, of choosing the lesser of two evils. But leadership is not all tact. Instead, have a point of view (or better yet, a worldview) and don’t be afraid to say it aloud, repeatedly. Say what’s in your heart. People are attracted to this quality. To paraphrase Steve Jobs: if you don’t have a burning desire to execute an idea or solve a problem, you’ll never stick it out.
  3. To become a leader you don’t have to excel at just one thing. Instead, put yourself in uncomfortable situations as often as possible. Stretch your parameters. This develops the improv muscle. A good leader can find comfort and calm — the still point — in any situation, and this skill only comes from taking smart risks. [Read More]