One of the things I enjoy as a manager is learning from the people I work for, my staff. Servant Leadership is a whole other post. What I mean is I approach every relationship from the point of view of information sharing to make the business better. That said I have to do my part, bring something to the table to share. The only way I could do that as a Photo manager, was to keep my skills sharp. Reading articles practicing tutorials and staying up on the latest innovations of our creative craft.
One of the things I believe made me a credible manager in their eyes was that throughout my career I had done every job I asked of them. I knew what it was to freeze your butt off on stake out. I knew how hard it was to carry a ton of expensive gear and keep it safe in the most precarious of situations. I knew how frustrating it was to have done all of this and not get one image into the paper or online. I honestly felt their pain, for lack of a better Clintonian phrase.
So at 33 years old when I took the helm of the department, there was a certain amount of trust given and respect earned, from my earlier years in the business. My new task was to keep that respect in my new role. As a personal goal, I committed to learning each skill, even if only in a rudimentary fashion, that I asked my staff to learn. Often I allowed them to learn and then teach me. This step down from the lectern to put on my student cap accomplished two things. First, it made me understand their work style better. Secondly, it gave them more casual access to me as a person not a manager.
The conversations we had during these sessions were priceless. They were able to share inefficiencies with me in a way that was not seen as complaining. Slow computers, designers wanting images to be resized for every possible use in the future and unsearchable archive databases that crashed on deadline were all revealed to me in these personable interactions. In return, I offered software tips and shortcuts, best practices and support. I also, most importantly, took notes on their frustrations that I actually investigated, followed up on and in many cases fixed. Sometimes finding a way to buy a faster computer, with no capital budget requests being accepted, can change an employees’ whole outlook toward their work and the company. My advice is to step away from the desk from time to time, go learn from your staff and keep your ears open when you do.