This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.
"At present, the world seems complicated and mysterious to you, but if you change, the world will appear more simple. The issue is not about how the world is, but about how you are."
From "The Courage to Be Disliked" by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga [Book]
One of the things on my mind lately has been what it will be like to lead, what I call, a team of teams as CXO. Instead of just the Creative team, I'll manage Creative Marketing Services (CMS). CMS is a group of discipline teams.
As Creative Director, my team consisted of nine employees (including one manager) who focused on design and brand. We established rituals together like daily stands-ups to review the day's tasks and weekly meetings to explore topics and learn together. It felt like a team, in every sense of the word.
With the structure of CMS, it seemed impossible to believe that I could achieve a similar team sentiment across many teams. I concluded that I'd need to change my leadership approach to be effective.
The more that I thought about this "team of teams" concept, the more complicated it became in my mind. At a certain point, it was hard to think straight about the next steps. Last week, I finally sat down to explore it "on paper." Using Figma, I began to visualize the evolving CMS org structure.
As I outlined the team's hierarchy, I came to a comforting realization: what I am trying to accomplish is not unique. I am a different leader than I was last year, or the year before, or the year before that. Growth has been gradual, learning from every success and failure. Why was I looking to turn a switch to unlock growth? I took a deep breath and remembered the advice I gave to a Twitter acquaintance earlier this month. He was soliciting lessons learned before his wedding. I said:
"... one thing I'll say is not to let marriage change what's working so well today. Enjoy the new energy in the air and keep on keeping on."
Dana and I dated for seven years before we were married. It was clear that something was working (or else, we wouldn't have tied the knot). Marriage represented new opportunities (buying a home, having children, so on), but that didn't mean that our relationship needed to change. We knew it would develop as our lives unfolded together, but we weren't about to force changes and risk losing what we had built.
It may have been marriage advice, but the underlying theme was universal. Like marriage, becoming CXO, and building CMS are milestones to celebrate. They are signs of progress. In truth, what I want is to bring what I've learned about building teams thus far to CMS and continue to strengthen it. If I went down the path believing that my experience wouldn't apply, then it wouldn't.
The questions I needed to ask were, what is the future I want to create? Where are the gaps? Not, what do I need to change to live in this new reality? With the right mindset, patience, and focus, progress would come as it has before.
As I put the final touches on the CMS structure diagram draft, what seemed complex was now simple. CMS may be a "team of teams," but it's still a team. Within that team is a group of managers. These managers are my team, no different than the Creative team once was. My vision is that these managers feel a sense of belonging while simultaneously leading teams of their own.
With this new outlook forming, I was anxious to take it for a test drive, so I shared it with Peter, CEO, and Christine, Design Director. I even tried it out this morning with a new manager who will be joining CMS. Talking it through with these folks helped bring further clarity and made the vision that much more inspiring. Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot to learn and achieve, but this week has been a pleasant reminder to keep it simple, enjoy the new energy in the air and keep on keeping on.
Lesson? When you're doing good work, you will produce results. When these results lead to new opportunities, it's a sign that your approach is working, not a reason to force change. Continue what's working, learn from what's not, and get back to work.
Where am I letting my achievements throw me off track?