Why Being a Manager Might Not Work for Creative People

Don't just take a promotion to manager because it's "the next step," take it because you want to. Not all creatives are meant to be managers - here's why.

In most jobs, the only way to feel like you’re growing is to get a promotion (and of course, more money). Oftentimes, employees end up taking any promotion or manager position that comes their way because it seems to embody the essence of moving forward, regardless of whether the “upgraded” role is applicable to their long-term goals.

However, if you are in a creative profession, chances are you’ve grown up saying, “I just want to make stuff,” which makes the infrastructure of most organizations incredibly stifling when it comes to creative growth.

Unlike a conventional advertising agency, where the ultimate promotion to creative director still has you engaged in creative production, many creatives in digital media are getting pushed up while also being pulled away from what they wanted to do in the first place — make cool things and tell great stories.

In my last organization, I watched endless numbers of creatives accept promotions as managers because that was the only viable next step that would allot them more money and a higher title. Unfortunately, many soon realized that they:

  1. Never aspired to manage others
  2. Did not embody leadership skills or experience to be accountable for someone else’s career growth
  3. Were not socially comfortable engaging with others on a consistent basis
  4. Preferred to be individual contributors who were left alone to create and produce work
  5. Had no other options for growth

To my dismay, I watched a trickle-down effect where newly minted creative managers were frustrated by their lack of creative production and confused at what they were meant to provide to their direct reports. This resulted in their direct reports feeling paralyzed in their own growth, unclear as to whether they were meant to seek power or production.

Worse, when these creative managers eventually wanted to move on to other companies, they ended up taking managerial roles or higher titles because of the promise of more money (even though they still lacked managerial skills), setting them up for a path that they never chose and a focus on power over passion.

More than ever, there is a need for companies with creative teams/talent to provide alternative options for growth in the creative realm where creatives can feel like they are financially growing as individual contributors without the stress of title-seeking in order to get to the next rung on the ladder. And those who genuinely seek a managerial skill set should have the opportunity to do so, and to learn how to properly manage others.

As a creative, should manager be your next step? See what’s possible where you work in terms of being able to amass more responsibility within your role (and therefore increasing your pay) without taking yourself away from the work itself. When it comes to being a creative thinker, I think we can all agree that our minds live not in black and white but in shades of gray.

Annie is a Creative Circle candidate and freelance creative strategist/copywriter working and living in Los Angeles. She knows digital media as well as she knows her own horoscope (she’s a Virgo), having worked at the likes of BuzzFeed and Mashable. She has created branded content strategies for the top Fortune 500 brands, which means she knows the true meaning of “going native.” If you want to work with Annie, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.