Managing Your Way Out Of The Wet Paper Bag

Dave Gray of Communication Nation has some excellent advise for transitioning from a worker who does to a worker who directs. In advertising, going from senior art director or senior copywriter to creative director is one such switch.

Do any of these things sound familiar?
1) You do work that your employees should be doing because “It’s easier to do it myself than hand it off”?
2) You work long hours, getting in early and staying late
3) Your team lacks morale, or seems stressed out most of the time, or both!
You may be suffering from the craftsman-to-manager paradox. Here’s how it works:
If you are a craftsman, you were probably promoted because you are highly productive. Most likely you are productive for a few reasons:
You manage your time effectively
You require minimal supervision
You are reliable
You take pride in a job well done
Here’s the paradox: You meet the above criteria because you are a self-reliant perfectionist: your philosophy might be summarized as “Do it right the first time” and “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”
As you move into management, the very things that made you effective as a craftsman are now deadly threats to your success as a manager. Your independence and self-reliance, which was an asset, is now a liability.
As a manager you need to change your focus, from being productive to making other people productive, which requires a wholly new set of skills.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I think that’s why you see so many creatives starting agencies. They miss the original reason why they got in the business. I would love to see an agency challenge the experiment of removing the creative director position and have seniors go back and forth as managers and craftsmen/women. They don’t lose that passion. They don’t get sucked into babysitting whiny juniors. They have a hands-on approach that could prove to be highly effective.

  2. I’m not sure starting an agency buys one more time to create, although it certainly seems that way from the outside looking in.
    I like Bob Barries’s position. He’s an art director by choice, when he could have chosen to be an ECD at any hot shop, anywhere.
    Ernie Schenck writing in CA says:
    As Bob Barrie says, “I’ve been fortunate to land at a place that doesn’t punish me politically or financially for wanting to remain an art director, and I believe that is rare.”