Design Leadership
July 10, 2022

Making vs. managing

I'm a maker.

In my previous life, I made logos, brochures and business cards. Then, in 2003, I started working on the web—adding websites to my repertoire. Eventually, I switched over to UX, and started making wireframes, user flows, and all the other artifacts that UX professionals use to get their work done. While making things also involved a certain amount of leadership, I was still a maker first and foremost.

Somewhat recently, I became a manager. At first, I was a manager who still had to make things. I designed several sections of our corporate website, and oversaw the execution of those designs. I did user research as part of my job. It was stressful, but it was comfortable. After all, I still got to make things.

And then the team grew. Suddenly, I needed to spend my time having conversations, hiring, developing my team, and clearing the path so they could focus on making things. If I made anything at all, it was a PowerPoint presentation, or a decision.

It's really quite frustrating.

When you're a maker, the things you make are visible. You can see them, maybe even touch them. Your achievements, such as they are, belong to you. When you're a manager, you have to get used to your achievements being the result of other people. Your job is to get things done through those people. That requires a different set of skills. Relationship building, conversation, influence vs. persuasion. Hell, you can't even boss people around the way you thought you would be able to when you became "the boss."

Recently, I've started thinking of myself more as a facilitator, or the conductor of the orchestra. My job is to understand the thing we're trying to do, the vision we're trying to bring into the world. From there, it's getting each member of the team to understand their piece of music, when to come in, when to go louder or softer, etc. It becomes less about what I make, and more about what the team gets to make. Which is much more interesting and impactful than the things I can make by myself.

So now, if I'm feeling the urge to make, I remind myself that as a manager, my job is to help our team and stakeholders make the right things, and clear the path for them to do their best work. That's a valuable thing. And then I grab some yarn and start knitting.

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