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10 Ways an Interior Designer can Improve their Leadership Skills

Sep 10, 2021
leadership tips for interior designers

In my early career years, I thought leadership was given when you had a title. My naïve, inexperienced younger self-thought I couldn’t be a leader unless I was given the title. Little did I know that leaders are not automatically developed when a title is given. Leadership is intentional. Good leadership improves employee performance, boosts morale, and increases revenue.

For someone new in leadership or even just needs to update their skills, it is essential to understand that leadership develops through hard work and growth. It is a commitment to others, and even yourself, to become a great leader.

I have met plenty of title-given managers and principals that were not good leaders. If you take a moment to think of a few leaders, you may sadly come up with more bad leaders than good ones. The good news is that one great leader outweighs all the bad ones.

Anyone can be a Leader.

I believe anyone can be a leader. A fourth-grader helping a second-grader find his way to a classroom or find his parent in a large crowd is a leader. A non-traditional student that shares her life experience and wisdom in a class with younger students is a leader. A staff interior designer can show leadership even without direct reports. A senior designer or principal should always be a leader.

A leader isn’t just a title; it is the dedication to helping others by sharing knowledge and encouragement. It is representing yourself and your company with confidence.

Being a leader is respecting other people’s opinions without jumping to a conclusion. It is giving someone the benefit of the doubt when you think you have been wronged. A leader leads through good times and bad. She often shows empathy and cares for others.

We can all be leaders. No title necessary. No one needs to give you permission. It isn’t something you are born with or without. No one is stopping any of us from being a good leader or even a better leader than we were yesterday.

A Lack of Leadership Hurts Business

In every industry, there are businesses known for toxicity. Unfortunately, the design community is not immune to toxic work environments. We all have heard of those firms that are considered bad places to work. Many of us may have worked in these poor environments. A bad working environment can destroy a person’s commitment, spirit, loyalty, and pride. It also has a direct impact on revenue.

Having a poor work environment will reduce the opportunity to attract and keep good designers. It will increase turnover and recruiting costs. It will also impact your clients. When employees aren’t engaged, your firm’s work suffers. It eventually causes you to lose business.

Clients want to work with solid firms that can meet deadlines, stay on budget, and provide the best service and product. You can’t do this without good leadership. As a leader, you know you can’t do it alone. You need people. The stronger team, the more your business grows.

10 Steps to Improve your Leadership Skills

1. Improve communication.

This is a big one. So many times, I have seen confusion from management when employee surveys come back stating communication is lacking. You may think you are communicating well, but the truth is, you can always communicate better.

If you stand in front of 10 people and read the same statement, do you think they will all receive the same information? The answer is no.

Check Out: "The Most Valuable Lesson I Learned About Leading a Creative Team"

To improve communications, you should repeat yourself often, keep your message consistent, and communicate through various channels.

We all learn and hear things differently. By repeating a consistent message through various channels, you are not only reaching the audience the best way for them, but you are also delivering the message multiple times so that people can remember.

2. Encourage education and provide training opportunities.

Another big one. To grow a strong team, you need to offer and encourage training. A college education is only the beginning. We learn and grow along every path we take.

Check Out: “Leadership: How to Actively Encourage Employees’ Professional Development” 

Start with talking to the employee to identify where they see themselves needing additional training. Many times, employees don’t know what they are missing. It is important as a leader to actively make suggestions and help guide them based on the needs within the firm and the employee’s abilities.

Finally, understand what training channel will work best for the employee. In some cases, it may be a senior designer taking a junior designer for a mentor lunch once a month. Of it may be a digital class or design conference.

Help your employee identify their needs, create a game plan, and make sure it is followed through.

3. Give the Power to Lead.

As I mentioned previously, leadership isn’t about titles or direct reports. We can all lead. Find your strengths, and don’t hesitate to share your knowledge. Encourage others to do the same.

This doesn’t mean you can be bossy. Leadership isn’t about being the boss. It is so much more. Encourage everyone to lead with pride. This will enhance the environment and build stronger bonds between team members.

4. Reward and Praise.

Whether we admit it or not, when we hear someone say, “you did a good job” or “wow, this looks great,” it makes us stand a little taller. A reward isn’t always about money, although the pay is essential no matter what anyone tells you. (A topic for another day) Rewarding someone is about making them feel good. You can do this in several ways.

It can be a lunch, words of affirmation, a couple of extra hours off on a Friday afternoon, or recognition in front of everyone. When people feel appreciated, they will work twice as hard.

5. Discourage Gossip.

Gossip is the root of all evil for a studio. It creates unnecessary stress and anxiety on employees and distracts employees from work. As a leader, you need to squash gossip. Don’t participate and as soon as you hear rumors, squash them by addressing the situation.

If your employees are worried that business is slow, address it. Tell them what you’re doing to increase business. Tell them how they can help. Employees want to be involved.

6. Reduce Me over You Mentality.

When an industry is hit really hard, like the design industry was devastated in the 2008 recession, I think it causes us to hold on tighter. Many designers were affected through layoffs or financial woes. We tend to reflect on avoiding negative situations in the future.

Many people deal with this fear of ending up in the same situation to close themselves off. If we work harder than anyone else, discredit others, and do not share our knowledge, we think we look like star employees. That is wrong in so many ways.

Leadership is about creating an environment of we are in this together, and we need to work together. This will improve employee engagement and retention.

7. Share Your Knowledge.

Don’t be afraid or hesitate to share your knowledge. Share the lessons you learned. Share how you failed. This can be difficult for many, as it makes us feel weak. But, the truth is that it makes us real. By sharing the misses, fails, and lessons, we are leading.

8. Know Your Team.

Take the time to know each team member. This isn’t a one-time thing. And, it isn’t something you do in one day. We are all swamped, and it can be hard to take a moment to really connect with people. When you take a few minutes to ask questions and get to know someone, it builds a connection.

9. Give Reviews.

Whether it is quarterly, bi-annual, or annually, people need to know what they are doing well and where they can improve. Employees can’t grow if they don’t know what areas need attention. It is entirely unfair to not offer constructive feedback and a roadmap on how to improve. It may seem tedious, but once you set up a consistent method of giving feedback, your employees will respond positively.

10. Walk the Walk.

Leadership starts with you. Even if you don’t have a staff, are not a manager or principal, you can still lead. We are all leaders. We can all learn to be stronger leaders.

Leaders are not born. Leaders are developed and nurtured. Make a commitment to yourself and others to continuously improve your leadership skills. Do not wait for others to give you a title. True leaders do not need a title.

Tags: Business Tips, Interior Design Business, Leadership, Professional Development, leading creative teams, how to be a leader, managing interior designers, managing tips for interior designers, interior design business, behind the design, business tips for interior designers, women in design, business of design

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