Micro-managing boss or just a regular Creative Director?

Despite now working from home, I feel completely suffocated in my current role! I am a Senior designer and have been working in Graphic and Web design for 18 years. My current boss is a designer as well and I am the only other designer he employs. There are other employees, but in different aspects of the business. I am almost five years in this role.

I am rarely allowed to meet directly with clients and if I do, my boss must be present. He will often contradict me if I speak in these meetings, so I have learned to shut-up and only speak when asked something. This probably just leads to the clients not heeding what I have to say anyways. All new design proofs must be reviewed by him before going to the client. He will often ask me just to make the PDF and he will correspond directly with the client himself. It’s like he has no trust in me…

I’m a good designer and I have not made any major mess-ups in time working in this company. However, my confidence is completely shot. When starting any project, it is dictated completely by what I think he wants, rather than using my own creativity or taking into account what the client needs. He gives long rambling briefs and when I carry out any very specific brief he gives to me, he will often just scrap it, in the same way a client does. Is this just standard behaviour for Creative Directors? or is my boss indeed a micro-manager?

I am grateful to have my job as so many people have lost theirs in the current pandemic, but I am so sick of this man. I have so little creative freedom and my frustration levels are through the roof.

Well, is he a good designer?

Sounds like a micro-manager and he’s probably taking credit for your work.

Whether or not your boss is a micro-manager, it sounds to me like you should be plotting your next move for the sake of your health and sanity. This might not be the best time, as you alluded to, with Covid going on; but you can at least start scouting for potential employers, brushing up your resume, getting a portfolio ready, maybe let a few trusted contacts know you’re going to be looking for a new job, etc.

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Let me take an alternative point of view. As a creative director and your boss, quite rightly he’ll be taking all credits; also quite rightly he’ll be shouldering all the blames. Thus he cannot afford to deviate from his laid-out plans. Now, does he, as a rule, veto all your suggestions and proposals? Has there been any exchange of ideas?

I see two possibilities:

  1. He is a brilliant designer. Everything he touches turns to gold. That’s why he insists every step must be strictly adhered to.

  2. He is a raving paranoid. He looks at you as someone to erode his power base. No, you must not be given an opportunity to strive.

If it were the former, I suggest you observe and learn, and try to be his confidant. It’ll only work for you eventually. If it were the second case, Steve_O just gave you the right solution.

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No, it’s not the way most creative directors behave. It’s the way the insecure, substandard, micromanaging ones behave that inadvertently make everyone miserable and ensure the work never rises above being mediocre. Getting the best work out of anyone means giving people ownership of their projects and the latitude to make decisions, take chances and get credit for their work.

Yes. From my experience, these people get promoted based on their ability to manipulate situations, and fool their superiors into thinking they’re doing a good job. A good boss won’t be fooled, but there are lots of less-than-good bosses who are subject to flattery or who really don’t know much about creative fields and how to manage creatives. The fact that their creative director and his or her team never quite manages to produce the kind of stellar work it might produce under different creative leadership is largely lost on them. The more insecure these kinds of creative directors are, they more prone they become to not letting go of anything and enforcing a system that places them at the center of every decision.

You’re lucky to have a job and a paycheck right now — despite the working conditions. Get your portfolio in order and start looking for another job. The person you’re working for now is unlikely to change. Even though there might not be many open jobs available (and many dozens of applicants for those that do open up), just the fact that you’re looking will help separate you from the toxic situation you’re in. What seems certain is that you can’t stay where you’re at forever or it will begin to take a toll on your abilities and your mental health.

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Thanks for the replies. He is a good designer no doubt, I don’t deny that, but so am I. I’m not sure if he takes credit for my work, as I don’t get to present any concept or design work initially. I am allowed only to deal with the client on proofs that follow the first ‘concept’ draft. I guess this is an indirect way of taking credit for the work. I’m not sure…

I know I should be more grateful to have a job right now, but I’m very frustrated. I have heard him mention before about a former employee trying to steal clients for his own freelancing, which may be a reason for his micro-managing now. I didn’t ask anything more about it, as it’s none of my business and I certainly would not attempt to pull off such a move.

I have prepared my portfolio and CV and have applied for a couple positions, but no luck yet.

Effinuck, get ready to skate out of there when the opportunity arises. As Steve_O said, you should search for alternatives and even though the current climate is not looking good, keep pursuing a better position. I’ve been there myself. When your boss gives you the vibe that you’re just his lackey, your future with his company is probably not a rosy one.

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