“Instead of telling my team members how, exactly, to change their artwork, I’ve learned that it’s better to ask questions about how they believe they can improve their work.”
firstname.lastname@example.org was Michael Kovach’s e-mail address when he applied for work at VMBC in 2010. “It worked,” he says. The catchy address (and the substantial resume that came with it) helped VMBC CEO Jesse Crowe spot Michael’s talent from the start, and when the job interview went well, Jesse brought him on as a Project Manager.
Michael’s first task: building the company’s website. Instead of reaching outside the company for a web designer, VMBC President Joe Cox suggested Michael try to design the website himself.
But although Joe saw his capabilities and believed in him, Michael’s own self-doubt stopped him. “I wasn’t confident I could do it,” he says. “I’d never designed a website before. So I hired someone else to do it.”
Years later, when the website needed an overhaul, Michael would have a second chance at the same task. This time, Michael took it. “Jesse saw that I was inclined to it, and he gave me a chance to fail, multiple times, so that I could build my confidence and be where I am today.” Under Michael’s direction and creativity, the new and improved website was launched in April 2015.
Reflecting back, Michael says, “Jesse and Joe always knew I had the ability—I just didn’t have the confidence in myself. And he’s reminded me of that since,” he laughs, “many times.”
With encouragement from team members and increased self-confidence, Michael has continued to grow at VMBC, both in skill set and leadership opportunities. Through supportive guidance from Jesse and mentorship from Joe, Michael grew from his Project Manager position to VMBC’s Creative Manager, leading a band of artists to deliver innovative designs for mobile apps.
But Michael’s growth from Project Manager to Creative Manager didn’t come without natural growing pains. It took time for him to acclimate into the managerial role and become the kind of supportive leader Jesse and Joe had been for him. At first he subscribed to a more traditional management style, focused on “I’s”—“I need,” “I don’t like,” etc. “I’m very detail oriented,” he says, “right down to the pixel, and I used to hold other creative team members to my standard. That’s not the right thing to do. As an artist and a creative, having your work corrected doesn’t inspire you to improve it.”
When Michael realized his leadership methods were not as sharp as they could be, he devised an improvement plan with Joe’s help.
“It’s only been about six to eight months since I’ve incorporated my more collaborative leadership style,” he says, but already, Michael’s conscious leadership approach has dramatically improved the team’s collaboration and performance. “Instead of telling my team members how, exactly, to change their artwork, I’ve learned that it’s better to ask questions about how they believe they can improve their work.” With this space and freedom to play, his team members come back with even more attractive and intuitive apps. It’s because of this insight and vision that just this past April Michael was promoted to Sr. Manager of UX & Creative Design.
“I’ve learned that the more questions I can ask to elevate and inspire them, the better work I get back,” he says. “Every product that my team has produced is better when it’s a team effort, and when we use questions instead of commands to revise first drafts.”
Now Michael takes the support model he learned from his mentors and passes it on to his team. “Every Friday, the creative team gathers to review progress from the past week, collaborating on what we could do better and what we want to do next. I close the week by thanking them for their accomplishments and congratulating them on their work. I try to send them off into the weekend in a happy mood.”
As for Michael’s inspiration, “I’m inspired by everyday life. When I’m on Pinterest, when I’m gardening, when I’m cooking . . .” The list is never-ending, because Michael doesn’t have an on/off creative switch. “I’ll be looking at a PowerPoint slide and see a rectangle, which inspires me to draw a series of diamonds, which then carries over into my work. And on and on…” he trails off.
email@example.com was Michael’s creative plea for a chance to work with a company that he felt was a good fit. But he found something much bigger than a job. “I tell my friends all the time that I found my career. I don’t have just a job, I have a family.”
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