(originally posted february 10, 2013)
that’s the term used in the book In-House Design in Practice for the person who believes in your practice, craft, or what you can bring to the table. i read this book shortly after it was published and was impressed by the advice and examples inside. my first read of the book was after leaving my first in-house team to take a more senior position with another in-house group. at that time, i thought it was sound advice and sought to work with my boss to dissect the ideas and see what we could implement. we had good discussions, disagreements, frustrations, and implemented a variety of tactics to find our angel.
since then, i’ve moved into managing and directing creatives. i’ve recommended the book to colleagues and shared it with designers on my team. managing from the middle gives me a new perspective on this idea, as i now have a direct connection to those who could be our angel. i see now that it takes a particular moment/person/idea/group of leaders/dialogue/something for this angel to be created.
this is really not an idea particular to designers, but to anyone at any level of an organization. a person advances in their career because someone takes notice and believes in them. this is the case for the accountant, housekeeping crew, architect, administrative assistant, associate director, even the cfo, coo, or ceo. whether it’s with our current employer or moving to another, someone chooses to believe we can do the job or offer something to the team and allows us the opportunity. and it can just as easily disappear. as leadership changes, so does the opportunity for the angels. so where does that take us?
becoming a director, i realized i am the angel for my in-house team, the angel for the freelance partners i bring in, the angel for my colleagues in other departments of the museum, but was always looking for my boss or other senior staff to be my angel. i realize now this idea goes both ways. i am also the angel for my boss, for her partners, and for her team; for the ideas of our company, for our CEO, our strategic plan, and for our mission. and i like this term “angel”. not for any religious reasons, but for one of it’s meanings and how it differs from another term used for a similar idea, “champion.”
angel: a person of exemplary conduct or virtue
champion: a person who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else
noticing my frustration during a particular trying time, a friend of mine (one of my current angel’s) loaned me a book Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high which has had a solid impact on my belief in angels. champions are great, and there are times to “fight or argue” but more often, in the politics of our relationships, it is “exemplary conduct or virtue” that can make an impact. creating a shared pool of meaning, an area of comfortable dialogue, and a field of trust so teams are making decisions as a unit creates more investment in the outcome; that is what an angel can bring to the table. i’ve spent too much time trying to champion ideas. it’s time to focus on the angels.