What you were trained to do: wait for a good, generous, munificent, tasteful, smart boss or client to tell you what to do.
If that doesn’t happen, blame the system, blame the boss, blame the client. If the work is lousy, it’s the client’s fault. If the boss doesn’t see or understand your insight, that’s his fault. You are here to serve, and if they don’t get it, well, that’s too bad for all concerned.
What you might consider: Lead up. (Thanks to Pat Tierney for the phrase).
A great designer gets great clients because she deserves them. One of the ways that she became a great designer was by leading her clients to make good decisions, to have better taste, to understand her insight and have the guts to back it. That doesn’t happen randomly. It happens when someone leads up.
A successful middle manager gets promoted when she takes the right amount of initiative, defers the right amount of credit and orchestrates success. That success might happen despite (not because) of who her bosses are, and that’s just fine, because she’s leading up.
In many ways, we get the bosses and clients we deserve. If they’re holding you back, change them.
We have an astonishing amount of freedom at work. Not just the freedom to call meetings, make phone calls and pitch ideas, but yes, the freedom to quit, to find a new gig, to pick the clients we’re going to take on and to decide how we’re going to deal with a request from someone who seems to have far more power than we do. “Yes, sir” is one possible answer, but so is leading from below, creating a reputation and an environment where the people around you are transformed into the bosses you deserve.
When you do this with intention, it gets easier and easier. From afar, it seems impossible, and it will be until you commit to it.
Do it on purpose
Tell stories that resonate with those in charge
Demand responsibility, don’t worry about authority
Reflect credit, embrace blame
Earn the right by taking small steps
Convene, organize, learn, teach and lay the foundation
If they don’t get it, go somewhere that does [slash] hire better clients, regardless of the fee