How the four agreements help me as a creative team manager

Laptop, cup of coffee, notebook and pen on old wooden table. Image via Adobe Stock.

I read the book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (not an affiliate link) many years ago when I first started teaching yoga. Written by Don Miguel Ruiz with Janet Mills, the short book lays out four simple-sounding codes of conduct for navigating the world on a personal level.

The agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

A teacher, mentor, and healer I was working with at the time told me a story of a friend of theirs who completely turned her life around by making a pact with herself to abide by the four agreements.

Intrigued, I read the book and started finding ways to implement the agreements.

In practice, I found them pretty easy to apply in my relationships, in my commitment to personal growth, and in my day-to-day career paths and side gigs, including freelance writing and editing, teaching yoga, and doing hair.

Continually returning to the four agreements helped me handle some difficult clients with ease and empathy, and helped me stay dedicated to my creative work.

It wasn’t until I took on some lead roles and eventually moved into management that I recognized how important the agreements are for those in leadership.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from applying them to managing writers.

Be impeccable with your word

As a manager of creative individuals, I’m responsible for my team’s creative quality, process, and project management.

I’m also responsible for helping the writers on my team grow along their career path, develop their own excellence in craft, and build strong partnerships throughout the company.

Being impeccable with my word in this regard means I stay on course with my mission and goals as a manager, that I don’t overpromise to my direct reports or to our partners, and that if I say I’m going to do something, I’ll do it.

By underscoring the value of integrity and reliability in a manager, this agreement holds me accountable for maintaining a zone of safety for my team’s creative growth.

Don’t take anything personally

Anyone who has ever worked with another person in a professional capacity knows that personalities and communication styles in the workplace can vary wildly.

The way one team communicates internally could be very different from how that team communicates with your own team. How one individual approaches giving or getting creative feedback might strike another individual as odd, confrontational, or wishy-washy.

Every person on the planet is different and operates from a unique point of view. It can be easy to forget that not everybody sees the world the same way we do.

Humans sometimes (or often) act from their own projections, through the frame of their own experience.

Someone I’m close with puts it this way: Everyone you meet is on their own trip.

Remembering that not everyone you meet will be operating from the same point of view or life experience can help open up communication to a more empathetic—and less personal—approach that benefits everyone.

Don’t make assumptions

You’ve likely heard the old joke about assumptions: when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.

Not making assumptions builds upon the previous agreement, when you remember that everybody is operating from a unique point of view and a unique life experience.

At work, making assumptions can have devastating implications for project development and creative direction.

This agreement has helped me to build clarifying questions, clarity-setting syncs, and other means of shared understanding into the day-to-day responsibilities for my team.

As one of my own managers told me once, Never be afraid to ask a “stupid” question, because if something’s not clear to you, it’s probably not clear to someone else in the room, too.

Being aware of the questions that come up around projects, process, creative output, career paths, relationships, or communication styles can help bring those unclear areas to light—and as a manager, you can guide the way by helping make sure there’s enough light for clear vision.

Always do your best

This one is possibly the most powerful in its simplicity.

Committing to always doing my best has meant different things to me at different points throughout my life. When I was younger, I often thought that doing my best meant doing more. But if the quality of that “more” wasn’t great, I’d feel disappointed.

It’s taken years of personal growth to recognize “best” in all of its many forms and permutations, and to recognize that it’s a constantly evolving state.

What’s “best” one day might be outrageously unattainable during a more difficult time. And what’s “best” during challenging times might be too low of a bar during easier times.

Life ebbs and flows, and “best” is never set in stone.

A straightforward way I’ve put this to use as a manager is by asking myself at the end of the day whether I did my best that day. The answer is always yes. But only when I put it in perspective.

Yes, I did my best today might mean I ran six meetings, coached two employees, created seven quarterly goals with a team of 20 people, finalized a blog post, and worked out at lunchtime.

Yes, I did my best today might mean I got out of bed, showered, and showed up. Or that I called in sick!

Yes, I did my best today might mean I got as far as writing a to-do list, but got distracted by a rainstorm and a leaky roof and a visit from the plumber and an emergency trip to the vet.

Perspective changes everything about how we define “best.”

With my team, I put this to use every day by remembering that everybody has lives outside of work, and everybody you meet is dealing with something you don’t know about. And while at work, project needs, company goals, and org structures can shift on a dime just like everything else.

The more we can remain flexible in our understanding of what’s “best” at any given time, the more we can build and maintain relationships with our teams that allow for growth.

Moving forward

As you move forward on your own career path, you might find these agreements benefit your own daily life. Have you read The Four Agreements, or do you plan to? What other books have helped you maintain a commitment to growth and integrity as a manager? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments. Thanks so much for reading!

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