Let’s talk promotions. While you may be a great press operator, salesperson, artist, or another type of staff member, moving into a leadership position within an apparel decorating company is going to give you a new set of challenges.

This article serves as a basic starting point for you to develop a strategy and style to succeed in your new role. Keep in mind and develop 10 basic things:

  1. Clarity of expectations
  2. Performance
  3. Measuring
  4. Communication
  5. Delegation
  6. Accountability
  7. What’s next?
  8. Problem solving
  9. Situational awareness
  10. Preparation

Clarity of Expectations

This should be your North Star in how you operate. It is true for your boss or owner, and for your crew. You both need to know what is expected of you and have the ability to communicate to your team the expectations you have for them.

You want absolute transparency and clarity at all times. There should be outlined objectives and goals that you are responsible for delivering. If you don’t know, ask. Have discussions where you don’t pull any punches.

What does success look like? How can you describe failure? Your task is to achieve one and eliminate the other. If you don’t have that clearly delineated objectively, then delivering on that will be impossible.

This is where the term Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) comes into play. What is important? These metrics should be outlined and tools developed to measure them. As they say, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” so start with objectively determining progress in some way.


As a manager, you are responsible for the performance of your team. When they win, you win. When they lose, you lose. Your main daily focus should be on helping your team elevate their performance. What’s broken? Do they need training? What can be improved?

Start with simply observing your team at work. What is inefficient? Are they waiting on something? Where do mistakes happen? Could someone use some training or maybe just a hand?

In your pocket is an amazing tool: your cell phone. Document the work with video and picture images. Talk to your team and ask them, “What do you need to be able to do your job better?” Start making small, positive habit-forming changes. See if you can make your crew at least 1% better every day.


Data collection helps you monitor what is actually happening. Start timing and measuring the most important facets of what you supervise. How long does something take to do? What is the average per hour or minute? When you start gathering data, you may start to notice patterns. Things might look weird or stick out. This is what you start to investigate.

If something improves, how can you build on that momentum or keep it going? Maybe something is failing or below a standard that is set. What is causing that? Measuring the work that your team produces allows you to build a speedometer to help gauge how to effectively manage their effort.


How you communicate matters. As a manager, your words have weight and gravitas.

Master the art of active listening. Before you respond to what is being said, be fully present and aware of other factors, such as body language, tone of voice, and emphasized details.

Always have a pen and piece of paper on you to take notes. Write down what people say. Repeat it back to them, so they can see that you clearly understand what was said. Then respond with your answer.

If you are stuck trying to deal with a situation or troublesome employee, one phrase that has worked well is, “Help me understand.” This is a magic phrase that unlocks better communication as it doesn’t pull up the self-defense walls:

  • “Help me understand why that order didn’t ship.”
  • “Help me understand why there were so many misprints.”


Let’s face it, you can’t be in two places at the same time. Or three. Or four. The only way to achieve more in the same amount of time is to delegate tasks to other people. This is an art, and there are a few things you need to know.

First, is the person capable of doing the work? If they don’t know how or don’t have time, then the assignment won’t be delivered on time.

Next, do they have the right tools, equipment, or any other thing they need to be able to accomplish the task? If they have everything, then delegating that task to them should be acceptable.

When you delegate something to someone, make sure they clearly understand what success looks like. What are they supposed to do? How long should it take? Is there a deadline? Are other people involved, and what is expected of them? Review the details and have the person articulate that they understand all facets of the task. Then, let them go to work.

You might check in with them. But if you have trained them well, and they understand what to do, then the task should go as planned. If there are any problems, be sure that they know to either resolve the situation themselves or come to you for guidance.


Think about accountability as the art of eliminating excuses. People that are accountable for their actions do what they say. “Inspiration” is for amateurs. Professionals show up and do the work.

As a leader, where do you fall on this topic? The more accountable you are for your actions and the actions of your team, the more trust you will develop. Consistency is the hallmark of a good leader. Ask yourself, “What would a professional do?”

What’s Next?

Your leadership brain needs to always be partly focused on the future. What is your team doing next? What about tomorrow? Or the next day?

Remember, your preparation determines the outcome. One of your jobs as a leader is to think ahead. What is right over there across the horizon? Is there a problem waiting to explode in your face? Can you find and resolve it before it becomes a disaster?

Are you teaching your team to think about what’s next? They should already know. If they have to come to you for the answer, you are not doing a good job with the clarity part of how you lead them.

Problem Solving

As long as there are businesses, there will be problems to solve. Now that you are in a leadership role, one of your duties is to proactively solve as many problems as you can. There are all kinds, and it is an endless stream.

When you put on your problem-solving detective hat, you might have to do some research. Get used to that. The answers are in the owner’s manuals, spec sheets, supplier websites, and of course, people. Ask more questions. Good leaders are constantly curious about how to do things better. Aspiration is dissatisfaction.

Situational Awareness

Managing sometimes feels like you are the ringmaster of a circus. While you were focusing on making sure the trapeze artists didn’t fall to the ground during their act, the clown car drove into a tent pole.

Keep your head on a swivel. Things are happening all around you, and if you aren’t careful, some clown is going to ruin your day. This is where the processes that you build kick in.

There should be a routine way of doing something. It is a habit built on quality. What is your shop’s “way” of handling something? Try to build your processes so that you are eliminating as many variables out of the equation as possible. This is documented. It is what and how you train your team.


Are you ready for what is about to happen? At the end of the day, are you completely staged and ready to go for tomorrow? If one of your staff members is sick or wants to go on vacation, is there a trained backup ready to go?

A 1,000-piece order that uses metallic gold ink just came in. Is someone checking the ink levels in inventory? Whose job is that? Does it happen automatically?


One of my favorite quotes that sums up management or leadership comes from the legendary football coach, Nick Saban of Alabama: “If you want to make everybody happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.”

As a manager, you are not going to make everybody happy all the time. You have to be able to say no. You may have to fire someone. Your employees’ safety and careers are in your hands.

It is a tremendous responsibility. However, if you accept the role as one that helps elevate people and their performance, with clarity, humility, and with evenness … you will do fine.