From leadership hacks to time management tips: Management Today’s Q&A with Maria Constantinou

11 July 2024From leadership hacks to time management tips: Management Today’s Q&A with Maria Constantinou

Our Creative Director, Maria Constantinou, was recently named as one of Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 – an accolade that serves to acknowledge trailblazing young women who are pioneers in their respective fields.

Management Today interviewed Maria in June 2024, covering everything from leadership approaches to the best time management hacks. You can read more about why Maria was nominated here, but today we’ll be taking a deep dive into Maria’s top tips for budding designers and managers.

Management Today's 35 Under 35 Award trophy

Describe the challenges you think the next generation of leaders will face. Which qualities will a great leader of the future need to have? Have these changed?

In an era where mental health issues are more prevalent than ever before, where social and workplace pressures are unprecedented, and where AI is evolving at a rapid rate, the biggest challenge that I think today’s leaders face is retaining the personal touch.

Decades ago, a good leader primarily needed to be an effective delegator and organiser. Nowadays, however, leaders must be empathetic and make a concerted effort to understand their employees, supporting them both emotionally and professionally.

While these efforts may seem excessive compared to the approaches of previous leaders, maintaining this personal touch leads to much better results in the long run. Embracing a human-centred approach allows companies to stay focused on individuals and better understand who their staff and clients truly are, what they care about, and what motivates them.

What one or two things should leaders be getting on with now to future-proof their business?

Leaders need to be agile and receptive to change, embracing new innovations rather than moving towards them with caution. New technologies and design approaches are emerging all the time, and the difference between a forward-thinking designer and one that is set in their ways is whether or not they decide to learn more about these new approaches or shun them until they are forced to embrace them.

This is particularly relevant considering the recent advancements in AI. While reducing cynicism towards new AI technology is important, AI should be used as a tool, not a solution. It should be engineered into business models to enable firms to outperform the competition, but it shouldn’t replace real human connection and creativity.

Do you prefer in-office or remote working?

While I acknowledge the benefits of remote working when it comes to talent recruitment and flexibility, I will always advocate for in-office working. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been struggling with something and I’ve asked everyone in the office about it and we’ve collectively been able to resolve the problem.

Office work boosts camaraderie, encourages collaboration, and offers opportunities for learning. I’ve learned so much about other aspects of the business simply by working in the same room as team members who are working in different roles.

On a personal level, I think it’s really important to maintain a clear distinction between home life and work life. Having a physical distance between the place in which I work and the place in which I relax really helps me to switch off after a busy week.

Krantz designer Maria overseeing production of a bespoke kitchen at the Krantz Designs workshop.

Do you think the world of work will be a more equitable place in the future? (If no, why? If yes, how did businesses get there?)

At Krantz Designs, we go to great lengths to cultivate a collaborative environment, ensuring every employee feels comfortable contributing ideas, regardless of their area of expertise. We’ve created ‘cell groups’ within our workshop, with ‘cell leaders’ who are responsible for gathering insights and reporting back to team leaders. These systems allow staff to put forward ideas that pertain to any area of the business, not just their specific role.

As the company has grown, we initially faced challenges as an all-female design team. However, as Krantz Designs’ reputation has developed, so too has our team’s credibility. As more and more female designers have become renowned within the industry over the past decade, we’ve seen a real shift in how our designers have been treated, both by industry peers, suppliers, and clients. This has been incredibly validating and promising, and we’re looking forward to seeing this progression continue over the upcoming years. Awards like this help to encourage these positive ideological shifts.

What do leaders waste a lot of time doing that they probably shouldn’t?

One of the first things I had to learn to do when I became a leader was delegate tasks. I spent so long alone in my office working on various admin tasks. I knew I was taking on other people’s tasks and my time could have been much better spent talking to my team and addressing their concerns.

A good leader doesn’t sit at a desk all day and stare at a screen. They motivate, inspire, and empower others. By making a distinct effort to delegate jobs, I ensure I spend as much time away from my desk as possible so that I can better serve my team.

What’s been the biggest challenge in your rise to the top – and how did you overcome it?

When I initially became a manager, I was young, inexperienced, and slightly out of my depth. I had minimal experience in the industry, and I had no experience whatsoever in managing a team. The reception I received in my new role was characterised by this, and I became increasingly focused on what people thought of me as a result.

As the years went on, I educated myself on effective leadership techniques and I gained more and more experience in my industry. I learned how to spin many plates while remaining calm and collected, and I learned how to become an all-rounder in multiple different areas of the business. This learning curve has been pivotal to my success, and I can now look back in retrospect and feel glad that I was thrown in at the deep end at the start of my journey!

Jamie and Maria discussing a new Krantz Designs project.

What is your biggest leadership lesson?

Always lead with the ‘why’, rather than the ‘what’. Teams produce better results when they have an end goal in mind and a clear vision of what success looks like.

For Krantz Designs, success in a project is a flawless design, bespoke to the client and finished to the highest quality standard. The end goal is a satisfied customer who loves their new space. Everyone in the design team and the workshop completes their work with this goal in mind, meaning that even tasks like sanding cabinetry or calling a customer are framed as part of a much bigger picture.

What’s your best time management hack?

I use the weekends to reset, but I set aside one hour every Sunday evening to prepare a clear task flow for the week ahead. I make sure I consider other team members’ task flows as well when I’m blocking out my time. Inevitably, things crop up and plans change, but having an initial schedule that allows for some flexibility is far better than starting the week disorganised.

I also try to make the most of the time I spend travelling. I’ll do my admin work on planes and will take calls in the car. I find voice notes, video communications, and phone calls are much faster, clearer, and more personal than emails, so I begin each journey with a list of people I need to reach out to while I’m on my way to my destination.

How do you manage stress? 

I respect my own personal time and I ensure I take care of myself with good food, exercise, and sleep. In the past, I used to succumb to stress quite easily. Whenever that happened, it was easy to let my personal wellbeing take a back seat while I focused on the task at hand.

Now, my personal time is always a priority. By giving myself time and space to take care of myself, I’m able to better fuel my mind and my body, allowing me to more effectively manage my team.

What’s your go-to leadership book, podcast or social media account?

Damien Hughes’ High Performance Podcast was my go-to when I first started working at Krantz Designs. I’ve also watched all of Steven Bartlett’s ‘16 Steps to Start and Scale a Business’ videos on BBC Maestro. I made so many notes while listening to Hughes and Bartlett when I was starting out, and the lessons I learned back then continue to impact how I manage my teams today.

More recently, I’ve been reading Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’, which perfectly articulates my approach to leadership. This book really encouraged me to take a closer look at how I present the end goal – the ‘why’ – to the Krantz team and to our clientele.

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