Principles of Leadership

Managing People    Methods & Organization     Delivering Results

Managing People

It all starts with empathy

As designers, we understand that in order to make the best products, we need to have empathy for our user.

We need to understand their unique challenges, goals, and perceptions. The same principles can be applied to the people that we manage.

Really take the time to understand your individual team members.

What are their strengths and weaknesses?

What are the types of work they like and don’t like?

What are the challenges and learning opportunities they are facing?

Where do they want to go in their career?

When you understand others, you’ll be able to guide them to do their best work and have a career with purpose and direction.

These same principals can also be applied to the people we work with in other teams. Understanding the unique perceptions and challenges that other departments have will enable you to work better with them.

Create an environment of trust

Your team needs to feel they can talk with you and each other in a fair manner without being manipulated, punished or ignored.

They need to trust that you are looking out for them. They also need to feel that you trust them to do a great job. For example, you should manage, but not micromanage.

A relationship of trust also means that they can give you criticism about anything and that you won’t use that against them.

I’ve been able to make the most impactful change when my team is truthful about what’s not working as well as what is. Without that relationship of trust, your team may be secretly miserable and you won’t know it until people start to leave.

Craft a culture of accountability and empowerment

When people are empowered and accountable, they can drive change and solve hard problems. Teams unite to create progress and foster an environment where everyone is working to make things great.

On the flip side, when people feel that nothing they do changes anything and those around them are in “not my problem” mode, they can feel stuck, disempowered and unmotivated. This can quickly lead to your best talent leaving for a job where they feel they have worth.

By encouraging accountability, your team learns how to quickly solve their own problems. And going from a victim mentality to one of empowerment can do wonders. The key is to listen to your teams and support them in the change they want to make. Show them that they can make a difference.

People want to feel valued and recognized

When people are doing work that’s meaningful and they are recognized for it, they have a better sense of worth and are happier at their job.

Many times people don’t get recognition, only feedback. I don’t think this is intentional from the manager. Some people don’t understand the power of praise or realize that telling someone what they are doing right is just as important as letting them know what they are doing wrong.

As a manager, it’s important to show appreciation for the work the team does as well as celebrate the wins across the organization.

Share the impact of projects so that people can see the value they bring to the company and our users.

Spread the love and the great work the team does with others and help them shine.

We work better when we work together

A successful design culture doesn’t just include designers. Engineers, product, QA, research, and marketing all can collaborate and work together to create something amazing.

When we work well together, the results can be much more impactful than when we go alone.

Everyone at the same company is here for the same mission. The best way to achieve this is with collaboration.

No one is trying to be a jerk

Most of the time, when you have an argument or someone does something that you don’t like, they aren’t intentionally trying to screw you over personally.

Arguments usually come down to poor communication or different perceptions about the situation. By telling yourself that this person isn’t trying to attack you personally, you can start to see the situation objectively instead of subjectively. When you do this, you can more quickly find better outcomes and approaches that work for everyone.

Be a motivating force

Motivate your team to help them enjoy what they do, learn, and produce great work.

Discuss the corporate vision and get them excited to be a part of it. Give them regular updates about how things are going and show them that they are contributing to the success of the company. People want to feel like they are making an impact and doing worthwhile work. So make sure to recognize that, even if you’re busy. Demotivation quickly leads to an unengaged team member.

Never stop learning

I”m continuously learning about how to become better, in all aspects of my role. I encourage my team to do the same and provide them with the resources and training that they need; whether that’s going to a conference, presenting a workshop or building a library.


Innovate with Design Thinking

With ever-increasing competition, the best way for a company to gain an edge is to be innovative and make great products that their users love. The best way to do this is with user-centered design, also known as design thinking.

design thinking is a user first approach, which combines co-creation with empathy, innovation, and rapid testing. The result is a great product that truly serves the needs of the user, in the manner that works best for them.

The first step is to empathize with your user. Really understand them. What problem are they trying to solve? Why is it a problem? What have they tried? What does success look like?

After you understand the user, you can define the problem and ideate on ways to solve this. You’ll want to work collaboratively with your team and even your target user as you brainstorm, sketch and test ideas.

The next steps in design thinking is to quickly build/test/learn and repeat. Continue to craft with your team and your users in a fast and lightweight environment until you are confident that you have a good prototype that can solve the user’s problem.

Once you are confident that you’re prototype is the right one, refine it, test and tweak until you’ve got it.

This is design thinking in a nutshell. It’s a fantastic way to quickly solve problems for your users and create innovative products that deliver.

Evangelize design throughout your company

Just because you know how amazing good design is, doesn’t mean everyone else does. And even if the company values design, it’s always good to keep evangelizing it.

Spend the time to show other teams the impact of good design. It’s more than just pretty pixels, it is the key to innovation, better products, and better customer experiences.

Show the engineers why it matters to be pixel perfect and how a solid design system can help them work better and faster. If they’re interested, teach them the fundamentals of design thinking so that they can take part earlier in the product creation.

Show product how good design matters and creates great product. Experience matters to our users and they are more than just metrics.

Show marketing how design tells a wonderful story.

Let the c-staff know that good design isn’t just holistic hand wavy pretty things, but contributes directly and strongly to the company’s bottom line.

Put the great design and result on the walls so that everyone can see the impact that design is making at your company.

Strengthen (or define) ways to do great work

Whether you are doing design sprints, lean UX, design thinking or something else, have your whole team work in the manner that best fits the company they are in.

I’ve worked at startups that are so resource thin and strapped for time that a month long design process before we have prototypes is out of the question.

I’ve also been lucky enough to work for larger companies that have the time and resources to spend on the hard problems. Different approaches work best for different organizations. Find the one that works best for yours and rally the team behind it.

Culture comes from the top down

As leaders, we shape the environment and culture at the company we work for.

When people don’t make culture a factor, it can create a stressful and negative workplace. However, when we’re aware of the impact that our actions and values are creating, we can build a fun, collaborative and amazing environment to work in.

I’ve witnessed both extremes first hand, and can say 100% that culture is defined by leadership (whether they are conscious of this fact or not).


Set Clear Objectives and hold people to them

It’s important to clearly state the goals that you want your people to accomplish.

Don’t expect them to read your mind or assume they know what you are inferring.

Make sure everyone clearly understands the objective.

Address any questions they may have, and help people get aligned. When everyone is clear on the objectives, then there are less unpleasant surprises down the road.