It’s not about “having the answers”…

One thing I’ve quickly realized while leading design in a dynamic start-up context is that I need to let go of the pressure of being the “answer guy” with the “right” answer to every single question asked or issue raised…Indeed, I was hired for my range of expertise, both tactical execution and strategy insight…and also my ability to facilitate, educate, and evangelize, as someone leading teammates towards some positive outcome or decision-point. Accordingly, my value as a leader is being developed and recognized (implicitly) in a variety of ways already:

* Providing immediate near-term design “fixes” and tangible outputs for delivery to the engineering team (i.e., UI specs and assets) to prove I can deliver gritty details, thus earning trust capital. (Besides, how can you lead the design function for a company if you can’t, you know, actually design?? ;-)

* Directing productive dialogues around the product UX (via an extensive UX Audit, for example) and the customer (via discussions around personas/scenarios) where I’m mostly extracting prior knowledge and back-stories from everyone.

* Raising critical questions about the nature of  design strategy, process, and principles through ongoing discovery about the product functionality—even playing the role of the “naive” student, innocently asking some “why not” questions!

* And lots of plain old active listening! Truly absorb what folks are saying are the high-priority issues and opportunities and then just mull over the responses. Take notes and follow-up with deeper dives or brainstorm sessions, accordingly. Often just being that listening agent provides ample comfort and calming assurance to the team, that “someone” (clearly qualified, of course!) is taking care of this.

I’ve said many times before that a big part of being a designer is simply functioning as a “therapist” of sorts, not always jumping to quick answers, but offering that supportive voice and mindful presence that someone is focused on these tough UX issues—and expressing the captured listenings in some form: sketches, diagrams, stories, etc. I think that’s even more true at a leadership level, where your presence is the signifier that someone is taking command, with facilitative guidance backed by bonafide execution.

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