Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What does a design (association) leader do?


Guest Post by Laura Ward, Director, User Experience Design, PayPal

[Editor's Note: Laura Ward is the daughter of my late friend/boyhood neighbor Dan Reuwee.  When I read her leadership post on Facebook, it seemed to offer valuable advice for association and nonprofit leaders.  She gave me permission to post her notes here.]

I recently met a terrific young designer at a networking dinner. She had a straightforward question for me, "How did you become a design director?" I hadn't given it much thought since my route seemed roundabout. Upon consideration, I understood that she would simply like to know how to prepare to become a design leader, on a path to directing a team of her own.

After a short story about my journey, I realized that there was much more practical information to give. What does a design leader do? So, here is a list of the things I think about. I try to keep these questions in mind as I go to meetings, do design critiques, meet with team leads and designers, and plan the future.


What does a design leader think about?

  • Does my team feel proud of the work they are doing? Are they sufficiently challenged?
  • Does my team know that I appreciate them? How can I express my gratitude?
  • Does the team work well together? Do they feel a sense of camaraderie?
  • How healthy is my team? Does anyone feel burned out? Are there any risks I can foresee and mitigate?
  • Are we headed in the right direction? Are we doing work today that will lead to where we want to be in 6, 12, 18 months?
  • Am I training my replacement? Who would do my job if I were promoted?
  • Are others training their replacements? Who would do their job if they were on vacation or leave?
  • Are people getting exposure to new, innovative ways of thinking?
  • Are we delivering on our commitments? Who needs to be informed of possible risks?
  • How do we train new employees? How quickly are they ready and comfortable doing their job?
  • Does my team have a “seat at the table”? How can I ensure we do more strategic than reactive work?
  • Is my team inspired? What vision have I shared? Do they get up in the morning and think, “I'm solving a great problem!"
  • Do we feel connected to our company's purpose and culture? Do we see the impact we make on our customer’s lives?
  • Does my team have the right skills for the problems we need to solve? How can I encourage them to grow them further?
  • Is the team engaged in the design community in our city? Are we participating or leading the conversation?
  • What have I done to spread the word about my team? Am I inspiring people both inside and outside the company? 

Think 360 leadership

A good piece of advice from one of my mentors was to make my boss's job easier by picturing what her boss was asking her to do. Try this exercise. Your manager is probably thinking about any one of these items above. What is something that you could do today that would lessen that worry or concern for her? By understanding this perspective, you’ll show that you are already thinking like a leader.

What can associations learn?

Editor's Note:  
This is Steve again.  Think about Laura's questions as they relate to your association or nonprofit.  
  • Which of these questions "work" as you think about your staff?
  • Which fit more for your board and volunteers?
  • Are you engaging and inspiring your staff and leaders?
  • Are you recognizing (and expressing gratitude) for great work?  For outstanding volunteer leadership?
What else do you see as you read Laura's post?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this guest post! It sounds like the leadership lessons I've learned from being a designer are just as applicable for those who lead associations and non-profits.

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