Are you a design leader?
When thinking about the multiple possible ways of becoming a global design leader, it must be noted that in order to lead, you have to start. Indeed, chances are very high that at some point of your journey, you will actually start out as a designer. Whatever you studied, you are not quite a leader, just yet. Regardless of the particular area you specialized in, you have to put in considerate effort for many years in order to become a leader or design leader. Experience and comprehensive in-depth know-how about the topic of your choice is an important foundation.
So far, different models were developed, sketching the potential career steps of a design leader, but they all focus on the cooperate side, picturing design leadership rather as an actual corporate position, than an achievement across the entire area of design. Personally, I am convinced there also a lot of design leaders out there who are self-driven self-employed designers. Therefore, I created the design leadership cycle, illustrating the many facets of a true global design leader and the steps to be taken along the way.
Thus, in the end, you can become a leader in multiple ways, regardless of whether you are self-employed, or in a huge company.
There are four types of Design leaders:
• Cooperate Strategy Design Leader
• Cooperate Specialist Design Leader
• Self-driven Strategy Design Leader
• Self-driven Specialist Design leader
When you move on from being a Specialist Design Leader, to leading a Strategy Design, you are not a designer anymore. Still, you need to know what you are talking about in order to earn and keep the respect of other designers. You are a leading design strategist.
To be a such a specialist, you act as a leader within a specific design topic. Your ideas, thoughts and work are impacting the area of design on a broader level.
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In the end it does not matter in which area you are leading – but what definitely matters is to enhance the following skills:
1. Trust and respect
This is the most essential skill as leader. You must respect and trust all people in your team. If this is not the case, maybe they should not be in your team, or you have to think about your leading quality. A leader is not a position you reach through climbing a corporate ladder, but earned through continued excellence both professionally in your field and through strong social skills, empathy and compassion. Equally important? The skill of listening. Listening and asking questions are the key to being a true leader. Essentially questions are the answer.
2. Shaping a vision
It’s only one part to manage a team. As a leader you share this task. Your part is to find a strong vision and share it in the most inspirational way. Thinking about the why in every situation and giving a clear direction that people know why they are working and what they can expect in the end of long working hours and effort. A strong vision will empower your team and enable everyone to work towards a joint goal.
3. Transparency and protection of your team
You have to think of your team as of a big family. Leadership is about communication and trust, as already mentioned above. A strong family is well informed about the current situation and will stick together, no matter what. Inform your team about all happenings. They are part of your big family and have the right to know what happens. Furthermore, it’s your part as a leader to protect your team from different situations, to allow them to complete their work. This will earn you trust.
4. Take decisions and stand by them
Leading means taking decisions. But even more important? Stand by your decisions. If you took a wrong one, try to find a solution and acknowledge the situation. This will make you even stronger person and leader.
5. Lead by example and story
If you have tasks for your team or if you have to inform the team about different decisions, try to find some lively examples or illustrate your thoughts and choices through actual stories. Coming back to the idea of thinking about this team as your family – children learn much better through stories. The reason is quite simple: They typically pose a problem, as well as serve the relevant learnings and a proper solution. Stories are emotional und much easier to understand. If your team cannot relate to your decisions, they can’t focus on their work.
6. Lead through rewards and gratitude
You are a leader, but the operational work will most likely be done by your team. Award them if they are the hero of a project, show gratitude and acknowledge accomplishments. It will be a huge motivation for everyone involved, creating even more drive and sparking a sense of joint success.
7. Discover strengths and support your team to grow
To sustain long-term success, people have to be happy with their lives and in their entire job environment. Consequently, it’s your task to find out about the passions, strengths and personal needs of every team member. What is their individual motivation to stay in your team? Where do they want to go? What it is that really drives them?
Support them in their strengths and they will follow you. Provide them with challenges to keep them excited and creative. Lead by example.
8. Give feedback and say thank you
Just as plants require sunshine to thrive and grow, we all need feedback to further develop our skills. How can we learn without positive or negative feedback? Attempt to give feedback every day. Don’t say that you don’t have time when your team members ask for feedback or have some questions. You are the leader – show them your respect by listening and providing them support and answers where needed.
9. Give space to be creative in time and space
Designing is a creative process. Less people can deliver great designs and great ideas for a long time in a stressful workspace. Give your team a creative space and enough time to think about challenges. These creative breaks will spark new ideas and allow your team to reach new heights!
Now, what do you think makes a great leader? I am looking forward to receiving your feedback – please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Are you a leader then visit the Global Design Leadership Meetup
Written by: Johannes Robier, 09/09/2018