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Leadership style

A little backstory

The main reason I became a people leader is quite simple: my natural ability to connect with others. In my current role, I was originally hired to be a principle designer without direct reports. I didn't necessarily seek out becoming a manager, but I have always mentored other peers in some way at previous organisations, and it felt natural to continue to do so.

Almost straight away when I began in this role, I started mentoring a design summer intern, and that naturally evolved into starting my own design team. Now I consider myself to be a player-coach type of manager.

(An even further backstory) At my first job out of university, I was 21 years old, working full-time at my alma mater whilst also completing my Master's degree. I had a team of 15+ university students at any given time during the school year. In that role, I learned how to separate and balance personal connections and professionalism, a vital part of developing emotional intelligence. It was a great learning experience that taught me how to handle conflicts, build trust, set boundaries, and recognise and celebrate individuality.

Player-coach leader

Fast-forward a decade later, my years of providing mentorship has naturally led me to become a player-coach type of leader. Otherwise known as a manager who is both a people leader and an individual contributor. Think of me as a leader that is still "in the trenches" alongside their direct reports, actively doing work and leading the overall design strategy.

 

I personally enjoy this type of leadership as it allows me to continue honing my technical expertise, whilst making the most efficient use of my team's time and talent. Not to mention, it indirectly helps to flatten the traditional concept of a "hierarchy", which I've found improves communication and trust.

My player-coach leadership style is unique because it combines all the traditional tasks of managing a team, like setting priorities and developing others, with the responsibilities of an individual contributor who still produces their own work products as a member of the team. This approach to leadership has helped me establish a shared vision with both my own team members and upper management. 

My leadership pillars

Mentorship and teamwork

Trust and autonomy

Transparent

feedback

Mentorship and teamwork

Coaching and mentoring is an important part of any good leader's job. I mentor designers by listening, collaborating, and teaching. Experiencing great design together helps team members recognise the standard we're striving for and get inspiration for their work. It also helps us learn from each other. As I've mentioned, mentorship is the foundation for my player-coach leadership style.

Weekly 1:1s are a great place to have these types of conversations but they're not the only time I'm available for a chat. I have an open door policy (at my cubicle... which does not actually have a door) and I encourage my team to reach out when they need support, have questions, want advice, or just need to brainstorm an idea. 

Trust and autonomy

I have never once met someone who prefers to be micro-managed, have you? I recognise that some team members require a bit more direction than others, but ultimately I treat my team as adults. They are trusted to make decisions autonomously and achieve results.

My leadership style provides "air coverage", meaning I can step in to provide more support when necessary. I'm close enough to understand my team's problems and help them eliminate obstacles but not too close where I might be getting in the way of their individual work. Since I naturally love working through ambiguity, my team feels comfortable coming to me when they need help identifying questions or looking at things from a different point of view. I guide them through exercises allowing them to have an "aha" moment rather than telling them exactly how to solve those problems. 

Transparent feedback

Sometimes being a leader means you need to address an issue, have an uncomfortable conversation, or deliver feedback. I believe that being respectfully candid is a way of caring about people. Likewise, I believe skirting around issues, or failing to challenge or praise people directly can hinder their growth. Know that when I need to deliver feedback, it occurs transparently, in a timely manner, whether that be providing kudos for commendable efforts or constructive feedback for areas needing improvement.

I believe when you have established trust within your team, it creates a safe space for honest communication for all. I encourage this to be a two-way street and I want my team members to feel empowered to provide me with feedback as well. In my experience, this works so well for designers because it naturally results in an environment of continuous improvement and collaboration. I even look for this quality in those that lead me :)

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