I started my career almost fifteen years ago and for almost a decade now I've been collecting lessons on leadership — from managing teams myself as well as from observing clients, bosses and managers that I worked with. Over the years, in the spirit of learning, I kept writing down down examples of good and bad leadership, looking for patterns and things that I need to watch out for when working with people. Thought it would be a fun to turn that into a blog post, since design leadership is a hot topic now and I think that over years I've collected enough data to be able to add to the discourse.

Without further ado, here's some of my notes as an easily digestible list.

Things I learned about being a leader

  • Communicate strategic goals and explain the why, let your team figure out the how.
  • Never use the job seniority argument. This undermines your credibility and makes you look like an ass.
  • Your experience isn't other people's experience. Learn to listen.
  • If everyone on your team looks and thinks at you, you've failed as a leader.
  • "Because I say so" is never a valid argument.
  • "Manager" is a title. "Leader" is a mindset.
  • Don't get bogged down in details: collaborate with your direct reports and let them take care of their part.
  • Trust your team. You're working with adults.
  • Failing is learning. Failure is an outcome, not an identity.
  • Opinions hold no value in serious discussions, speak about the facts.
  • Never assume ill intent.
  • Identify questions and misunderstandings early — the further down the road it comes up, the more expensive it will be to fix.
  • "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business" — Henry Ford
  • Relentlessly focus on things that work.
  • If your team is 100% booked, when do they learn?
  • It’s easier to make things people want than to make people want things.
  • When you make it easy to do the right thing, people are much more likely to do it, and then do it effortlessly and without conflict.
  • No matter how beautiful your theory is, if it doesn’t work as experiment, it’s wrong.
  • The hardest part of your job is to figure out what excites and motivates every single person that reports to you and adjust the leadership style accordingly.
  • Turnover and burnout within the team are the mark of bad leadership.
  • Bosses are responsible for results. They achieve these results not by doing all the work themselves but by guiding the people on their teams. Bosses guide a team to achieve results.
  • Relax. Look around. Make a call.
  • Own your mistakes.
  • Leader who tries to take on too many problems simultaneously will likely fail at them all.
  • Don't be a bottleneck, learn to trust and delegate.
  • "Winging it" is not a valid strategy. Plan ahead and learn from past mistakes.
  • Leaders who lose their temper also lose respect.
  • Praise in public, criticize in private.
  • If people need constant oversight, it means you didn't explain your goals and intent right.
  • Putting some structure around way things work lets your team focus on things that actually matter. Boundaries are freedom.
  • Processes are great, but only when they're tailored to serve around the team, the goals, and the expected results.