Managing personalities in a design team becomes easier when you understand why team members behave in certain ways under stress. When you can support them in changing their emotional state, they are no longer hostage to feeling fear and their rational brain can begin working again. So what environmental factors stress out a design team most?
Design teams are the front line creators of scalable solutions for products and services that meet needs of the customers they advocate for. The more ambiguous a project, the shorter the deadline, the more stakeholders involved, the more the design process is ignored, the more stress it puts on the entire design team.
Presented with high stakes, high stress situations, associated with working in fast paced and rapid growth technology companies, it’s hard to think clearly when our mind shuts down. It does this to send blood to our legs, not our brains, so we can run away from predators faster.
When I saw my boss walk across the bridge of 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, I wanted to run and hide in the restroom to throw up in the trash can. Why? Because I knew that if he was walking to my office, he had a project that was going to scare the crap out of me.
“Sally, will you fly to Milan tomorrow and give a talk I was scheduled to present at the Italian Developer Conference?” or “I’ve decided to send you to India to work on a mobile data capture project in rural healthcare for a couple of years, OK?”
Running away and hiding is a useful survival tool when you are running from a bear, but not useful when you need blood in your head, not your legs, to think straight. Unable to run away from bosses bearing scary projects, humans have developed new ways of covering up their fears.
Author Dr. Valerie Young classifies five competency based personality types we’ve developed to cope with the stress of modern business life. Specifically for those times we feel we are in over our heads and don’t belong at work.
This article describes the characteristics of each personality type, how damaging it can be, some tough love advice and 5 crucial tips for managing personalities in a design team. This will help you to help your design team members, reframe negative thoughts with positive ones so their rational brain can return and enable them to feel safe and that their presence is welcome and contribution needed.
Perfectionists set extremely high goals for themselves and will have an obsessive concern and aversion to failing to reach high performance standards. For example, achieving a score of 99 out of 100 would be deemed a failure and cause feelings of shame to a perfectionist personality type. A perfectionist will focus all their competency on “how” something is done.
Work stops being fulfilling. Workaholism leads to burnout. Anxiety leads to depression. Despite a positive outward appearance, inner self-confidence is very low.
Perfectionists! It’s time you learned to take mistakes in your stride. Mistakes are a natural part of the process and everyone makes them. Remember this perfectionists “To err is human, to forgive divine” Alexander Pope. Poem. An Essay on Criticism
For perfectionists, you can help them restore their self confidence by pushing them into action before they are fully prepared (there is no perfect time to start). So drop them in the deep end on a project right now!
Another way is to have them practice reframing negative thoughts into positive beliefs. For example “How can I ask for more headcount from the executive team, when I don’t feel worthy of taking up their time?” is negative.
Have them rephrase it to be positive “Of course the leadership team wants to speak with me. I have a great team, my brand is A++, and the CEO understands that the design organization is a source of competitive advantage and a direct creator of incremental revenue to the business bottom line.
Lastly, offer tools to help them become more self-accepting and kind to themself. Saying these affirmations out loud five times, will generate self acceptance that they are good enough just as they are. Each affirmation starts with “I”
Superheroes measure their competence by how many roles they can excel at, and juggle at the same time. If they fall short as a manager, a friend, a sibling, a parent, or any single role, they will feel tremendous shame. Superheroes believe they should be able to handle all of it and everyone perfectly. Not sure if this applies to you or someone in your design team?
Feeling powerless. Being oversensitive to criticism. Mental health problems
Your life is going to get worse if you continue juggling everything and everyone. Being a superhero is exhausting for you and your coworkers. Your career will stall if you don’t stop being reactive to everyone and everything that comes your way.
For superheroes, help them learn to ease off the gas and reconsider how much work is truly reasonable. Let them discover where they can take the pressure off themself by removing meetings from their calendar. This empowers them to build self respect for their own time and talents and become more discerning about who receives their attention now they value their own time and influence.
Next, ask the Superhero about their plans for growth. What would help them to develop their sense of self-validation? Is there a training program, a wellness class or a coach that could help draw this inner confidence out of them?
Lastly, you could share these phrases with them. Said 5 times out-loud can have a profoundly calming effect on someone who is too busy to slow down and look within.
A Natural Genius cares about how easily and quickly their accomplishments happen. If they don’t complete their work efficiently they feel shame and alarm bells sound. They will judge themselves based on speed and getting things right on the first try.
Being highly self-critical. Exhibiting avoidance behavior and feeling guilty about situations and projects you ignore. You have difficulty forming lasting relationships. You feel alarmed you can’t keep up with the expectations for your job easily and quickly
No one can be expected to have all the answers. Confident people find the best solutions knowing they alone will never have all the answers. This is particularly true in product development where the world is on a “seemingly inexorable trend toward higher levels of complexity, specialization and sociopolitical control (Joseph Tainter),”
Don’t let them beat themselves up when they don’t reach their self imposed and unattainable standards for speed and efficiency. Show them the behaviors they need to change and help them find a mentor or coach, who will let them develop the skills they’ve avoided, because they decided they “weren’t good enough.”
Lastly, you could share these phrases with them. Said 5 times out-loud the can have a profoundly calming effect on someone who is moving too fast to slow down and hear their inner leader calling to them.
For a soloist to feel competent in their achievements, it has to be them who completes the work. Soloists never ask for help – this would be a sign of failure.
Loneliness and isolation. Hard to connect with others. Inability to express your feelings
You are not a phony if you don’t have all the answers, you’re human. Would you think less of someone if they asked you for your advice? No! You’d be delighted to help them.
Check to see if they really are soloists rather than simply shy or uncertain in their communication and collaboration skills. If they are soloists, or lone rangers, then give them the freedom to roam outside the uniformity your team operates inside. Put a soloist in charge of something and adopt a hands off management approach, but do have a scheduled check in to ensure they fulfill their responsibilities.
Lastly, you could share these phrases with them. Said 5 times out loud it can have a positive impact on a soloist’s outlook. Each affirmation starts with “I”
Experts expect themselves to know everything and any lack of knowledge is deemed to be a failure. They feel that if people found out how little they really knew, they would be exposed as a fraud.
Taken too far, continually seeking out more information can be a form of procrastination where you let the unimportant minutiae eat up your time instead of focusing on producing results.
Don’t be a hoarder! Learn to share what you already know through teaching, coaching, or mentoring others. Sharing your knowledge with others is the best way to retain information and is directly correlated with mastery of skills.
Trust that you are enough, and you don’t need more training, certificates, or schooling. Begin practicing just-in-time learning by acquiring new skills when you need them, rather than hoarding knowledge.
Managing someone who knows a lot more about their work than you do can be a humbling experience. So don’t attempt to compete with them, rather get to know them as individuals and focus on cultivating a relationship with them. Help them see the context inside their contribution lives, and don’t try to compete with an expert on the details.
Focus yourself on cultivating your own executive presence through a relaxed body stance, a calm voice, clear sentences that are to the point and building a robust network of allies across departments. Accept that you may no longer be the specialist, but the generalist who leads other specialists.
Lastly, you could share these phrases with them. Said 5 times out loud it can have a positive impact on an experts outlook.
Padma is a product designer working in the Bay Area creating software for robots. She is a wife, mother, immigrant and superhero who measures her competency by how many roles she can excel at, and juggle at the same time.
Compared to her husband who is a high flier in product management, Padma feels ashamed that she hasn’t attained management status by this time in her life.
Padma reached out to me for leadership coaching when her efforts to get promoted had failed and she didn’t understand why. We worked together every other week for six months. Here’s what happened.
“I wanted to move up the ladder and become a design manager. Sally helped me look at my strengths, how I responded to the people and the self criticism I put on myself. She let me discover I had labeled lots of things as negative in my head, and these sentiments needed reframing positively.
Sally is a design expert and executive who has been there and done that and I trust her. She created a safe space for me where I could share my innermost thoughts without the fear of being judged.
As a result of coaching with Sally, several magical changes happened. I was promoted to design manager. My communication improved and relationships at home and work got better. I become calmer and less stressed out.
Most importantly, by learning my unique strengths and how to use them more effectively allowed me to transform and accept who I have become today.”
If you’re a superhero like Padma and being called to step into the next level of leadership, but haven’t managed to make that happen on your own yet, I’m here to help you with my one on one coaching program for design leaders.
Acquiring the skill to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones will transform your ability to activate your innate leadership skills and manifest what you truly want. With that clarity you will step into your higher purpose as the design leader companies will compete over to have lead their teams. Ready to get started? Book a complimentary coaching session with me today.
When your time in a leadership role comes to an end, it can be devastating to leave behind the teams you developed and who supported you.
You miss the close relationships you developed, the rapport you built, and the joy of watching people you hired advance their own careers under your guidance. After you have turned in your badge, it’s tempting to put them and the old position in the past, but that is where you are wrong.
Extraordinary leaders constantly nurture talented people and maintain connections with other skilled professionals in their network. Don’t be afraid to stay in touch with your old teams. It’s not hard to do. You can ask how they are, let them know you are thinking of them, and offer your support.
Your continued leadership and encouragement will be appreciated, and it works to your advantage when you need to find roles for great people at your next venture to invite trusted allies to join you.
In her book “Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count” Karen Wickre notes “At some point, every one of us is going to need help from someone we don’t currently know. Maybe it’s for a job, or family help; it might be about a necessary career pivot, or relocation; it could be for medical or retirement guidance.
You – and virtually everyone else – are going to want to reach out to a number of people for contacts, information or insights, or support.”
From 2001 to 2005, I worked at Yahoo! as a Product Design leader with influence over the careers of many young designers, developers, and researchers. Nineteen years later, I’m still in touch with many of my former Y! colleagues. The young designers I hired are now heads of product design at major corporations. They are in the prime of their career, doing powerful work, and I discovered that talent.
People have careers that go on 5, 10, 15, 20 years, and the people you hired fifteen years ago may be in a position to help you today, so please make time to reach out to the teams you’ve worked with. As Karen Wickre put it, “Nurture it before you need it.”
I have a keen eye for talent; it’s one of my superpowers, and some of those design leaders are my clients today. It’s one of the many reasons I love to work as a coach.
Are you in a career transition and want to be fully confident and impactful about making your next move? Set up a call below and we’ll see if coaching is a fit for you.
Photo by Nadine Johnson
The role of leaders today is to be responsible for the care of the people they lead. But how can you demonstrate care when you can’t take a new hire out for coffee or lunch to introduce them to colleagues? Here’s a couple of ideas.
I recall a time before COVID-19 when on my first day at a new company, my boss and CTO walked me around the open plan office and introduced me to everyone. He stopped at each person’s desk and said, “Ajay meet Sally. She’s our new VP of Product Design.
Sally, this is Ajay. He’s our Staff Engineer for Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI).”
That he knew everyone’s name and role showed me how invested he was in the people working at the company. Of course, I wanted to work for this person! Considerate and thoughtful, he instantly made me an ambassador for courteous leadership. Now, it was on me to follow up and develop working ties with the colleagues he had introduced me to. His job was done!
Between the global distribution of teams and COVID-19 restrictions, new hires may work with colleagues they will never meet in person. So, how do you help them get to know colleagues beyond organization charts, staff lists with photos, and a welcome email? What have you found to be effective ways to introduce them, make them feel welcome, and set them up for success right from the start?
A great alternative to walking by everyone’s desk is to have your new hire present themself to the company or department. To save time and effort, ask them to present a few key facts about themself using a standard presentation outline. That information might include their name, role, title, where they were born, where they live now, what they are proudest of professionally, who/what inspires them, and the name of the project and team they will be working on first.
Your new hire benefits from being connected to everyone they need to know to get started. Being the great hire you think they are, organizational chart in hand, they will spend the next week following up with teammates and begin building rapport.
The benefit for you is it’s a scalable system that takes only 10 minutes to present, and you can delegate the setup once the format is created.
The benefit to your team is that every employee has gone through the same presentation, so they will be engaged to see how the new hire measures up to the task! Plus, they will know who to go to about the project your new hire was brought in to work on.
As a former leader at Facebook, Apple, and Yahoo! building global product design teams, I’ve interviewed and hired many exceptional people with deep subject matter expertise and incredible leadership skills. For me, it’s the jewel of leadership to provide meaningful work for other people.
Your power and influence lies with your teams as much as it does managing up and across. If you set a new hire up for success and demonstrate genuine care by connecting them to the people they will be working with, you will be rewarded down the line with an engaged, productive, happy employee who feels trusted and empowered to do their best work.
If you’re feeling exhausted by the additional workload around hiring and onboarding remotely during a pandemic and would like to chat about what else is possible, DM me and we’ll set up a call and see if coaching is a fit.
Photo by Erda Estremera for Unsplash
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not how full your calendar is that leads to your success; it’s how you level up your relationships and expand your sphere of influence that leads to your success.
During my first six months working at a new company, my executive assistant, Anna, had complete control of my calendar. In no time, my calendar was full.
My meetings began at 7:30 a.m. and continued in 30-minute increments, mostly back-to-back, until 5:00 p.m. Lunch was an apple, coffee, mozzarella sticks, and yogurt grabbed from a vending machine.
I ran from meeting to meeting, interviewing people, receiving updates, giving presentations, holding 1:1s, and running product reviews.
On the hour and every half hour, employees would emerge from meeting rooms, their faces glued to their phone screens en route to their next meeting. Ask anyone on Friday what meetings they had on Monday, and no one could tell you.
I was used to working in fast-paced, rapid-growth companies, but this was a whole new level of calendaring craziness. My perfectionist, creative spirit was unhappy. With no time in the day for reflection and thinking, I felt behind the curve and my performance suffered.
In three months, I’d gathered information about the operational and organizational status of the teams I led. Organizationally, we took a back seat to product management and engineering who made the decisions that mattered about the products my teams designed. Excluding product designers and their partners from content design and user research was an organizational oversight I needed to correct.
I knew that if I was going to get product design included early in the decision-making process, I’d need to level up my relationships with cross-functional peers and their leaders. How could I do this if my calendar was already full?
I needed to find another eight hours in my week. By taking an inventory of who I was currently meeting, Anna and I could see the bigger picture. To devote time to meeting with other executives and cross-functional partners we reworked my calendar to:
Having found the eight hours I needed, I began having lunch or coffee with my cross-functional peers. I kept the meetings informal and used them to learn about the challenges, opportunities, and goals they were facing.
In making the focus of our conversations about them, not about me, it showed that I valued them for who they are, not what they could do for me. In time, these cross-department loose ties contributed toward more positive work behaviour. Seeing the benefit of including me in decisions about product direction early on was a win for everyone.
Very successful people’s calendars change constantly. It allows them, in real time, to level up their relationships and expand their influence. Business relies on leaders being willing to reach out, pull in, listen, and speak to the client, advisor, coach, lawyer, employee, and investor to advance the best interests of the company.
Is it time you leveled up your relationships and expanded your sphere of influence? If so, start by taking a look at your calendar and ask yourself:
Are you spending time with the right people?
What’s on your calendar that you can cancel?
Which meetings will you delegate and empower someone else to lead?
Who are you avoiding meeting with?
Are you staying busy so you can ignore a difficult conversation?
If you’d like to change your relationship to how you manage your time, please book a complimentary coaching consultation below.
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My executive career was spent leading others, and when I lost my team, I lost myself. Creating product design teams in three countries over four years has been one of my greatest professional achievements.
When my position as chief design officer was eliminated, I was devastated. It felt like my life was slipping through my fingertips. The ladder I’d climbed and the glass ceilings I’d shattered were all gone within the span of a single conversation.
Although a new job opportunity came, which I accepted, I knew going in it wasn’t the best fit, and I left within a year.
Slowly letting go of all that I knew myself to be, I reluctantly began the process of redesigning my life and redefining what leadership meant for me.
As the armor I created after losing my teams began to soften, I invited my “leader within” to step forward and speak again.
You don’t need a team reporting to you to be a leader. This simple revelation helped to restore my self-identity. This revelation inspires me to coach extraordinary leaders in transition and redefines what leadership truly means.
Whether you are stepping into a new leadership role, or transitioning out of the corporate world, doing the work of leading from within is the catalyst for creating a more fulfilling life.
If you are going through a career change, my three-month 1:1 private coaching may be the perfect program for you.
Are you ready to live your life by design, activate a new set of leadership skills, and manifest the vision you truly want to bring into your reality?
If you are, please set up a quick below, and see if coaching is a fit.
Photo by Christian Fregnan
When a client reached out to me to discuss coaching, I was excited. She’d recently taken an executive role at one of the top 50 Fortune 500 companies. She is at the top of her career and an internationally recognized leader in her field. What makes her an extraordinary leader, which we uncovered through coaching, are her strengths in the following four areas.
She has the ability to turn an idea into reality, and she does this by organizing all of the pieces and resources for maximum productivity. The ability to implement a solution and get people to work tirelessly to get it done makes her invaluable as a leader.
She is great at influencing people. She’s a natural storyteller who puts her team’s interests first and actively promotes them at work and in the industry. This attracts respect and creates opportunities for her team that they would not have had without her support. This inspired leadership creates superb results from her teams who love her inspired leadership.
She consistently creates organizations that are greater than the sum of their parts. She cultivates the potential in others, noting their strengths and giving feedback, so that individuals derive satisfaction from these improvements. By learning the unique qualities of each person and what makes them excel, she is great at creating diverse teams that work together productively.
She has an incredible capacity for absorbing and analyzing information that she uses to help her team make better decisions. As a result, she expands their thinking about the future. By keeping everyone focused on what “could be,” she improves the productivity of her teams, because the goals they are aiming for are inspiring and actionable.
The problem is, she took a job that wasn’t a good fit for her. We discovered through coaching that she values working for companies that are built on modern technology platforms, focus on customer experience and agile development, and have a flat organizational structure. That the company she joined had not made these changes came as a shock to her.
At the end of her first week, she wanted to quit. She knew deep inside that she is meant for greatness, and it hurt when the reality of her new role didn’t match her vision. Fortunately, before she quit, she reached out to me and we began working together as coach and coachee.
At first we met every week to help her mitigate the extreme challenges she had brought on herself by taking the role. After a month, she was ready to stay in her new role and see what the job had to teach her. This way she wouldn’t make the same mistake at her next job. These are some of the things we worked on together over the next six months, meeting once a week or every other week depending on her schedule.
Who are you today? (Discover)
This included an assessment of where she was and how she could improve. Some of these issues included: learning to detach from outcomes, making decisions without being driven by fear, finding her voice at the new company, knowing with confidence that she is enough, uplevelling her leadership team, and prioritizing who she gives and does not give her time to.
Your vision for change? (Design)
Next we discovered who she was as a leader today. This had changed over the years, becoming broad and deep, and her underlying passion for her domain had never diminished. It remained her “why.” Around her passion we refined her personal brand to reflect her current skills, mindset, strengths and business value.
Actionable steps for progress (Deploy)
Lastly, we put together an ideal job description in the most minute detail of what she wanted. It included things like location, a complementary boss, her onboarding experience, her team size and make up, the type of company and its operational style, reporting structure, and what her role and title would be, along with the impact she would have based on her ideal responsibilities.
After six months of working on herself with my support, she was offered a role that matched the ideal role we had co-created for her. This role was worthy of her skills, talents, and experience, where she would have the impact she wanted to make as the great leader that she already is.
I feel honored to work with creative thinkers and extraordinary leaders who have the willingness and humility to invite professional third party support into their life to champion them as they make the adjustments they need to remain the absolute best leaders and thinkers of their generation.
If you are a smart, driven, and successful senior executive with a lot of responsibilities like my client, changing how you do things may not be high on your list of priorities!
Know that you don’t need to overhaul your leadership style or way of managing to work with me.
Invest in an outsider’s perspective on how to successfully support yourself and your unique challenges. I will show you best practices that are honed from years of leadership and operational experience gained at Facebook, Apple, and Yahoo!.
I support you in learning effective strategies for bettering your company, your teams, and yourself. Contact me for a complimentary discovery call.
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