Stop Collaborative Dysfunction Across Product Teams

Software development today is a collaborative process across a broad range of groups (XFN), including Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, User Research, Product Management, Engineering, Product Design, Design Ops., Architecture, Program Management, Content Strategy, Product Marketing, Network Operations, Marketing Communications, and Legal, to name just a few.

In addition to the requirement of organizational collaboration, the pressure to ‘move fast’ is always present. ‘Done is better than perfect’ is the famous maxim by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Businesses need to innovate faster to keep growing their market reach.

The tension between optimal collaboration XFN and the need for speed creates various challenges for individuals, teams, and especially their leaders.

Symptoms of Dysfunction Across Product Teams

  • Individuals may experience a lack of trust and accountability and feel more significant conflict and stress when goals are unclear or change on a dime.
  • When roles, ownership, and accountability are unclear, teams can become less efficient, less coordinated, and less supportive of one another.
  • New leaders and leaders of teams that are ‘in service’ of other teams – large, influential, or revenue-driving teams – may not be at the table when critical decisions are made.
  • This can lead to the perpetuation of silos of domain expertise
  • The Arbinger Institutes’ “Leadership and Self Deception” book has shown that silos lead to individuals feeling “self-justified for bad behavior, like exaggerating other people’s faults or inflating their virtue.” This, in turn, can produce negative sentiment among teams:
    • User research takes too much time
    • Designers work independently from engineering
    • Engineers build UI’s for the designers to clean up after the fact

Creating high-quality work under these conditions becomes very difficult. According to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) study of leading corporations, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.

Where to Put Your Leadership Focus?

Without a doubt, the need for speed and cross-functional collaboration is challenging.

  • Should you focus on building your team and reaching your goals?
  • Or should you focus on building relationships with cross-functional partners to support better collaboration?

These goals don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

If you experience collaboration problems like those in your team, consider forming an alliance with your XFN partners and carefully craft your working relationship.

By definition, an alliance is a union or association formed for mutual benefit between partners based on an affinity, typically of shared interests. Additionally, a partnership empowers each party to declare where their boundaries lie and how to work with them optimally.

How to Build Alliances

An alliance works best when you begin the process with a conversation and ask open-ended questions:

  • What challenges do you face with your team?
  • What currently works well for your team and communications?
  • What excites you and your team about the work?
  • How was the experience when our teams last worked together? Do you have suggestions for improvement?
  • What are the optimal conditions for our teams to work together effectively?
  • What would you like to know about my team and me?
  • How will we structure mutual accountability?
  • What is the best response when a problem arises between our teams or us?
  • What is the best way to share complex information with you?
  • Will you continue to look at how we work together and give me ongoing feedback?

No one likes to feel like an item on your ‘to-do’ list. For this alliance conversation to work, you must listen without interruption, without jumping to conclusions or problem-solving. Most importantly, be genuinely curious about the person and what they say. Avoid jumping in to fill an awkward silence; give the other person time to complete their thoughts.

“No matter what we do on the outside, people respond to how we feel on the inside,” The Arbinger Institutes, “Leadership and Self Deception” book.  Creating an open and collaborative conversation to launch an alliance will allow the best of both people’s “insides” to connect with the other.

The Benefits of Building Alliances

When we join a company, we bring our skills, expertise, and expectations of how things should work. In a fast-paced, collaborative environment, it can feel rough until we acclimate to the culture and build relationships with others on whom we can depend. The value of designing an alliance with other people is time well spent and will create results that reflect well on you over time.

  • People see that you value them for who they are, not what they can do for you
  • You earn the trust of others
  • Your positive behavior contributes to a better work environment
  • You can ask for support in times of need from your powerful alliances
  • You are fully productive and engaged with clarity about the work that is informed by the work of others
  • By championing others, your perceived value increases exponentially.

How to Apply This

Try this experiment. Ask someone the three questions below, whether an employee, a peer, a cross-functional team member, your boss, a date, or a stranger in line at the airport:

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What gets you (and your team) excited about what you do?
  • What do you truly want?

Then, could you take a step back and assess where you are in the conversation?

  • Have you created a connection with this person?
  • Do you understand them more thoroughly than you did before?
  • Did they gain insights into themselves and how you communicate with them?

Congratulations, you’re on your way to tremendous success as an XFN leader!

Let me know how this helps you connect with key people in your work and home environment. Good luck!


This article was first published at the Design and Innovation, Design Thinking conference proceedings on March 29th, 2019.

Burning match

Why Designers Burnout Faster Than Other Disciplines

Are you a designer feeling burned out by all the Slack, email, and a million other notifications you get daily? 

Or that your dream job would quickly turn into a nightmare, which the darkest reaches of your subconscious couldn’t conjure.

You’re not alone in your newfound disaffection for your job. 

With over 4.3 million Americans quitting their jobs in December of 2021, burnout is a pandemic. 

UX design burnout

Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout is the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed to utter exhaustion. Burnout leaves us mentally tired, physically exhausted, and emotionally dehydrated. The feeling that despite your best efforts, you’re making little progress isn’t unique to any single profession. 

Everyone from nurses, servers, teachers, and even UX designers feel the effects. 

But like the coronavirus, the disease that brought on, if not compounded, burnout, we’ve developed effective means to mitigate the risk of catching and preventing burnout. 

As a Design Coach, I’ve devised solutions and routines to target UX design burnout.

But before we understand the solution, let’s better understand the problem. 

Burnout Defined

Burnout was here before the pandemic and will be here long after. In 2003, psychologists Christina Maslach and Susan E. Jackson conducted the most groundbreaking research on burnout. 

Their research identified three symptoms that arise from workplace stress.

  1. Emotional exhaustion: Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion 
  2. Depersonalization: Increased mental distance, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job 
  3. Feeling ineffective and lacking any sense of personal accomplishment

Why Burnout Happens To Product Designers

The best products are designed when an eclectic mix of individuals are given equal ownership of a product. It’s a collaborative process that requires teams that ostensibly have little to do with each other to work together, which takes time. 

In modern high-tech, fast-paced, rapid-growth product design platforms, speed to launch is a competitive advantage, and a philosophy of done support is better than perfect

Naturally, this attitude fuels tension between teams who don’t want to waste time collaborating with other groups. However, suppose they are not connecting; consequently, roles, ownership, and accountability become unclear. In that case, teams become less efficient, less coordinated, and less supportive of each other. This dynamic can lead to and perpetuate silos that cause individuals to feel “self-justified for bad behavior, like exaggerating other people’s faults or inflating their virtue.”

UX designers suffer when infighting, caused by a lack of alignment over product expectations,  creates a toxic work environment. According to a Harvard Business Review study of leading corporations, 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.

Working under constant tension and ambiguity can turn a talented, creative employee into an unhappy, unproductive, emotionally distanced one. 

Would you happen to know this person?

Do you know a highly detail-oriented, enthusiastic UX designer who stopped caring about the quality of their work because they were emotionally exhausted?

Have you met a design leader who fears meeting with senior business partners because they’ve been made to feel rejected and depersonalized and have given up believing they could influence product strategy among the senior leadership team?

Do you know a UX researcher who shares research findings selectively? 

Why would they do that? 

They feel they are personally ineffective because they’ve learned that qualitative insights won’t change product direction in a data-driven business.

It takes a fearless UX designer to ask to be included at the leadership table where the decision-makers sit. But getting a seat at the table is one thing; getting heard is another. I’ve earned a place at Meta’s, Yahoo’s, and 247. AI’s tables and have made my presence known. I know what it takes to be a fearless leader and can help you become one, too

Predicting Burnout

According to Herbert Freudenberger, there are three predictors of burnout:

  • Role conflict
  • Role ambiguity
  • Role overload

Sound familiar? 

They should be; they are all at the center of the design process in modern software design.

Fraudenberger found the three predictors to be shared amongst healthcare workers, teachers, and people in social services. If he’d studied the roles of UX design professionals, I’m sure he would have included them in his demographic. Here’s why:

1. Role Conflict in UX Design

UX designers must negotiate conflicting goals between cross-functional team leaders, often with competing agendas, to find solutions to optimize the product’s user experience.

While conflict helps validate and elaborate ideas on which the product development process is established, it forces designers to rationalize and justify every decision made in the design process to every team member. Ultimately, this makes work tedious and undermines the role they occupy on the team.

What if you didn’t have to justify your ideas at work?

Suppose you are a UX designer, product design leader, researcher, or content strategist who impacts other disciplines’ workflow. In that case, you need to adapt your communication (not the design process), so they become co-creative partners, not critics of UX design. 

How do you do this?

Remember, people only care about their role and getting their needs met. An engineer wants design specs that are easy to work, perform well, and be reliable. A product manager wants design specs to fulfill market (business, technology, customer) needs and become an industry leader.

So when you waste meeting time rationalizing every design decision, at best, you will be ignored or accused of wasting time, and at worst, you may be charged with questioning management authority on decisions taken when you weren’t in the room. 

While the prospect of investing time in building a rapport with colleagues in other departments and learning their needs can be daunting, waiting for colleagues to reach out and make introductions will only lead to more waiting. 

“You can’t sit around waiting for that invitation – you need to reach across the table,” said Katie Dill, Head of Design at Stripe.

If engaging in healthy conflict is too scary, why not practice prior? Let’s role-play in a safe 1-on-1 environment where you can practice having tactful, constructive discussions with me, someone who has had these exact discussions before. I can provide real-time feedback and refine how you communicate with non-designers. 

2. Role Ambiguity in UX Design Burnout

Managing ambiguity is what UX design professionals do. They take all the ingredients from user needs, business expectations, and technology standards and translate abstract ideas into concrete product experiences from the front end to the back end. 

UX professionals rely on UX research and design processes to sort out the ambiguity inherent in their role, e.g., missing product requirements, product scope creep, competing priorities, missing resources, etc. 

No single design process exists to deal with all the ambiguity across a product’s development life cycle, just as no single business strategy exists to deal with every step of its business development life cycle.

To overcome role ambiguity, designers must become strategists of both qualitative and quantitative business and development methods and articulate the ROI of their design work in a language accepted and understood by the business.

As a former chief design officer at 247.AI and product design director at Meta, I’ve learned the inside track on how to avoid ambiguity in UX design by speaking on the ROI of UX design in quantitative terms that business leaders value. If you’d like to learn to talk about the language of business for UX design leaders, set up a complimentary strategy call, and let’s chat.

3. Role Overload in UX Design

Overload is part of being a UX design professional. UX design professionals work out all the difficulties on the back end, primarily by removing anticipated cognitive overload, so the user experience is a sleek front end that is desirable, viable, and feasible.

Designing complex dynamic systems, interaction patterns, user interface design across platforms, and meeting the needs of often competing stakeholder ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ is highly stressful. 

The role inherently consists of too many responsibilities for one person to handle in a reasonable amount of time. When the demands of your work role exceed your personal resources, role overload can lead to burnout.

Just as the product you are designing needs to avoid cognitive overload for your user, you need to avoid any cognitive overload in your role. 

But how? 

By applying design thinking to avoid cognitive overload on yourself!

If you google “Stop Cognitive Overload From Killing Your UX,” you will get a list that includes things like:

  • Eliminate Unnecessary Steps
  • Keep it simple
  • Declutter
  • Offload tasks
  • Reduce stimulation
  • Offer fewer options

Now, imagine if you applied the principles for reducing cognitive load on yourself. How powerful would it feel to eliminate unnecessary meetings, declutter your calendar, offload tasks, and free up more time?

What if you had a daily routine to look at the next day’s schedule and optimize it? You might ask yourself these four questions:

  • What will I delegate?
  • What will I reschedule?
  • What will I say no to?
  • What can I eliminate?

A New Response to Burnout

Get the idea? This powerful performance optimization routine takes the tools you already know and uses them to reduce overload and avoid burnout. 

World events have created unprecedented stress, exhaustion, and mental fatigue. Are you yet another UX designer suffering from burnout?

How will you continue to work and support the team when you have reached your limits?

The truth is you can’t be productive or engaged when you’re burned out yourself. Negative emotions are contagious and hard to hide. Working from home made it easier to hide feelings from people, exacerbating burnout for so many people.

Burnout stops when you regain control over your anxiety – but how is that possible? What can you change if you can’t eliminate conflict, ambiguity, and overload?

You can change how you respond to conflict, ambiguity, and overload. Burnout symptoms can be minimized by how you react to them. 

Addressing Burnout

Being burned out is not a personal failing; it’s addressable, and the way you do this is with consistent self-care of your physical, mental, and emotional health to help you respond with detachment.

To become healthy, self-aware, and optimistic again, you must operate from a foundation of your creation, not someone else’s. 

This means strengthening the connection between your mind, body, and spirit. It takes all three working together to improve your overall health and well-being.

A cornerstone of my coaching program teaches you simple routines that strengthen the connection between your mind, body, and spirit so you get your habits working for you.

An example of such a routine is to look at your calendar each week on your planning day (I prefer late on Friday afternoon looking at the week ahead) and color code where you are scheduled to spend your energy.  

  1. Wealth (this is your work) – Red
  2. Health (eating, sleeping, exercising, preventative health care) – Green
  3. Relationships (pets, friends, family, community) – Blue
  4. Dreams (what you do to get inspired, creative, and follow your passion) – Yellow

Amazingly, more people don’t use color in their calendar to see where their time and energy is going. To avoid burning out at work, you must spend some percentage of every day investing your time and energy in all four areas. 

Where are you spending most of your time?

Case Study Leila

Leila is a Senior UX design manager and a former UX design burnout. When she tried this simple routine of color-coding where her energy would be spent the next week, she saw the proof of her source of burnout. She was so busy working that her dreams (Yellow) were forgotten, she took her health (Green) for granted, and when she was with friends or family (Blue), she was thinking about work. She spent her entire day most of the evening ‘in the red’ zone. 

How did this happen to Leila?

As her calendar filled up, the job she loved took over her life, and Leila was still saying yes to any project, meeting, interview, or project review that she was included in or copied on. 

Her meetings began at 8:00 a.m. and continued in 30-minute increments, mostly back-to-back until 4:00 p.m. Lunch was an apple, coffee, mozzarella sticks, and yogurt grabbed from a vending machine.

She 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, she and her fellow employees would emerge from meeting rooms, their faces glued to their phone screens en route to their next meeting. Ask her on Wednesday what she had done on Monday, and she could not immediately tell you.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not how full your calendar leads to your success; it’s how you level up your relationships and expand your sphere of influence that leads to your success.

Leila’s story is not unique; every ambitious UX designer starts their career as an individual contributor and, over time, takes on more responsibilities and projects, leads teams, and expands their sphere of influence. 

It reaches a point where the creative work you know and love is happening less and less, and relating to others you weren’t trained to do takes more time.

As the cycle escalates, it’s easy to burn out, or worse, get sick, be let go, quit, and job-hop every 18 months until you burn out again. 

according to Albert Einstein, this is the definition of insanity:

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” 

  • Are you an ambitious UX designer or manager giving all your energy to your work?
  • Do you keep saying yes to everything on your plate and expect your work-life balance to improve and your career to remain on the fast track?

Leila didn’t want to leave her company; she loved her team and enjoyed crafting great products. But she knew she couldn’t continue working this way. It was time for a change.

UX design burnout

Leila’s New Calendar 

With my support, Leila learned strategic routines to optimize her time and devote her energy to every part of her life: wealth, health, relationships, and dreams.

For example, this routine helps her find places to take back time on her calendar to give her energy to all the essential parts of her life, not just working in the red zone.

These are some of the concrete changes that mitigated burnout and boosted her well-being:

How to Apply This

  • Leilas started delegating meetings to junior UX designers so they could grow their leadership experience by attending in her absence.
  • Every day, she made time to switch between mental work, a physical workout, and the nourishment she badly needed by refusing lunch meetings. 
  • To build up her creativity by focusing on her passions, she got up an hour earlier to practice meditation and journaling. Doing this built up positive energy that lasted her through the day. This routine helped stave off ‘the tyranny of moods’ as described by Mason Currey in his book “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.” It won’t improve during the day if you are in a bad mood in the morning. A bad attitude leads to a 10% drop in productivity because you are taking more frequent breaks and not engaging with people
  • Today, everything Leila does goes on her calendar, including scheduling time with family and friends so she can be fully present. She checks her calendar each week and ensures she has a balance of time devoted to wealth, health, relationships, and dreams every day.

Learning performance routines helped Leila optimize her life for outstanding balance. She is happy and doing well at her work again by implementing what she learned from our sessions together. 

Routines that Prevent Burnout

Routines are the actions you do regularly to bring order into your life. A key benefit of having routines for creative people is its calming constancy. Doing something you know you can do well is comforting in an unpredictable world; routines anchor predictability. 

Having routines helps you manage your energy to achieve more, think more precisely, and focus on what matters. These are all tools to prevent UX design burnout. 

“What you can do, or dream you can begin it; boldness has genius, power, and magic in It.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Managing your time and carving out time to pursue your passion daily helps you establish priorities and decide where to spend your time. It keeps projects percolating in the unconscious mind, which helps make better decisions.

And on days you don’t have the energy to do much at all, it builds forward momentum and limits procrastination.

If you’d like to learn more about leveraging routines to craft the life you want, not the one that leads to UX design burnout, set up a complimentary strategy call and see if coaching fits you.

Your work with me as your coach will change how you show up and others respond to you. You are inviting positive change at a fundamental level from the inside out.

Are you reading to redesign your life and stop suffering from burnout? 

Have an Imposter Moment, Not an Imposter Life

Have you ever been promoted, taken a new job, or started a business and felt like a fraud? This is called imposter syndrome.

Anyone can have it. The comedian Tina Fey said, “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re onto me! I’m a fraud!’”

Former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, revealed, “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”

I experienced imposter syndrome while attending a daily stand-up meeting with an executive team from Yahoo! I felt like a fraud in front of this group of brilliant minds.

You know you have imposter syndrome when you discount or diminish your own abilities. It can feel debilitating when you doubt yourself. Under stress, your brain is trying to predict what action to take: flight or fight. You have to release your stress through exercise, relaxation, wellness practices, and sleep.

Left unchecked, stress will lead to impaired functioning, poor decision-making, black and white thinking, and isolation. Basically, you’ll stop doing all of the things you used to love.

No one likes to fail, to not have the answers, or feel unable to master something. Imposter syndrome is a productivity killer.

In her TED talk, Thinking Your Way Out of Imposter Syndrome, Valerie Young recommends reframing the negative conversations going on in our head by replacing unhelpful thoughts with more positive or adaptive ones. She encourages thinking like someone who is not feeling like an imposter; they know they can’t be brilliant at everything, and they are fine with that.

Practice reframing the negative thoughts to positive ones, and over time you begin to believe your new thoughts. It’s much better to have an imposter moment than an imposter life!

What’s on the other side of imposter syndrome?

  • Getting your confidence back and feeling great about yourself again
  • Being connected to yourself and the people around you
  • Feeling free to speak, be creative, and be the best leader you can be

Extraordinary leaders, like you, who shatter glass ceilings, don’t allow themselves to remain a hostage to imposter syndrome for very long. They recognize the pattern when it rears its head, and they use tools like reframing to work it out of their system.

Businesses depend on leaders to make decisions based on fact, not beliefs brought on by feeling like an imposter. If you’d like a free coaching session to discover if it’s a fit, please book a call below.

Illustration by Chris Do

Tips for managing personalities in a design team

Tips for managing personalities in a design team

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.

One designers response to stress

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?”

The evolution of our response to stress

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.  

  1. The Perfectionist – Sets unattainably high standards for themself
  2. The Superhero – Attempts to juggle everything and everyone
  3. The Natural Genius – Needs to get things right the first time
  4. The Soloist  – Would never ask for help or feedback
  5. The Expert – Sees any lack of knowledge as a failure

Tips for managing personalities in a design team based on their competency profile

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.

The perfectionist personality profile


Cartoon of a perfectionist

The perfectionist

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. 

You’re being a perfectionist when you …

  • Feel your work must always be at 100%
  • Been accused of being a micromanager
  • It’s very difficult for you to delegate, and when you do, feel disappointed by the results
  • If you miss the mark on something, even by a tiny bit, you punish yourself or accuse yourself of not being cut out for the work

The pitfalls of having a perfectionist personality

Work stops being fulfilling. Workaholism leads to burnout. Anxiety leads to depression. Despite a positive outward appearance, inner self-confidence is very low.

A tough love message for perfectionist personalities

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

Perfectionist – Solutions for managing personalities in a design team 

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” 

  • Am worthy of love
  • Live in balance with others

The Superhero Personality Profile


Cartoon of Superhero personality

The Superhero

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? 

You’re being a superhero personality when you …

  • Find downtime boring
  • Let your hobbies and passions fall by the wayside to spend time on work
  • Routinely stay later than anyone else at work
  • Always say yes, even when the work doesn’t belong to you

The pitfalls of having a superhero personality

Feeling powerless. Being oversensitive to criticism. Mental health problems

A tough love message for superhero personalities

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.

Superhero – Solutions for managing personalities in a design team 

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.

Invite them to color code a week’s worth of meetings on their calendar to understand how they are spending their time. Use a time management framework like this one by Steven Covey.

  1. Urgent and important (RED) Crisis – Unless you are the boss, don’t spend all your time here.
  2. Not urgent but important (ORANGE) Planning – Spend most of your time here when you lead or work in a design team.
  3. Urgent and not important (GREEN) Interruptions – Delegate when possible or learn to say ‘no’ a lot, especially to the usual suspects (you know who they are!).
  4. Not urgent, not important (BLUE) Busy work – Eliminate. If you can’t completely get rid of these tasks, try and make it healthy or fun for yourself by turning it into a game.

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.

  • It is safe for me to be here
  • The earth supports me and meets my needs
  • I love my body and trust its wisdom

The Natural Genius Personality Profile

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. 

You’re being a Natural Genius when you …

  • Usually you excel at things without much effort
  • You avoid doing things that you’re not already good at
  • Handling things on your own is the best for you

The pitfalls of having a Natural Genius personality

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 

A tough love message for Natural Genius personalities

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),” 

Natural Genius – Solutions for managing personalities in a design team 

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. 

  • I am open to new ideas
  • Information I need comes to me
  • The world is my teacher

The Soloist Personality Profile

Cartoon of Soloist personality

The Soloist

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.

You’re being a Soloist personality when you …

  • Say to yourself, “I don’t need anyone’s help” 
  • Never make a direct request, but prefer to frame your request in terms of project, user needs, technical or business requirements
  • Dismiss the idea of having a coach or mentor as a waste of money
  • Go to extremes to figure things out on your own for them to count as an achievement

The pitfalls of having a Soloist personality

Loneliness and isolation. Hard to connect with others. Inability to express your feelings

A tough love message for Soloist personalities

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. 

Soloist – Solutions for managing personalities in a design team 

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” 

  • Deserve pleasure in my life
  • Move easily and effortlessly

The Expert Personality Profile

Cartoon of expert personality

The Expert

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.  

You’re being an Expert personality when you …

  • Read a job description but won’t apply unless you meet every single requirement
  • Constantly seeking out new certifications
  • Need proof of your skills in order to feel competitive in the job market
  • Despite being established in your career, still feel like you don’t know enough

The pitfalls of having a Expert personality

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.

A tough love message for Expert personalities

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.

Expert – Solutions for managing personalities in a design team 

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. 

  • I express myself with clear intent
  • Creativity flows in and through me
  • My voice is necessary

Case Study: Padma the Superhero 

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.”

Finding the solution you’ve been seeking 

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.

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Further Reading

The ROI of Maintaining Professional Ties When You Leave Your Position

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

hiring remove workers

How do you demonstrate care when you onboard new hires remotely?

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!

How to welcome a new hire when working remotely?

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?

Develop a ‘New Hire Kit’

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.

The benefits to you, your team and your new hire

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.

Set everyone up for success

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

the Leading by Design Newsletter

What Is the Leading by Design Newsletter? Great question.

Leading by Design is a blog for creative leaders working in tech. It’s not a “Why You Should Use AI in Design Thinking” or “How to Hire and Retain Product Design Teams with Impact” type of blog. There are enough of those.

I write about the challenges you can’t safely discuss as creative leaders working in tech. The stories come directly from my experience leading teams at Apple, Meta, Yahoo!, and some start-ups and from the executive design leaders I coach today.

I have written about the stressful magpie boss, hateful cross-functional peers, creative burnout, the shame of job loss and survivor guilt, and the fear of becoming irrelevant in the marketplace.

I publish once a week and offer strategies to reframe your challenge so you can return to being the creative leader your team loves you to be.

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