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.
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.
Without a doubt, the need for speed and cross-functional collaboration is challenging.
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.
An alliance works best when you begin the process with a conversation and ask open-ended questions:
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.
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.
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:
Then, could you take a step back and assess where you are in the conversation?
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.
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!
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
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
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.
Photo by Nico Jacobs for Unsplash
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.
Photo by Joanna Kosinska for Unsplash