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What a boss really wants in a design lead or manager

Updated: Jun 30

Dreaming of becoming a design leader? I’m often asked what I look for in a lead designer or design manager. We are on the lookout for self-sufficient leaders, not just another cog in the machine. It’s about being a doer, a planner, and a problem-solver.

Get-It-done attitude

Design executives are swamped. They need someone who is able to get the job done without extensive support from the executive. That means figuring out what needs to be done, crafting a strategy, and keeping the VP updated on progress so they can provide direction and support as needed. Look for opportunities to take the lead on a project or initiative and demonstrate that you are capable of handling more responsibility.

Applied business acumen

Understanding customers and solving problems with design is a leadership requirement most people are able to demonstrate. Fewer understand the business model, strategy and priorities and are able to apply this understanding to projects. Explaining how your approach or design decisions further the business goals and customer goals puts you ahead of others and builds trust with the executive that you can make bigger decisions.

Setting up others

Leading a team? It’s about more than just assigning tasks. It’s about setting clear goals, explaining the rationale, and empowering the team to do their best work. This is challenging and often requires coaching or training to develop these skills. Some small ways to start are to restate the goals and rationale when the team makes key decisions, and waiting to share your opinion until after the team has shared theirs.

If your goal is a leadership role in design, demonstrate that you get things done, understand the business, nurture the team, and lead with influence. Excel in these areas, and you might find yourself in that coveted leadership position.

Image: These are some old concepts in my sketch book for a painting I want to do.


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