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Being a great designer doesn’t automatically make you a great design leader

Becoming an effective manager takes time and effort. This is the advice I would give to my younger self.

Being a great designer doesn’t automatically make you a great design leader
[Photo: John Schnobrich/Unsplash]

Dear younger me,

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You finally scored that promotion you’ve been looking for, right? You’re now a manager. I’m really excited for you; this is the first step of something big. Make sure to celebrate this promotion with your loved ones. Yep, go ahead and get drunk tonight; you don’t need to act professional all the time.

Now that you are a manager, things will start to change. Probably not in the way you’re expecting, though . . . You’re such a dreamer, aren’t you? Let me tell you a few things that I wish someone had told me when I became a manager for the first time.

First off: People have different ways of working. Not everyone on your team will tackle design challenges the same way you would. Instead of trying to be prescriptive about how you think they should solve the problem, make sure they understand what the problem is, and empower them to make their own decisions and to explore their own paths.

Be there to support them and to steer them in the right direction; but don’t try to outline the entire path, simply because it won’t work.

Also, you don’t need to delegate every single thing. It’s fine to do part of the work yourself. It’s actually better if you do.

I know what you’re thinking: If people see you doing the work instead of managing the work, they will not respect your new position. They’ll think you’re not really a manager, and that you too immature to step away from the craft of design. That you just can’t let go.

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Time will show you that you were seriously wrong.

Smart people understand that great managers lead by example, and that hard, hands-on work is one of the best examples you can give your team.

Instead of telling people what they should be doing, understand what motivates them. Is it salary? Is it a fancy-sounding job title? Is it the chance to do the best work of their lives? Or is it just verbal recognition—do they just need to feel loved and respected? Whatever it is, understand what motivates your people.

When you are in a meeting, stop trying to show off that you have technical knowledge in front of everyone. I know, you want people to respect you, now that you are a manager, and you want to make sure everyone knows you’re only a manager now because you have worked your ass off to get there. You will want to comment on every single pixel of the work your team is sharing with you—just to show them who the boss is.

[Photo: Ezra Bailey/Getty Images]

Just. Don’t.

I also know you’ll try to pull back and stop acting like you’re just another team member. Because you’re higher in the company hierarchy, you will try to change your behavior so the folks who used to be your peers understand that you’re in a position of power now. It’s not because you’re a manager that you need to act bossy, or to add that pedantic tone of voice to how you position yourself to your team.

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Never, ever boss-plain anything to anyone. As a matter of fact, you don’t need to change anything about how you behave or treat other people; the change should come from how you look at design from a more strategic perspective. That’s it.

Let go of your ego. Sooner than you think, you’re not going to be the most talented designer in the room anymore, and that’s okay. Your team’s ideas will be stronger than yours, their design more edgy. Stop competing with your team. I know that competitive behavior comes from a place of survival; you’re afraid that if someone is more talented than you, they’ll think they deserve your managerial position.

You will even feel hesitant about hiring someone that is clearly a more talented designer than you are. Let. Go. The reality (that no one will explicitly tell you) is that when your team shines, you shine. It’s going to take you a while, but soon enough you’ll get it.

One last thing: I know you’re excited about your new position, and you can’t wait to tell the world that you finally “got there.” Fair enough.

But hold off. First, make sure you’re comfortable in your new-manager skin. Practice your new role and responsibilities for four or five years, to understand if you’re actually going to be a good manager or just a mediocre one (believe me, it’s going to take a while for you to get better at it).

Your Medium story about “What I Learned In 3 Months As A Design Lead” can wait a little longer.

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Oh, and if someone tells you that you’re really excellent at what you do, thank them, and the next second forget that you heard it.

Best regards,

Your future self.


This story originally appeared on UX Collective. Fabricio Teixeira is design director at Work & Co and founder of UX Collective.

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