Learning how to lead as a junior UX designer
When you hear the words “leader” and “leadership,” what do you think of?
You might think of personality traits like extroversion or charisma. You might think of colleagues who are assertive or proactive. Or you might think of activities like leadership retreats or team-building exercises like the dreaded trust fall.
You may also think of a leader as a person in a position of power and influence—people like Sheryl Sandberg, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. People often refer to an organization’s CEO, CTO, and CFO as “the leadership,” so maybe you think of the senior managers in your organization.
The terms “leader” and “leadership” are muddy. These terms hold different meanings for different people.
Two of our courses, Leadership and Facilitated Leadership, focus on leadership skills. When students graduate from Center Centre, they’ll be industry-ready, junior UX designers who understand what it means to effectively lead.
As we build our curriculum, we ask ourselves questions like,
- What will our students need to learn to be effective leaders?
- After graduation, how will they exhibit leadership on a design team when their title is junior designer?
To answer these questions, we have to get to the core of leadership. Dr. Jim Tucker, an expert in learning and leadership, provided us with this definition of leadership:
Leadership is a relationship in which one or more individuals influences one or more other individuals to change.
This is Center Centre’s definition of leadership. Notice that we define leadership as a relationship, not as a position.
We believe that anyone can lead, regardless of their title. A title like Director or Manager doesn’t necessarily mean that you know how to influence others to change. It just means that you have a title and a position higher up in the org chart.
Center Centre students will know how to influence others. Graduates will know when it’s appropriate to step up and steer the design team toward shared goals, even when they’re surrounded by senior people. They will also know how to step up.
One way to steer a team is by applying the concept of micro leadership. In an interview with Leah Buley, our co-founder, Jared Spool, describes micro leadership:
[Micro leadership is] this idea that you’re not the CEO of the company or the head of the organization, but in fact, at that moment in that meeting, you’re the one who leans forward and says, “Hey guys, I have a way we can work through this.”
Then you bring out the Post-its and you bring out the technique and you say, “Let’s write some ideas down and put them on the wall, and then we’re going to organize them in this interesting way and see what happens.” For that brief moment, you’ve become the leader of the group.
That skill, being able to know when to do that, how to do that, how to be effective at it, and then how to sit back and say, “OK, group, someone else has to take over at this point, because I’ve done my little piece,” is a core UX skill that we hardly ever talk about.
By applying concepts like micro leadership in a team setting, our students will learn how to influence others to change when change is needed. They’ll know when to step up, and when to step back down so the team can continue to move forward.