Contribution: Women in Tech Share Positive Experiences and Advice for Landing a Great Gig

kimberly-coles

Lately there have been a lot of blog posts outlining stories of battles women have won to represent themselves in the technology industry, and hurdles they’ve overcome to fight for gender equality in the workplace.

What there aren’t many of, though, are posts explaining that not every company puts those hurdles in the way or makes those battles necessary.

Continue Reading…

The Powerhouse Leader Your Org Is Probably Missing

So there are all kinds of manager vs. boss vs. person-in-charge-who-you-hate posts kicking around. They define the difference between the various types, talk about their flaws and positive traits etc.

I’m going to skip all of that since it’s been hashed out a billion times, and bring a powerful leader that is often overlooked to your attention instead. A few of the initial traits I describe are going to sound familiar, but the last one is what really defines this type of leadership style.

  1. This leader is someone who naturally earns the respect of a team, by respecting the team. If a team member does something disrespectful, out of line, or just wrong, the leader handles it immediately in a manner that is fair. (Stern talking to, probation, kicking them out the door, whatever needs to be done to ensure the rest of the team culture can continue rocking along.)
  2. This leader is someone who notices when something stupid happens. They have the skill to either identify the stupid thing immediately themselves, or they listen when another teammate comes to them to point out the stupid thing.
  3. This leader can make someone realize that they’ve done something stupid without actually making them FEEL stupid. This is a rare trait. It’s possible to coach people without making them feel like morons when they make a mistake. Obviously if someone is making repetitive mistakes that are negatively impacting your business, you need to take a different approach (up to and including letting them go) but when someone makes an honest mistake these leaders can coach them to improve without making them feel small. They empower people to succeed rather than scaring them into a state of constant fear of losing their job if they do one thing wrong. 
  4. This leader can diffuse raging battles like a champ. They march in and activate their mad (and sincere) empathy skills and magically resolve the issue at hand without making any party feel slighted

This is the secret sauce I was talking about.

I say they do it magically because it seriously SEEMS magical. I’ve had the opportunity to work for several people in my life who had this skill set, and it’s mind blowing to watch.

At my previous startup, we had a VP named Patti DiSanto and another VP named Jason Coudriet with this power, and I SWEAR they could walk into the middle of a riot and their mere presence would make everyone immediately calm down.

They’d ask the people to hug, and they’d do it. Then the people on both sides would offer them their first born children and left kidneys as a token of their thanks. (I work with incredible leaders with the same skill set now, but I won’t embarrass them by mentioning names.) 😉

This skill-set isn’t just an “HR rep” thing. Putting people with this level of empathetic skill in the position to lead a team and impact business decisions is a benefit to your culture, to every employee who ever has the opportunity to work for and learn business practice from them, AND your to bottom line. These folks are an absolute POWERHOUSE when it comes to building strong client relationships that last. ($$$)

You typically can’t identify these people with a resume, “Magical conflict resolving/make clients love us skills” isn’t a common resume bullet point, but when you meet or interview one, you’ll know immediately.

Often times, the person doesn’t even realize how powerful their skill-set could be in a business environment.

If you immediately thought of someone you know when you read this post, encourage them to pursue a position in leadership if they have any interest in it—they have the potential to make a huge, positive impact.

Companies (ESPECIALLY startups) need more of this form of leadership to survive and flourish.

I really don’t think it’s any coincidence that my last 2 back to back startups have gone on to be extremely successful. Both companies had a variety of powerhouse leadership styles including this one in the mix.

Without this person in a startup leadership team, when you hit the rapid growth stage and everyone starts to freak out, panic, and turn on one another due to stress, you’re dealing with sheer mayhem that can topple an entire company.

I’m not trying to say that hiring someone with this skill-set is the only thing you need to make your startup succeed, but hiring them WILL get you to the finish line with less permanent business & interdepartmental relationship casualties than you would have incurred otherwise.

Picking the right combination of inspiring, powerful Senior Leadership team members is key to any business’s success—make your choices wisely.

Design Thinking Combat Zone: Undermining Decades of Industry Progress

img_5489Recently the design community has developed a giant central rift over the concept of Design Thinking. There are those who absolutely love Design Thinking, what it stands for, and practical applications they’ve been able to employ in their workplaces.

There are others who are blowing the whistle on Design Thinking and are trying to explain the reasons why, “It doesn’t exist.”

Here’s the thing. For decades, designers have been silo-ed away in dark rooms and viewed as tortured artists. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an artist, in fact, many designers are incredible artists, but their skillsets also extend far beyond. Designers are problem solvers, business leaders, execs, founders, innovators driving the future of technology, the list goes on.

Design Thinking really took off because for the first time in decades, designers had a way to explain and then clearly demonstrate why they should be permitted to exit the dark room and contribute to the high level conversations. Instead of being given instructions on what to create, they were given the opportunity to actually design solutions to the problems companies and clients were facing.

Design Thinking gave designers the vehicle they needed to have conversations with C-level staffers around why they needed a (I hate this phrase so much but I’m going to use it here for dramatic effect… wait for it…) seat at the table. (Blech. But You get the idea.)

Prior to Design Thinking taking off, it was EXTREMELY difficult for designers to break out of the design room into a space where they could help guide business decisions.

And the companies that embraced design leadership and let them join the conversation? They have been making it rain when quarterly earnings reports come around.

Not going to lie, you hear the occasional horror story about how a company embraced a really terrible design leader and wrote off the entire industry as a result. But those stories are few and far between these days given the high bar put forth by the industry.

Talented design leaders are absolutely crushing it right now in senior staffer positions.

So what’s the big deal about this whole Design Thinking fight? Who cares right? It’s conceptual.

Except it’s not folks. Design Thinking is the crowbar that opened the door to enterprise companies letting designers in to help guide business decisions in addition to product design decisions. People who are discounting it now, aren’t discounting it in a designer only vacuum.

Enterprise companies and C-level leaders are now paying more attention to the design industry than ever before. This argument that previously may have gone unnoticed beyond our immediate design community is being seen by C-level staffers and they’re starting to question their investments in design leadership in general. They aren’t paying attention to the nuances of the language being used, they’re just seeing a headline that says Design Thinking is dead. Then they’re giving their design leaders the side eye in board meetings. We’re undermining our own industry, and we need to knock that ish off before we sink ourselves back into the dark silo-ed off hole from whence we came.

If we want to fight about nomenclature, and specifics, and concepts surrounding methodology and what is and isn’t design, it’s fine. If we want to redefine Design Thinking, and create new terms and descriptors it’s cool. But loudly and proudly shouting that Design Thinking is BS, is… well it’s BS. It needs to stop before any more damage is done to designers on the threshold of pushing through to having the opportunity to make their products better from the top down.

And seriously, there are still enormous enterprise companies that don’t even HAVE product designers. At all. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

So designers, let’s not distract ourselves so much with internal arguments that we lose our footing in the corporate world. We can evolve our thinking, adjust our methods and keep moving forward without cutting each other down. Let’s just do our best to keep kicking ass in the board room and keep our sights on our mission as an industry: Improving the world around us for the next generation, one project at a time.