Lessons in Leadership: Observing Bosses, Managers & Client Over A Decade

Lessons in Leadership: Observing Bosses, Managers & Client Over A Decade

I  started my career almost fifteen years ago (gasp!) and for almost a  decade now I’ve been collecting lessons on leadership — from managing  teams myself as well as from observing clients, bosses and managers that  I worked with. Over the years, in the spirit of learning, I kept  writing down down examples of good and bad leadership, looking for  patterns and things that I need to watch out for when working with  people. Thought it would be a fun to turn that into a blog post, since  design leadership is a hot topic now and I have something to add to the  discourse.

Without further ado, here are my observations, as an easily digestible list.

Things I learned about being a leader

  • Explain the why, let your team figure out the how.
  • Never use the job seniority argument. This undermines your credibility and makes you look like an ass.
  • Your experience isn’t other people’s experience. Learn to listen.
  • “Because I say so” is never a valid argument.
  • “Manager” is a title. “Leader” is a mindset.
  • Don’t get bogged down in details: collaborate with your direct reports and let them take care of their part.
  • Trust your team. You’re working with adults.
  • Failing is learning. Failure is an outcome, not an identity.
  • Opinions hold no value in serious discussions, speak about the facts.
  • Never assume ill intent.
  • Identify questions and misunderstandings early — the further down the road it comes up, the more expensive it will be to fix.
  • “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business” — Henry Ford
  • Relentlessly focus on things that work.
  • If your team is 100% booked, when do they learn?
  • It’s easier to make things people want than to make people want things.
  • When  you make it easy to do the right thing, people are much more likely to  do it, and then do it effortlessly and without conflict.
  • No matter how beautiful your theory is, if it doesn’t work as experiment, it’s wrong.
  • The hardest part of your job is to figure out what excites and motivates every single person that reports to you and adjust the leadership style accordingly.
  • Turnover and burnout within the team are the mark of bad leadership.
  • Ideas are worth zero. Execution matters.
  • Bosses  are responsible for results. They achieve these results not by doing  all the work themselves but by guiding the people on their teams. Bosses  guide a team to achieve results.
  • Relax. Look around. Make a call.
  • Own your mistakes.
  • Leader who tries to take on too many problems simultaneously will likely fail at them all.
  • Don’t be a bottleneck, learn to trust and delegate.
  • “Winging it” is not a valid strategy. Plan ahead and learn from past mistakes.
  • Leaders who lose their temper also lose respect.
  • Praise in public, criticize in private.
  • If people need constant oversight, it means you didn’t explain your goals and intent right.
  • Putting some structure around way things work lets your team focus on things that actually matter. Boundaries are freedom.
  • Processes are great, but only when they’re tailored to serve around the team, the goals, and the expected results.
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The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

I’m pretty sure I haven’t ever read a Susan Wiggs novel before this one. I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, this novel had me at bookshop (as they all do!) and even though I’ve had an ARC of this book for months, I finally decided to finish it today, after stopping and starting a few times a few months ago. 

I’ll confess I was cruising along with my books, and suddenly this past week I hit a wall again. Just couldn’t get through anything. So I am glad I picked this back up again, because I hit that magical place in the book that had me focusing in and forgetting about anything for awhile. Even though I didn’t do anything for July 4th but stay home and cook out, I was still feeling a bit of a holiday hangover today. After watering my flowers outside and getting laundry started, I was happy to just stay inside and read. 

This novel really is a nod to booklovers everywhere. Natalie Harper grew up in a bookstore; her mother Blythe operates a family bookshop in a building that has been in the Harper family for 100 years-a coveted building in fashionable San Francisco. After a horrible tragedy, Natalie returns to San Francisco and the bookshop, to take stock of its future, and to take care of Grandy, her grandfather. He’d recently fallen and broken his hip and was now showing signs of early dementia. Natalie had been successful at a wine brokerage firm and while she didn’t love her job, she was good at it. But it wasn’t hard to leave and return, if only to help her Grandy take care of next steps. 

Those next steps aren’t as easy as Natalie expects, when she finds out her Grandy owns the building and the bookstore, and will not sell, even after Natalie realizes they are deep in debt and behind on taxes. What’s a bookstore manager to do, but try and build up the business with a huge author event that could help pay bills and give the store much needed advertising?

Natalie also meets Peach Gallagher, a local “hammer guy” who specializes in fixing old buildings. Her mother had arranged for Peach to fix a few things in the building, and Peach is one good looking man. He’s also a really decent man, with an adorable daughter who frequents the bookstore. His friendly and calm attitude helps Natalie as she struggles between grief, understanding her grandfather’s failing health, and the tough decisions she has to make. 

So we’ve got a few things running through this story: the struggle to save the bookstore, an ailing grandfather, a potential romance, and a story that’s been handed down over the generations about a treasure that’s hidden somewhere in the building, left by Grandy’s grandmother, who died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Is it just a fanciful story, or is there treasure lurking somewhere-treasure that could save the business?

I read this novel pretty quickly, and enjoyed it very much. No surprises, just a gentle unfolding of the story. I loved all the book references, and the peeks into what it takes to run a bookstore. Definitely a good vacation book!

This book is out in the U.S. on July 7th in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Rating: 4/6 for an enjoyable novel about life when it makes a few sharp turns, the importance of family, and of course, the life changing magic of books. Some parts made me a little teary-eyed, so you may need a tissue! 



Snowpiercer – Film Review

South Korean science fiction film. Probably not a common export from the small country living in somewhat fear from their communist other half, but yet here it is.

Don’t let its origin scare you though, because although it is technically a foreign language film, roughly 80% of the dialogue is English, while the remainder is cleverly placed language barriers.

Staying clear of spoilers, Snowpiercer is essentially a post-apocalyptic story set in the future where a failed experiment to stop global warming has resulted in an ice age which nearly eradicates all life on the planet.

Our story centers on the last remnants of humanity, currently existing only within a train, which happens to be the namesake of the film. This train is fitted with a perpetual motion engine and has been running for seventeen years.

If this is new to you, it’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s quite interesting and you can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual-motion

(And if you’re Simpsons fans you may already be familiar with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwXuVvqUz4g)

Now, this plot itself is already crazy interesting, however, what makes it such a fantastic watch is how the last of mankind developed this really dystopian living within this train. Several castes has sprung up, where the elites live at the front of the train, while the quality of living goes further and further down all the way to the tail of the train.

And our protagonists happen to be living at the back of this train, that is, until a revolt. A revolt where they fight their suppressors and make their way to the front of the train. As they have never left the tail of the train, watching them make their way through each section is almost like going through several Terry Gilliam movies. It’s really cool and bizarre to watch.

It features an excellent ensemble cast of very different actors, all bringing their A game. Chris Evans (Sunshine, Captain America) plays the lead and gives what is without a doubt his best performance. He is joined by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Tintin), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk about Kevin, Narnia), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) as well as the amazing Ed Harris (The Truman Show, The Abyss) and John Hurt (The Elephant Man, 1984) who has been proclaimed, and rightly so, as one of the best actors of all time.

As I said, the film also features Korean dialogue, which comes in the form of another two actors who round out the cast. In fact, I realized after watching this that I had seen them both before, in the only previous film I had seen of the director. That was the 2006 monster movie The Host which became a big hit.

Within the train, tensions are through the roof, and outside the icy landscape create a beautiful image of wonderful desolation. While the climax is perhaps a bit lackluster, the ending can be conceived as quite brilliant as we realize that the human race might not be at the center of things.

Originally released in South Korea in late 2013, Snowpiercer was released in the US in summer 2014 to critical acclaim. If this sounds interesting at all, then it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s out on Blu-Ray and DVD, and will apparently be arriving on Netflix this November.

Keep in mind, Snowpiercer is rated R.

C+