Ignite UX Michigan 2018 – Ancient wisdom for developing UX leadership – Ben Howell

Hello The Tao is a guide for leadership

Laozi, a record keeper or archivist dictated 81 verses over 25 years ago The text offers guidance that is balanced, moral, ethical, and always concerned with working for the greater good I'm going to share three examples where I studied a verse in the Tao, thought about its relationship to my work, and applied its principles to lead UX work more effectively The author Wayne Dyer calls this process doing the Tao now Following this process is challenging

I'm still a train wreck at times, but when I follow these principles, I'm less anxious, I make better decisions, and I'm able to help team members and stakeholders engage in more collaborative and rewarding UX work So verse one, "Ever desireless, one can see the mystery, ever desiring, one can only see the manifestations and the mystery itself is the doorway to all understanding" Thinking of this verse, I realized that my internal state of desiring and allowing ebb and flow from kickoff to product launch For example, I want all my team members to understand user needs But do I involve them in user research and design activities? What happens when projects see to go south? Aren't UX leaders supposed to thrive in the midst of ambiguity and chaos? I've recognized my fight responses kick in when stakeholders criticize my design decisions or decide to make last minute changes to functional space

Within the semi-controlled environment of the usability study, however, it feels easy to observe and allow all types of users to have different behavior, comments, and just dead ends to flow because we're prepared with the mindset and tools to generate insights that improve that user's final experience We can show ourselves, and our design team, and our stakeholders more patience and non-judgment in all aspects of UX and product development work We chose the number of cats and types of cats we herd, and we invest less time with turf wars that free us to do more important work So verse 17, "With the greatest leader above them, people barely know one exists Next comes one who they love and praise, next comes one who they fear, next comes one who they despise and defy

When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts them The great leader speaks little, she never speaks carelessly, she works without self-interest, and she leaves no trace When all is finished, the people say, we did it ourselves!" Looking at it as an enlightened UX leader means changing how we see leadership If means project teams and team members working together to create an environment where everyone feels safe and they have the resources and inspiration to do their best work When teams feel safe, they approach change and unfamiliar methods enthusiastically

They shoulder creative work and coordinate together more easily I'm grateful when team members prepare for UX activities, and show up, and take ownership, and initiative to understand user needs I'm lucky enough to have two talented interns helping with our UX load Each week we meet And when I've done my part to prepare a clear vision and timeline for our work, they do an amazing job coordinating, and problem solving, and then carrying out that work independently

Verse 33, "One who understands others has knowledge, one who understands themselves has wisdom Mastering others requires force, mastering the self requires strength" For anyone out there who's currently or internally a UX team of one, I'm there with you Carve out space for reflection each day Claiming time has helped me understand what I need, and it's reduced the impulse to take on too much, or to blame, or to try to convince others

For me, a critical part of reflection has been to record a principle of leadership that inspires me, and to commit to a specific way to apply that principle in my work that day Remembering what works and what doesn't helps me communicate what I need and better prioritize my time, set boundaries, and guide design and UX decisions within different project teams Remembering also helps us to build on past successes and to do better work with less effort So here are three things you can apply from the Tao Strike a balance between desiring great UX work now, and allowing teams to develop sustainable UX practices that live beyond you

Lead softly and take care of your team, pause, and cultivate reflection For further reading, Wayne Dyer's Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, Live in the Wisdom of the Tao will actually change your thoughts and your life This book will reshape your creativity leadership approach and your internal dialogue As a new practitioner leader, I'm excited to cultivate more awareness, inclusion, and organizational health within our UX profession Feel free to reach out if you want to talk about these verses, or about projects, or about stepping off the hamster wheel

[APPLAUSE]

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