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Summary: All leaders must overcome challenges to grow. Here are five common challenges you’ll face as a UXR leader — and how you can conquer them.
As a leader, you’ll encounter many professional obstacles throughout your career. Navigating these obstacles is part of the growth process, making you a better leader with each experience.
During my career as a UXR leader, I’ve faced a few challenges and have learned, over time, how to conquer them. Now, I’m going to share with you those challenges and strategies to overcome them.
1. Sharing with other leaders
Usually leading a specialist team means you are likely the head of that role or function within your area. It also likely means that there are few if any other leaders in your discipline. In UXR, this often means you are networking outside of your own organisation to find peers.
While we may share the difficulties we face with other professionals, we cant always share our exact tactics. Since our products are so different from what other teams are developing, the tactics we use don’t necessarily translate well to someone in a different vertical. That’s why we need to find a standard way to compare and share all the information we have — including tactics — so we can all be more helpful to one another.
Actively encouraging knowledge sharing across leaders and departments is a great first step. Establish spaces and channels for leaders to regularly share their knowledge. Encourage frequent communication and collaboration. Focus on shared goals and how each leader is working toward them.
2. Learning by making mistakes
We may fear making mistakes as we don’t want to look foolish or inconvenience our teams and clients, however, errors and corrections are great learning tools. They help us to understand what went wrong and how to do better next time.
Think of when you first learned to ride a bike. Most likely, you had trouble balancing at first. You might have even fallen a few (or several) times. However, this didn’t signal the end of your bike riding days. Chances are, you got up, brushed off your bruised knees and dented ankles, and tried again until you got it right.
In the same way, it’s okay if we don’t handle every situation perfectly the first time. Consider that initial attempt as a stepping stone toward the ideal response. Carefully analyse the mistakes made and how they can be avoided in the future, then keep moving forward.
3. Avoiding ‘growth theatre’
Professional development can offer serious growth opportunities, but only if we engage in it meaningfully. “Growth theatre” — going through the motions of development without putting in the work or consideration — won’t get us anywhere. Reading books, undergoing training, and attending seminars are all great starting points, but if we don’t put these theories into practise, we’re only wasting our own time.
Self-analysis and accepting feedback from others at all levels of the organisation are crucial. I once had a junior who often gave me “unsolicited” feedback in our one-to-one meetings. At first, I thought he was a bit cheeky, however, he insisted that management should also want to know the view of those being managed. He was right, and I thank him for being brave enough to share his feedback as it allowed me to improve as a leader and a professional.
4. Finding good coaches
Finding the right coach can help you take your career to the next level. While mentors and sponsors can provide valuable advice and insight about UXR or your specific company, a coach will point out your weaknesses and help you to build up the necessary skills.
I do want to note that working regularly with a coach can get pricey. You can follow coaches on LinkedIn and Twitter to glean their insights, but their thought leadership pieces won’t be tailored to your individual needs. It’s like watching a workout video as opposed to having a personal trainer who customises your plan and works directly with you. Although both have their value, they serve different functions, and personalised attention might produce faster results.
5. Getting serious about yourself as a leader
As UXR professionals, we can take many different career paths. Wherever you are in your career, it’s crucial to take stock and consider which path is best for you. If you aren’t on the independent consultant path and don’t want to be a solo specialist forever, your next step is to think about leadership. If you have enjoyed leading in the past and see this as your future, it’s time to get serious about it.
When moving toward leadership, consider an organisation’s culture. I was fortunate enough to find a company with a corporate culture that allowed me to bring my whole self to work; one that valued both my creative and analytical sides. Although this is rare and unique, it’s not impossible to find. There’s little advantage to progressing in an organisation that you don’t love or one that doesn’t make you feel inspired. Only climb ladders if you like what you see at the top.
Fellow UX leaders: What are your greatest professional challenges and how do you work to overcome them? I’d love to hear from you!
5 Career Challenges You’ll Face as a UXR Leader and How to Conquer Them was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.