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What being a UX Mentor taught me about leadership

Jan 10, 2022

Are you a UX manager, mentor, leading a small design team, or taking on more responsibility in your job as a Designer? This advice is for you. I want to share three things I learned about leadership in my two years as a UX Mentor at CareerFoundry.

Besides my personal experience, the book Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday has also been hugely inspirational. It helps showcase my UX/UI Designer journey and mentor from a bird’s eye view.

As a UX Mentor: talking is silver

I’ve observed that the more authority a leader has (e.g., being responsible for a team or having a fancy title), the faster they jump into solution mode instead of exploring the problem. They also tend to talk more in meetings than their subordinates. To be fair, I’ve also recognized this behavior in myself. 

Leaders have to make decisions quickly. But sometimes, we want to make decisions too quickly to get the problem out of the way. But by jumping to conclusions, we can miss valuable information that other team members could bring to the table if we took the time to ask a few questions. 

We risk overruling our team members because we think that being more experienced always means having the correct answers. This is how we are losing diverse perspectives to solve a problem – by talking instead of listening. I need to remind myself often about the meaning of the proverb “Speech is silver, silence is golden.”

Having the answer is more comfortable than listening

As a UX mentor, telling my students precisely what to do felt very natural. I have the answer because I’m the expert, right? Yet, this behavior can be counterproductive. It creates only a one-lane road of collaboration. Aside from doing a disservice to my mentee by helping them find their own solutions, it’s also closing the opportunities for me as a mentor to grow since I already know all the answers. Talking about our knowledge comes so naturally. Maybe we are doing this because it’s easier to have an answer than to listen.

“You can’t learn if you think you already know.”

Epictetus

I had the most productive and fun mentoring sessions when I learned something new from my students. It was moments when the student/mentor relationship was on eye level, and I was open to recognizing that I didn’t have all the answers. As a mentor, I am also limited to my own viewpoint and will always have much more to learn from my students! 

Always be a student

To learn, we need to listen. The moment you talk, you are unable to discover new facts. I found that being humble enough to learn from my students allowed me to expand my knowledge and improve my job.

It can be challenging to admit that your student has a better idea or concept than you. But isn’t that an excellent opportunity to grow and expand your knowledge? In the end, this is how we can grow professionally.

Conclusion

Remember the quote “speech is silver, silence is gold.” when your mentees or co-workers present their ideas. Dare to sit still and listen to their ideas. You could learn something new.

Having the answer can feel the right impulse. Instead, listen, and help your mentees come up with the solution.

Having a student mindset is the foundation to grow personally and professionally. Accepting you don’t know it all will open your mind to learning.

 David Wenk
I’m sharing my thoughts and experiences about B2B Product Development, UX-Design and Innovation.

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