Article Review: Leadership Meanders, but a Good Start

It’s exciting to see an article discussing the need for UX leadership, especially as part of a series on UX Management. The article attempts to cover a lot: there are probably 3 or more articles in here. And as much as I adore Jim Collins, some references to other books on leadership would be welcome.

Since much of UX leadership is about influencing change in an organization, I would recommend anything by John Kotter, particularly starting with Leading Change. For those of you a little further down the path, Dark Matter and Trojan Horses is kinda brilliant.

On reading the introduction to Jim Nieters’ and Pabini Gabriel-Petit’s blog post UX Leadership, Part I: The Nature of Great Leaders, I struggle with the author’s idea that if a company is not set up to do great work then you should leave. If you as a UX professional in the organization do not attempt to affect change, then who will?

The next section of the article then says that overcoming the challenge of not being set up to do great work takes great UX leadership. So what’s the story: leave to go somewhere that gets it, or stay and use your leadership skills to influence?

Where I agree with the author:

  • Leadership skills can be learned.
  • Leadership is about vision and communicating that vision.
  • Leaders are politically astute. Ignore this quality at your peril.
  • Leaders are constantly learning.
  • Leaders need to speak the language of business. That’s why this blog exists, after all.
  • The “things that you must do” list in the final paragraph. That deserves a post of its own.

I don’t agree that:

  • Management and leadership are interchangeable terms. Instead, managers are charged with delivering on targets; leaders are charged with creating the right targets and influencing those around them to garner support.
  • Leaders should spend a lot of time resolving their shortcomings. Instead, work with someone who has complementary skills; however, if your shortcoming is that you’re overly sensitive or a dirtbag, then you probably should work on that.
  • The leader of UX must be someone entitled “Head of UX”. Unless the company has a Chief Experience Officer, the UX team will at some level have to roll up another group, but preferably not Product Management or Engineering. Schaffer and Lahiri’s book The Institutionalization of UX recommends that UX teams roll up into Customer Experience, and failing that, Marketing.

It’s exciting to see an article discussing the need for UX leadership especially as part of a series on UX Management. We as designers need to be able to advocate for the value of our work to the business as well as to our customers for those who have not reached the point of understanding that customers are the business.


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