If you have not seen this article you should check it out. Its a good read and thought provoking.
Here are some of my thoughts about this.
I do agree that there needs to be more of a focus on leadership in the UX industry. In the years of working in the Internet industry I have seen a lot of successes and failures in UX leadership. I think the framework (inward facing and outward facing) that is used here is a good way to think about UX leadership.
Our industry as whole is still pretty new and still evolving. Look at the different titles we have called ourselves over the years. The evolution of our role and our level contributions has affected UX leadership. I think in the beginning it was pretty open and as leaders we were allowed to contribute where we could. There were not a lot of expectations around the role and what we had to bring to the table. This was good and bad. The good side was that we were allowed to leverage our individual strengths and do what we could to make things better within an organization. But we had to fit within the rigidly of the traditional model of leadership and management. If you were lucky enough to get mentored this was less of a bumpy transition. If not, you were thrown to the wolves of corporate policy. Also we did lack “E” level influence in those days but we were able to affect the products on a team level.
Now there is such a higher level of expectations for us and what the role is or could be. Briefly mentioned in the article is that there are different types of leadership roles. In management speak this is situational leadership. For UX, these situational leadership roles are often dependent on the company’s lifecycle. Start ups need one type of leader while medium sized companies need another. Since we all individuals with strengths and weakness there are some situations or companies that are a better match for us. Recognizing this and finding the best fit will help you grow and enjoy what you do.
There is a point about manager vs leader in this article and it is valid and I do agree that they are not equal to one another. However, there are not many opportunities out there were one gets to focus on design leadership without having to deal with management. I think it would be foolish of us to think that we could just skip out on that part of the role. Its not realistic. Most of us work in various size companies that operate under a company umbrella and these are required baggage that comes with the role. I do know of one organization that tried to break the role up into two roles (people management and design direction) but this is a luxury. Also who the heck wants to do just people management!? I think it can create a situation of animosity and unbalance. We are stuck with this work so I think we have to figure out how to minimize this in our day-to-day work.
Often times this management work becomes a trade off for hands on work. This in my opinion is where we get off track. It does not make sense to spend years of education and on the job experience mastering design skills to have them thrown away once you become a leader. It is not only is self-deprecating but also keeps you away from your passion. This is really tough to do and often projects are not meaty enough to really keep you challenged as a designer. Additionally if you are a good leader you should be providing challenging opportunities to your team to help them grow. It is not always an easy choice to make. Most organizations have enough work its just finding the right project to contribute to.
I am seeing a few new trends in UX leadership that is being driven out of the economic down turn. One of them is that most organizations are trying to be lean as result leaders at non-director levels seem to be disappearing or are hard to find. This consolidation results in loss of jobs and the remaining leaders taking on much more than they handle effectively. This is basically a scaling issue that leaves designers without much leadership and support. The leaders themselves are stretches so thin its hard to imagine them feeling great about what they are doing.