Impact StrategyLeadership

How Design Thinking Makes You a Better Leader 

Growing up my leadership image was a charismatic, extroverted, and in control person. One who was having all the answers, always telling people what to do, and in charge. And it made sense, after all the Latino culture at the time valued hierarchy. 

Later on, I learned that different leadership styles vary from command and control to servant leadership and a mix in between. And after reading and being in the workforce for a while, my leadership is definition changed. Her is my definition:

Leadership is the art of facilitation and collaboration to achieve objectives by solving problems, setting direction, and give team ownership.

However, when I looked at how to improve my skills, I found that most of the literature focuses on the leadership definition, looking at what made past leaders successful and improving essential leadership skills such as interpersonal, communication, and management. These are crucial skills to develop and master; however, I found four gaps.

  • It focused on the end goal, personal objectives, and not much on who was doing the work.
  • Improving skills focus mostly on managing the individual and not working with the team.
  • It lacked how to foster collaboration and working as a team.
  • Lack of a framework to put different skills to work together

Leadership is human-centered at its core

These points sound self-serving. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against improving personal performance and skills. After all, as an athlete, I know how important it is to improve on a technique. Leadership is s human-centered at its core. And in a rush to get things done, sometimes we tend to forget this.

Problem Solving is key to Leadership 

A strategy is deciding what to do and not to do. And a critical part of the process is identifying what problems are worth the effort.

 “The ability to identify critical problems is the most underrated skill in management.” The MIT Leadership Center

If the ability to identify problems is the most underrated skill, then traditional leadership styles need to adapt to a new mindset and a new way of working.

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process. It provides a framework for listening, learning, and then leading in today’s environment—a way of thinking and method to improve our leadership skills.

How does Design Thinking make you a better leader?

Let’s look at the process:

Empathize: Set aside your assumptions and understand the people you seek to serve and their challenges. As a manager, team leader, or team member, the people you want to help are the people who are working with you. Seeking to understand the problems people face, seeing things from their perspective before attempting to come up with ideas and create solutions will help fine-tune their real challenges.

Define: Clearly define the problem worth solving. Once you understand the many barriers that are stopping him/her from moving forward, working together, you choose one to three issues that have a high impact and low implantation effort to focus.

Ideate: Brainstorm to generate ideas and select one to three to prototype. After you had agreed on crucial problems to solve, you generate ideas that can provide potential solutions as a team.

Prototype: Create a model or a simple version of the final product (or process). This step could be as simple as working together to create a plan with three action tasks on what to do next.

Test: Test to learn. Here as a team, you define how you will know that things are working, agreeing on the implementation for some time, and observing what is working, what is not working, and if the assumptions made were right or not?

Iterate to fine-tune a solution. The last part is checking back on lessons learned and brainstorming to improve the areas that are not working or new challenges that arose from the test period.

Tackling risk and uncertainty is the new norm.

Businesses face many challenges from demographic shifts, diverse workforce, employee, and customer expectations. Add to this rapid industry, market, and technology disruption, and you are continually navigating white rapids.

Design Thinking provides a leadership framework to listen, identify problems worth solving, work as a team to bring solutions, and testing to learn what works and does not work.