What is Personal Growth in Design Leadership?

There's a certain kind of irony that the more you move into design leadership and management roles, the less development you get from others to grow. I think that's pretty shitty.

Imagine waking up every morning wiser, stronger, and more focused than the day before. That's personal growth. It's that inner fire pushing you to challenge limits and continuously evolve who you are and how you work. It’s more than just a buzzword, it's a way of life, driving you to tap into your fullest potential.

In the pursuit of success and self-improvement, one thing is often overlooked: Mindset. We buy courses, attend workshops, and consume endless content, but the truth is, personal growth extends beyond just gaining new skills. We must also transform our mind — turning our limiting beliefs into a positive mindset that allows us to thrive.

My top 5 lessons on growing as a design leader

1. Include yourself in the narrative

Include your own goals for development when setting specific goals with your team. I remember feeling like moving into management completely changed my work identity. Overnight, I became a different person—a person who wasn’t able to pursue my old interests or values, a person whose growth was on hold. 

But once I have myself permission to include myself in the narrative, that my growth mattered as well, that I too deserved to be who I wanted to be—I found it allowed me to lead on a more energizing, and fulfilling level. 

Set specific goals for your own development alongside team goals. Schedule regular time for your learning and development, such as reading industry articles, attending workshops, or taking online courses.

2. You're not responsible for everything (and everyone)

Each time I jumped into a new, big role, I immediately felt the weight of responsibility for the team I was leading. It was tempting to put in longer hours to make sure everything was running smoothly. Between the pressure to perform and the endless meetings on my calendar, it took some time for me to realize that not only could I not to it all on my own, it wasn't my responsibility.

There's this myth that simply because someone has a title or a lot of power that they're able to adult for themselves. In my experience, the two rarely correlate. Over time, I learned it was more valuable for me to show up in a way that would be proud of than it was to be everywhere at once. Remembering that I too am a human with wants and needs helps me get used to…

3. Give your precious things away

Learning to delegate tasks, especially ones you used to handle, is tough. Jumping into daily tasks might seem like you're being relatable, but you're actually holding your team back and losing time for strategic thinking. It's the same when you fix things yourself instead of giving feedback. Focus on what only you can do.

4. Getting good with ambiguity is a super power

Getting good at dealing with ambiguity is essential for any leader. The reality is, not everything will be clear-cut, and the ability to navigate uncertainty is a game-changer. I’ve learned to embrace the unknown and accept that I won’t have all the answers right away. Instead, I focus on gathering as much information as possible without needing to get all the information.

Design leadership has it's patterns, just like designing. And, getting good at recognizing those patterns is what helped me learn to my instincts, make informed decisions, and stay ready to pivot when new information comes in. The only constant is change, and getting comfortable with uncertainty often opened the door to effective, and creative solutions. By embracing ambiguity, I’ve become more resilient and more effective in leading through change.

5. Remove options that require someone else to change

I stopped paying attention to most design leadership advice because it hasn't address my biggest frustrations. Growth is all about learning how to respond to the situations we're presented with rather than feeling stuck because the situation has happened. Too often, the advice that's out there just ignores that these situations happen.

When I find myself needing fixes that require someone else or something else to change, it robs me of any agency I have. The best tip I can provide when it comes to growth is to remove the answers that require someone else to change. Reframing these challenges gives me the energy and autonomy to keep fighting for what I believe in.

These articles below are my most popular about growing as a design leader.

Looking for more articles about personal growth? Scroll the bottom of this page for more.

Share your unfinished work.

Sharing your unfinished work invites collaboration, feedback, and new perspectives. It demonstrates vulnerability and openness, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and learning. By sharing, you show trust in your team, which can lead to stronger, more innovative outcomes.

A little tension helps.

Healthy tension can drive creativity and innovation. It pushes you to think critically, challenge assumptions, and explore new ideas. Embracing tension as a positive force can lead to breakthroughs and more robust solutions. It’s about finding the balance where tension fuels progress without leading to conflict.

Reflect often and deliberately.

Regular reflection helps you understand your strengths and areas for growth. It allows you to learn from your experiences, make informed decisions, and set meaningful goals. Deliberate reflection ensures that you’re not just reacting to events but actively shaping your path as a leader.

Connection is key to empowerment.

Building strong connections with your team fosters trust, collaboration, and mutual respect. When people feel connected, they’re more likely to share ideas, support each other, and work towards common goals. Empowered teams are more engaged, productive, and motivated.

You can create a better version of yourself.

Personal growth is a continuous journey. By committing to self-improvement, you can develop new skills, overcome challenges, and achieve your full potential. Believing in your ability to grow and evolve keeps you motivated and resilient in the face of setbacks.

Connection before content.

Establishing a personal connection with your audience or team members creates a foundation of trust and understanding. People are more likely to engage with and be receptive to your ideas when they feel a personal connection. Prioritizing relationships ensures that your message is heard and valued.

How you talk about yourself deeply affects your perspective.

The language you use to describe yourself shapes your self-image and mindset. Positive self-talk can boost your confidence and resilience, while negative self-talk can undermine your abilities and motivation. Being mindful of your inner dialogue helps you maintain a constructive and empowering outlook.

Let go of certainty.

Embracing uncertainty allows you to be more adaptable and open to new opportunities. In a rapidly changing world, flexibility and willingness to take risks are essential for growth and innovation. Letting go of the need for certainty helps you navigate ambiguity with confidence and curiosity.

Do the right thing.

Integrity is the cornerstone of effective leadership. Making ethical decisions builds trust and respect among your team and stakeholders. When you consistently do the right thing, even when it’s difficult, you create a culture of honesty, accountability, and moral courage.

These rules are designed to help you cultivate a leadership style that is authentic, reflective, and empowering. By embracing these principles, you can inspire your team, foster innovation, and achieve sustainable success as a design leader.