I saw Simon Sinek present at a conference. I was one of about 10,000 people who funneled into a large auditorium to see this popular TED Talk presenter. I heard he was an insightful speaker, and I had no idea how much his words on leadership would inspire me.

Being a great leader is independent of a vertical. Meaning a great leader can lead engineers and designers equally well.

One of the golden nuggets he shared was a brilliantly simple definition of what makes a leader: “A leader is anyone who puts others before themselves.” He shared proof through experimentation. He went on to say said that most parents are natural leaders for their kids. They put their children before themselves. Everything he shared made sense.

After some reflection, there are three reasons this perspective on leadership is a crucial quality…

  1. No blame casting. Leaders take the blame when something fails, not the team. Blaming others, finding fault, and finger-pointing is seen as a weakness. It is a character flaw. When I see this trait in others, it does not inspire me to follow them (or trust them).
  1. It’s not about the leader. A great leader values and rewards their team. They credit the team for success. Staying humble and acknowledging that winning is the result of those who support them inspires others to give more.
  1. Keep the team safe. Leaders don’t condemn failure. They have a “fail forward” mentality. Protecting those who support a great leader means that followers will risk more in support of the goal.

All three combine to create an engine that is optimized to deliver success. The leader connects the dots between tasks and the larger purpose. They provide an autonomous environment where people can safely learn through failure and grow. This applies to all industries.

Being a great leader is independent of a vertical. Meaning a great leader can lead engineers and designers equally well. Their proficiency lies in their ability to inspire, guide, learn, and grow, and not in their technical expertise.

So, how do you lead designers? Start by putting them before yourself. Cultivate a protected place that celebrates autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The end result will be a team of motivated, inspired, engaged people who exceed expectations.

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