Originally shared to the Design Dept. newsletter

Ah, the beloved “you can make and manage” model. As much as I want to believe in this as a sustainable approach (I love both too!), for most organizations, it is not. And the leaders who try to take it on, aren’t typically set up for success.

Where this model fails
The thing with the player/coach model is that it’s often the highest performing individual contributors who are asked to assume management responsibilities. The reasons behind this vary, but they’re rarely in the interest of the person assuming the additional responsibilities. In some organizations…


Design Dept.’s Mia Blume joined Abstract’s Scott Welliver for a conversation and Q&A about building trust in a remote environment. This post is based on the actionable advice Mia shared about how we show up for our teammates. Watch the video recording.

As we’re settling into a new normal, sheltering in place and working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that those of us who work in tech are privileged — we still have jobs and we’re able to do them remotely. Many people around us have different experiences. In a time like this, the most…


Original image by USGS on Unsplash

To be honest, writing and sharing anything has been a difficult task the last few weeks. With the world in chaos, it’s hard to sit down and write about management tips. But I observed a trend this week on Twitter that I thought I should address.

I don’t know if you noticed, but almost everyone and their company released a how-to work/lead remotely guide. So many of them focus on creating and measuring productivity.

Yeah, so we’re all working from home now. But the focus is all wrong.

It isn’t about being productive from home.

It’s about how lead in…


Image by Max Ostrozhinskiy

Ah yes, the elusive goal of having “executive” or “leadership” presence. Everyone wants it, most can’t define it. It comes up in performance reviews and reasons why leaders aren’t progressing, but rarely is it helpful feedback or guidance. It’s also one of the most common curriculum requests and topics we receive at Design Dept.

If you’ve ever had a conversation with me about it, you’ll know that I’ve got some strong feelings about it, not only because executive/leadership presence is not a skill, but also because it’s so full of bias. And in a world where I’d like to see…


Photo by Joshua Earle

Many of us hear voices in our heads.

No, I’m not talking about those adorable emotions from Pixar’s Inside Out — although who wouldn’t love to be perpetually entertained by the wit of a shimmering green Mindy Kaling?

The Inner Critic is many things: an outdated response to old stimuli, a constantly chattering factor that reacts to fear with shyness and petrification. It’s also an entirely natural part of the human experience.

As creatives, our Inner Critic can be loud and limiting. As trained problem-solvers and critical thinkers, our Inner Critic has lots of tools for presenting fear and concern…


Photo by STIL on unsplash

If you search for best practices around team one-on-ones, you’ll find endless content on how to structure your meetings with your reports and even templates for your shared docs.

While this is all valuable, one of the major shifts I made as a manager was shifting to thematic one-on-ones. First, I identified four topics that I wanted to discuss with every report. Then, I rotated these topics weekly, with every one-on-one during the week focusing on the same theme. This helped me achieve a few things:

First, it brought a lot more clarity to how things were going on the…


Original photo by Roven

The key to leading more fully in 2020

Late December is a time of excess. During the last month of every year, holiday treats abound, as do opportunities for extra sleep, extra champagne, and extra pampering.

It’s also a time of extra guilt. We’re pressured to think about New Year’s resolutions as soon as the first “Best Of” lists start debuting in late November.

Could we become fitter, more efficient, better overall? Could we be more creative, more effective leaders? The answer, it seems, is always yes. The start date is always January 1st, when you’ll either succeed at beginning your new, better life…or not.

The threat of…


Photo by Oziel Gomez

The key to becoming a successful startup leader is to develop the ability to scale yourself. That doesn’t just mean handling a growing list of demands: it’s about finding the appropriate level of focus, zeroing in on problems that matter, leading through others, and building processes and structures that don’t rely on you.

As Adam Pisoni puts it, “Here’s the real danger: as a leader, you’ll probably feel great about how busy you are. It feels like you’re adding so much value, when it’s just a sign that shit is rolling uphill to you too quickly.”

I worked with a…


Image by https://unsplash.com/@chortsang

“How do I create a clear growth path for my team?” It’s a question I hear all the time from design leaders at startups and agencies.

They often wait so long to set levels that there are no clear paths for top performers, who go elsewhere when they don’t see room for growth. Or, they take a stab at structuring levels but without a framework to build on they blur responsibilities and frustrate their team.

Done poorly, leveling confuses the team, frustrates your top performers, and increases turnover. …


From Brooke Larke on Unsplash

When you’re promoted from an individual contributor to first-time manager, you’re stepping into a different type of career and becoming a beginner again. To be sure, the creative skills that got you promoted in the first place will help you excel at tackling leadership challenges. But as legendary executive coach Marshall Goldsmith puts it, “what got you here won’t get you there.” You’ll need to develop additional skills to be an effective leader and let go of habits that don’t serve your new objectives.

I see so many new managers stumble in their first few months on the job because…

Mia Blume

Design Leadership Coach + CEO at Design Dept. Founder of Within. Previous leader at Pinterest, Square and IDEO.

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