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2022 – Lead As A Designer

Written by: Linda Watkins, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Our world has gone through a massive shift, and leadership must now change dramatically too. Leaders who once primarily needed to show financial acumen now need to be empathetic, strategic, flexible, more focused and, in general, human-centric. They must build the capacity to be designers, open to the needs of all stakeholders – customers, suppliers, employees, even the health of the earth – in order to design an organization and work culture that can operate successfully in this century.

Angela Ahrendts, the ex-CEO of Burberry who successfully transformed that company before being hired by Apple to redesign its retail experience, described leadership in this way: “To me, it’s building a lifelong relationship with every stakeholder. That is your job.”

Once they develop a designer mindset, leaders must remember that this is an age of partnership and collaboration. No one person can do it alone or maintain the fantasy that it is possible to do it alone. There is no one organization or country that can succeed without help. Today’s problems are too complex. This is a hard realization for leaders in the Western world and particularly the United States, with its historical focus on individualism and individual freedom.

This is where design thinking comes in. Designers are particularly attuned to who they are designing for. For instance, it may be a grocery shopper who would like a more useful design in a shopping cart. That process is shown in the IDEO/ (Stanford Institute of Design) video readily available on YouTube. Perhaps it is the Apple consumer who wants a simpler and more seamless experience from their technology. It may be the museumgoer who likes it when the art blends in with the building around it. In each case, the consumer gets a better experience when designs are created for them and tailored to their needs. Interestingly, the first stage of the d-school process is to “empathize”.

In 2022, the organization CEO and all leaders will face unique challenges. Employees want a better work experience and a degree of care and wellbeing for themselves. People want their gifts recognized and utilized. Customers want to be listened to. Shareholders want the stock market to go up. Society needs clean air, less global warming, better healthcare. Organizations and their leadership have the ability to create a healthier, more productive world, but it must be designed with goals such as health, wellbeing, safety and equity in mind. Once the design idea for a profitable organization with a safe and healthy workforce takes hold, then there is time for prototypes, choices and decisions, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, just like in product design.

Some creative ideas might seem wonderful to some, but awful for others. The process may be exciting and fun at times, but it is never easy. Exploring possible unintended consequences can be a minefield!

Leaders who use their design thinking minds will see this century as a series of exciting, tough challenges, a time to learn and grow. Those who stay in their old fixed mindset may deny that change is happening or hope for a miracle.

Ideally, those leading an organization will promote collaborative design time with stakeholders included in design meetings. Remember, uncertainty can bring fear, but with a design thinking mindset, it can also bring freedom to experiment.

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Linda Watkins, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Linda Watkins PhD is an executive and leadership coach with decades of experience helping leaders achieve personal and professional growth, including in new, creative and future-oriented areas. She helps clients embody their leadership and become authentic, grounded and future-ready. Many find her work transformational. Linda's passion for helping leaders thrive by developing new skills and capabilities has only grown as the world has become more complex. She and her company, Leadership for Today, are strong advocates for women and have been designing events that empower women for over 30 years.



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