Confessions of a design leader

I’m almost three years with Lloyds Banking Group, in which I’ve helped to establish a thriving service design team (now 34) and more recently helped shape and lead a broader retail design team of 112. I’ve made mistakes but am also proud of some great achievements and where we’ve gotten to, so I’m writing this as a chance to reflect and also making it public as I hope others can relate.

People people people

A recent team day on which an acting coach got us out of our comfort zones

Rhythms of communication have helped, including fortnightly catch-ups with the leadership team, and a reflective weeknote sent each Friday with key updates and gossip. Also blocking out semi-regular team days on which we tackle key topics like confidence (see above photo). On the practical side, I’ve found tools like Notion to be invaluable, combined with a discipline of writing down simple notes from any team discussion; this helps as I can refer back and snap out of the busy-daze that often descends.

A right-brain in a sea of lefts

It’s not as clear-cut as that, but there’s a definitely a leaning towards the analytical when you get into more senior meetings within any large org (at least in my experience). There are many meetings where I’ve felt lost in a sea of numbers and details, amazed at the ability of others to not just parse the conversation, but to respond intelligently.

For a short while I tried playing a part, adopting a new language and set of tools (I even made a few ugly powerpoints). This felt wrong and so over time I’ve learned to lean more into what makes me different, and trust my gut when it’s telling me to question something or to make a point; this gets simpler when I realised that a lot of my job is asking the same three questions:

What about the customer?

What about the colleague?

Can we make a version of the thing to test with customers/colleagues?

That said, there’s no getting away from the heavy business-stuff, so I’ve also spent time dissecting long packs, and googling oft-used terms like ‘headwind’ so that I’m not tripped-up by the basics.

Staying connected to the craft

A recent sketch to capture a complex question many teams are seeking to answer. It’s not perfect but was a good chance to draw my perspective and help cut through noise

Through trial-and-error I’ve found a happy mid-ground, spending the majority of my time on leadership but treating it like a design project, complete with MVP-mindsets and attractive artefacts. The rest of my time I carve out to be in the team, leading workshops, training and sketching. It’s an ongoing balancing act but I’ve found weeks where I can spend 60% of time on the team and 40% in the work, the happiest.

Busy is the new stupid

“If I’m busy i’m needed”.

Learning to delegate, shorten and most importantly say ‘no’ is something I’m still struggling with, but I think is the ultimate key to a happy and balanced work-life. I’ve found a few rules help, such as Antony Mayfields advice to focus on just 2 or 3 things each day, but ultimately this one is about practice and ongoing reflection; why did that day feel so hectic and why did I let it happen?

As an aside I’d recommend this book on the topic as it’s really helped. The idea of inhale-time (for you) and exhale-time (for others) really helped frame my time.

Insecurity rules

Like many other observations here there is no easy fix, but I’ve found that doubling-down on things that served me well in my career (relationships with people, creative story-telling), has not only elevated me in the eyes of others, but also boosted my own confidence as it feels ‘right’ and ‘authentic’ and all sorts of other 2019 business memes.

I hope that’s been useful for some others in similar situations, or at least has sounded somewhat familiar. Any feedback/questions welcomed.

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Ross Breadmore

Mum asked for a baby, dad asked for a transformer - I was the compromise. Chief product officer at 4G Capital.