Good UX Leader, Bad UX Leader: A Survey of Leadership Traits
Over the course of my career (in and out of UX), I’ve encountered a vast list of leadership types and their associated traits. I’ve observed them thoroughly and developed a lot of sentiments about them. Fast forward to today. Now, I’m frequently asked how to evaluate UX leadership at companies and what traits are indicators of good and bad leadership. People want to know what stands out and what needs to be digested when it comes to these traits.
In the interest of time, I’ve compiled a list of these traits and will present them in a back-and-forth manner. As you proceed in your own journey, knowing these traits will help you to gain a greater understanding of the environment you’re in (e.g., whether it’s nurturing or toxic). The list will also provide insights for those operating or seeking to land a leadership role, giving you traits to embrace and emulate or shun and avoid.
Good leaders don’t micromanage.
Good leaders don’t gaslight.
Good leaders don’t circumvent.
Good leaders don’t betray trust.
Good leaders support their reports.
Good leaders empower.
Good leaders inspire.
Good leaders protect.
Good leaders don’t fabricate.
Good leaders don’t sabotage.
Good leaders don’t orchestrate someone’s demise.
Good leaders don’t expect too much too soon.
Good leaders are constructive.
Good leaders are transparent.
Good leaders embrace.
Good leaders nurture.
Good leaders don’t exclude.
Good leaders don’t assassinate.
Good leaders don’t avoid.
Good leaders don’t put themselves first.
Good leaders are considerate.
Good leaders foster well-being.
Good leaders run towards issues.
Good leaders serve others.
Good leaders don’t dictate.
Good leaders don’t diminish.
Good leaders don’t disempower.
Good leaders don’t distract.
Good leaders guide.
Good leaders inform.
Good leaders instill hope.
Good leaders enlighten.
Good leaders don’t disrespect.
Good leaders don’t disengage.
Good leaders don’t coddle.
Good leaders don’t neglect.
Good leaders challenge.
Good leaders invest.
Good leaders sharpen.
Good leaders invigorate.
Good leaders don’t manipulate.
Good leaders don’t underutilize.
Good leaders don’t stifle.
Good leaders don’t petrify.
Good leaders don’t suffocate.
Good leaders don’t undermine.
Good leaders don’t circumvent.
Good leaders don’t negate.
Good leaders inquire.
Good leaders partner.
Good leaders collaborate.
Good leaders uplift.
Good leaders are accountable.
Good leaders are entreatable.
Good leaders are kind.
Good leaders are willing to relinquish control.
Of course, I could elaborate about each trait listed. The goal of this post, however, is just to get people to think and build upon what’s listed via one’s own level of critical thinking and emotional intelligence. In other words, I hope the listing provides you with some viable food for thought regarding the traits of good and bad leadership.
Here are some closing notes, all focusing on and exposing signs of a toxic work environment:
- People insist on giving unnecessary advice.
- Expertise is despised and shunned.
- Leaders are abusive — emotionally, mentally, etc.
- Workers are handcuffed, hogtied, blocked, restricted, and ignored on every side and then criticized about what’s not getting done.
- All criticism, no cultivation.
- Poor and toxic behavior is tolerated, because it doesn’t impact the leader (i.e., they’re out of touch with things that detrimentally impact others).
- The isms are on full display — racism, sexism, ageism, cronyism, etc.
- People say one thing in writing, but another when explaining verbally and punish people for not knowing what they meant by what was said in writing.
- Criticizing employees for not meeting expectations that were never documented, presented, or expressed (i.e., criticizing them for not being able to read the leader’s mind).
- Toxic people are celebrated because of their talent and their toxicity is overlooked and ignored.
- Contradictions abound. For example, a person claims you need to embrace the input and views of others, but if you don’t work the same way they would work or make decisions the same way they would, you are criticized or invalidated.
- The company has DEI efforts that are all for show, confirmed by people constantly and regularly contradicting what’s presented in the aforementioned efforts.
- Akin to the last point, employees are empowered to discriminate.
- Unqualified leaders abound.
- Employees are evaluated based on water cooler conversations they weren’t a part of and conclusions are drawn without any input from the person being scrutinized.
- The leaders fail to stand up for their employees when misjudged or criticized unfairly.
- Free snacks, games, and non-work activities abound.
When these traits dominate the environment, it’s a sign that the workplace is void of true leadership. Unfortunately, these toxic workplace traits are in abundance today. I strongly encourage you, however, to never allow what you see and/or experience deter you from subscribing to excellence. For job seekers, I also recommend learning to ask questions that can help provide insights about the company and team you’re interviewing with.
In addition, I can’t stress enough how important and how valuable a good boss is. If and when you have a good boss, when another opportunity presents itself, I strongly encourage you evaluate and compare your current and potential future states from as well-grounded a perspective as possible. Having a good/great leader is worth its weight in gold and should not be taken lightly or for granted.
In closing, for those seeking more detail on the subject-at-hand, especially information that will help you to excel at leadership, consider the following book recommendations:
- Multipliers, Revised and Updated: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
- Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Dramatics and More…: Research-Driven Scripts For Managing Difficult Personalities At Work
- Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others
- Navigating the Politics of UX: Strategies and Stories from 40 Years in the Trenches
- User Experience Management: Essential Skills for Leading Effective UX Teams
Darren Hood is a 27+ year UX practitioner with a broad professional footprint that spans several types of business. He serves as an adjunct professor at Kent State University (Kent, Ohio), Lawrence Tech University (Southfield, Michigan), Brandeis University (Waltham, Massachusetts), and UCLA (Los Angeles, California). He is also one of the authors featured in “97 Things Every UX Practitioner Should Know.”
You can hear more from the Darren by checking out the UX Uncensored Medium page, listening to The World of UX with Darren Hood wherever podcasts are available, or via the UX Uncensored YouTube channel.