Be the inspiration you once needed
Three actionable steps to exemplary design (or any) leadership
Adele was my friend’s grandmother and one of the first people to inspire a feeling in me of “wanting to be like someone when I grew up.”
Adele was the picture of creativity. Her house was filled with handmade endeavors — collages, artwork, jewelry, tablecloths, and dollhouses made of things people usually throw out (like the tiny blue inserts inside coke bottle caps — they make great dollhouse plates!)
But what left a lasting imprint on me was how freely and naturally Adele shared her gifts and passions with others. Her house was always open. She’d make us hot pancakes and teach us how to hand crochet. She taught us so many things we didn’t know — like how you can eat red cabbage raw as a snack and how to crochet and make bubble letters.
She nurtured our creativity, minds, and souls.
I knew I wanted to be like her when I could, and as I had kids, our house became the place for our friends and us to play, explore, and make things. This passion even became a company I founded called Silicandy which designed and manufactured kid-friendly bakeware to help get families back together in the kitchen.
As a UX project and team lead, the most important thing to me is to create safe and organized spaces and processes that help people do their best work, learn and thrive as human beings. My life ambition is for that never to be a paradox.
To inspire that space:
1 — Embrace your weirdness:
(If you can feel yourself quickly resonating with this, you already know you don’t have a choice. :))
Do you know those ice-breaker questions at work? Like, “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?”
I’m terrible at answering them. Once, our project manager asked us if we were a vehicle, which one would we be?
One coworker said, “A motorcycle because I’m fast and dangerous.”
Another said a Lamborghini because they’re classy and expensive.
I’m not a car enthusiast, and I must have had an Orlando trip on my brain (as I often do), so I said, “Maybe a monorail at Disney World — because it’s an experience that transports and bridges this larger dream experience.” Or something to that effect.
And as often happens when I answer these questions, the team met me with….total awkward silence. 🤪
So if this kind of thing happens to you, repeat after me: It’s ok to be the different one. You’d be surprised how many more of us will come out of the woodwork when we dare to show our true selves.
2 — Do something for yourself every day
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re already a leader, whether you officially lead teams or not. So you have a lot of empathy, heart, and inclination to give, give, give, and….give.
If there was ever a cliche that warranted repeating, it’s this one:
You cannot pour from an empty cup. And the more cups you need to pour into, the more you must keep the pitcher full — from a healthy source. We need to find that source. And some people have bigger cups, some smaller ones. And cups empty pretty fast and need refilling on those hot days. You know the ones I mean.
Consider it your civic duty as a leader to do things daily that make you feel fulfilled. I’ve found that creating something, getting outside, music, and journaling do that for me. So prioritize time for yourself, but don’t stress about it. That defeats the purpose.
Your inclination to lead is a drive and gift in that you fulfill your purpose when you give to others.
My kids and I love the concept of bucket filling — to an extent. (Check out “Have you filled a bucket today?” if you want on Amazon — it’s a sweet kid's book on happiness and fulfillment.) Highly sensitive people (HSPs) must learn about the boundaries of giving and self-care. And we will — I’m not speaking only for a friend here 🤝 💪
3 — Share personal stories
Our vulnerability makes us relatable. If you feel like the people on your team have guards up, they’ve been burnt by sharing before. Or they’ve been rejected by being themselves. And if you lead a design or development team, you likely have neurodivergent teammates — people who have learned to hide who they are from a very young age.
You don’t have to (and definitely shouldn’t) tell your life story. But I strongly believe in sharing small personal details — how you couldn’t find your keys this morning for half an hour till you opened the fridge and found them next to the milk. (⬅️ I must have made that one up ;)) Pictures of your pet, hobby, kid’s graduation (with their permission), etc.
Normalize being human — it inspires others to break out of their shell and implement ideas because they aren’t as scared of failing.
So when I say to be the person you needed to become who you are today, it’s equally about continuing to channel that inspiration to yourself as it is to inspire others. Because ultimately, we’re all in this together, and we all have the power to leave this place in better shape than it was when we started. 💪