Design leadership tricks: WWYR?

Face it. While you might have a vision, you really don’t have a clue of all the things that are required to bring it about. But your team does.

As a design leader your team will come at you asking for clarity, for permission, for a plan — they want you to make amazing decisions all day long.

This is not a formula for success. Instead, you need to give them the context for decisions and have them do the thinking. So remember these simple four words: “What would you recommend?”

You most often aren’t best positioned to make decisions. Your team has more information and has been thinking about it longer than you have.

Your job is to coach them to find the right answer, lead them to criteria they may not see yet, and help them practice making consistently good decisions on their own.

There was a time when I would walk out of a meeting and everyone on my team would yell my name to ask for a decision. That made my ego feel really important for a few days, but then it became tiring, a bottleneck, a terrible way to run things.

Then I told my team that I’d be asking them, “What do you recommend?” when they asked me a question. Suddenly things changed. My reports showed up with answers—better answers than I would ever have!—to their own questions. My job became to help them think their ideas through, how to make them better, and how to make them happen.

Through this change I’ve realized that the place where I want to work pushes decision-making away from the leader to the people who know best, have the best information and relationships. Instead of having decisions made for them, people are coached to quickly bring about a beautiful new future better than any one leader could have ever imagined.


Brandon Schauer is the Head of Enterprise Design at Capital One. Work with him!