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I saw a quote on linkedin the other day that said “Be the leader you never had”. This really resonated with me as I am becoming a leader at Pretzel Lab..

If I think back on my career, I haven’t really had the leader that I needed, someone that suited me or knew how to help me grow and build my confidence as a designer and as a person. Sure I’ve had awesome managers in the past, don’t get me wrong. But never really had a true leader who got me, always had my back and saw where I needed to push myself in order to grow and build confidence. Until I started at Pretzel lab that is.

The power of a great team and leader

If I think back on who I was when I first started – I was very shy, I didn’t have a huge amount of confidence in myself and it doesn’t help that I have always suffered from anxiety. To put it frankly, I was shitting myself. I remember when I got the job at Pretzel lab thinking “how the hell did I manage that, I fooled them!”. I thought I must have just got lucky. That’s pretty much how I have felt when I’ve gotten most jobs, even though I have never been bad at a job. In fact, I am always very good at my job. There was always some imposter syndrome at the beginning. I was definitely ready to move on from my previous role and this sounded like a dream job, even though it was scary as hell, as change always is, I had a good gut feeling and knew it was right for me.

So there I went into Pretzel lab, so many thoughts running through my mind, “I hope I can do this”, “what if I can’t?” and “what if I don’t learn things fast enough?” and the list goes on. One week in, I was so happy. I had come to this new amazing, organised place, the people were so nice and always there to help if I needed. The very small Pretzel Lab team was so welcoming and from then on I knew 100% it was the right place for me.

I remember in my first three weeks, Jane (Pretzel lab CEO) tasked myself and another lead designer to work together on an internal lunch and learn session on user interviews. I was nervous but thought bugger it, why not? If Jane thought I could do it, surely I could do it?  And I did it. It wasn’t perfect, but once I started, it was fine. I knew the lead designer had my back if anything went horribly wrong – which it didn’t.

I feel like that was the first step in building my confidence. Having someone there to nudge me in small safe steps forward and encouraging me to challenge myself helped. I also felt safe knowing that if I wasn’t sure or that if something went wrong, I would always have people there to ask and they would have my back.

Goals and feedback

After a few weeks, I went into a more comfortable situation, where I was working as the designer in a digital product delivery team, for a client building a financial management platform. I had experience working on a product delivery team in my previous role, so I was quite comfortable doing that. Every team and client comes with its different challenges but I felt at home on this kind of project because I had worked out how to build good relationships with developers, knew how all the roles in the agile team worked together and understood how I needed to deliver my work for the team.

Each quarter at Pretzel Lab, we set 3, 6 and 12 month goals and whilst I was comfortable on the client and project I was on, I was still keen to challenge myself and I was keen to learn more about user research to build up those skills. So I set my 3 and 6 month goals around finding ways to learn more about research and be specific about the parts of research I wanted to learn. I took some small steps and worked alongside an amazing researcher, who taught me a lot about organising and running user testing sessions, as well as note taking which I had never done before in the real world. She asked me if I was comfortable running a couple of the testing sessions. So I did. They didn’t run perfectly but I got great constructive feedback on things I could improve such as making sure I’m keeping to time, keeping in mind the main thing we were there for was to test the prototype and that I could leave out some of the warm up questions on the script if it was going overtime and ways that I could steer the conversation back when the participant was getting offtopic. I was really happy that the researcher and I had a great relationship and she wasn’t afraid to give me that feedback to help me grow. I also got a lot of encouragement that I did well and that also helped.

Helping others grow

If I had to summarise the key things that have really helped me grow my confidence they would be:

  • I had someone really get to know me and recognise where I need to be challenged and given a little push
  • Being challenged in a safe environment
  • Given the opportunity to have a crack at something new and potentially do it wrong the first time (but hey, that’s how you learn!)
  • Completed the task I was challenged with
  • Succeeded (not perfectly but I did it!) and;
  • Received really helpful and specific feedback on things I could improve and a lot of encouragement, giving me confidence to have another crack and do better.

These are what I believe to be my key ingredients for building my confidence. And I really appreciate the leaders in my team recognising this and helping me. In the past three years I have really learnt who I want to be as a leader and I am enjoying now helping others grow in the team in the way I was helped.

If I could give any advice to other designers who are struggling with their confidence, it would be to surround yourself with the people who will help you grow. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to know everything straight away or to do everything perfectly. This stuff takes time to learn, so give yourself that time to grow. The more you learn, the more your confidence builds, meaning you’ll be able to handle those situations that seemed scary before.

Written by Tegan Henderson, March 11, 2022