An Interview with Margaret Lee
Margaret Lee is a Leadership Coach who helps executives and practitioners tap their inner resources so they can lead with authenticity.
Prior to coaching with Design Dept, Margaret was a veteran User Experience leader at Google, where she held roles building and leading teams in Chrome, Search, and Maps. She led the Google Maps UX from its early days as a groundbreaking desktop experience, to an indispensable tool for navigation and local exploration. Her last role was as Director of UX Community + Culture at Google, a program she founded in 2016 to serve and empower the company’s global User Experience organisation.
Over twenty-five years in the tech industry has shaped her current commitment: creating conditions where teams can flourish and individuals can uncover their unique potential and leadership style.
Margaret speaks openly about her personal journey as a leader- as we caught up ahead of her Leading Design conference talk in New York.
What, if anything, has changed in your world since the world changed in 2020?
After some soul searching, I left Google after over 14 years and entered the world of leadership coaching. Haven’t looked back since.
In your opinion, what are the qualities of a good design leader?
The ability to balance confidence with humility, credibility with curiosity, and authenticity with adaptability.
Can you tell us about your first design leadership role?
Titles aside, the role that distinguished managing a team and being in a leadership role was in the early aughts, right before the dot-bomb era, where I was named lead for the merged UX team that formed as a result of a not-quite-friendly acquisition. While I had plenty of experience managing design teams prior, this was my first exposure to navigating a highly dysfunctional product development environment that was a result of two cultures merging. It impressed upon me the importance of organisational dynamics and how that can influence the success of a product or company. Unsurprisingly, the company eventually succumbed to the dot-bombness of it all.
What are some of the main challenges that people come to you with?
The most common type of challenge I hear from leaders is figuring out how to confidently navigate competing interests. Leaders, especially in design, are often spread across multiple priorities, are expected to understand trade-offs, make the calls, and communicate the rationale credibly.
Any advice for a new design leader?
Identify people you can turn to for mentorship or sponsorship, and leverage them when you are facing challenges within your organisation or career. Consider engaging a coach to help you during periods of transition — companies often support coaching through internal programs or via your learning and development budget. You won’t get support if you don’t ask for it!
What do you think 2022 holds in store for up and coming designers? Are there any design trends you have seen emerging?
Not so much a design trend, as a cultural one: As up-and-coming designers enter the workforce, they might embrace the new work-from-home norm as an opportunity, vs a disadvantage, opening up possibilities to work with companies previously not amenable to remote workers.
Finally, what have you read, watched or listened to in 2021, that’s had an impact on you?
Many of the Knowledge Project podcasts have been excellent companions for long dog walks.
We’re delighted to have Margaret speak about The Cycle of Renewal at LD New York on March 18.
Last few tickets are available now.
Leading Design is brought to you by Clearleft, a strategic design consultancy based in the UK. We work with global brands to design and redesign products and services, bring strategic clarity, and transform digital culture.