Meet our Design VP Agnes Liu
Our Leadership Speaker Series is one of the activities we hold as part of the Design Associates Program. The goal of this event is to learn from top leaders and gain insights to grow our career paths. Among the associates, we take turns organizing this event and reaching out to inspiring leaders across the company, and this event is organized by Yu Liu. This time we’re lucky to have our VP of Product Design, Agnes Liu, share with us about leadership in design.
Agnes has worked at Yahoo for 15 years and leads the consumer design team that defines next-gen experiences for Verizon Media’s pillar products. We are eager to learn how she crafted her career and challenges she may have encountered on the journey to becoming a VP of Design.
Succeeding as an introvert
To our surprise, Agnes introduced herself as an introvert. She shared that taking the initial plunge into design leadership was anything but easy, but she managed to break through her comfort zone through the encouragement and support of other introverted leaders around her. She also learned a lot through the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which helped her understand the differences between introverts and extroverts.
Agnes touched on the fundamental differences between the way introverts and extroverts recharge and think. Introverts tend to recharge by spending time alone, while extroverts gain energy by being around people. It is said that introverts think to speak while extroverts speak to think. According to the book ‘Quiet’, extroverts have a shorter, more direct way to process information. For introverts, stimuli goes through a longer path. They take thinking and feeling into consideration and information also passes through the memory, planning, and problem-solving parts of the brain. This is why it may take introverts a little longer to vocalize thoughts.
Though society may tend to celebrate extraverted behavior, being introverted does not mean one will not succeed as leaders. Agnes shared a few tips that helped her become a more effective leader.
1. Use 1:1s to your advantage
Network in a way that is comfortable to you. Don’t wait for full-staff meetings to discuss strategy; instead, have conversations with individual stakeholders first. These early conversations are important to ensure everyone is on the same page before attending the larger meetings. Use these pre-meetings to build meaningful relationships and ensure everyone is on the same page.
2. Mentors and role models
Build your own ‘Board of Advisors’ - find a group of trustable people or someone with professional qualities who can offer honest and unfiltered feedback. Getting suggestions after meetings or in 1:1s from these mentors can help introverts learn how to do a better job in similar situations next time.
3. The best leaders lead the least
Being a strong leader is not about power and control, nor about being the best and most amazing speaker. Instead it is about delegation and empowerment. The leader shows the north star destination, then walks behind the team for guidance and encouragement while trusting team to make their own decisions and getting out of the way when necessary.
4. Mind the quiet ones
Take time to notice quiet introverted colleagues. Support and encourage them to share their ideas and praise them if they are thoughtful and thorough. Do not put them in the spotlight, but work with them in advance for preparation and help communicate their ideas to others.
“Be the leader you needed when you were younger”
Other than the tips and practices above, some advantages of being an introvert include:
The ability to focus and think deeply through complicated problems
Being empathetic and caring
Listening carefully and processing what is said
From Designer to Manager
We were also curious about how she navigated her career path from IC to manager. She told us that she was a reluctant manager. Her manager at that time reached out and asked if she would like to become a manager. Although she refused and wanted to still focus on design, similar talks were brought up from time to time over the years. She finally took up the challenge to be a manager when a 2-3 person team really needed a leader. Over time there came another opportunity to lead a big team, which she pursued after encouragement from her manager.
Growing as a design leader she learned to bring diversity to the team to make it stronger. One tendency that managers may have is to hire people who are like themselves, though the more diverse the people are the stronger the team is. She tried to hire design managers who were different and better than her and bring diverse mindsets, start discussions, and integrate stronger solutions.
Day to day life & biggest priority during work
Agnes’ day-to-day focuses on maintaining transparency across the teams, connecting the dots and avoiding duplicative efforts. Three times a week she starts the day by discussing blockers and focuses areas with her manager and other leaders. The design leadership team also shares their daily priorities in the Slack channels. Other than these, half of her day is spent on 1:1s to connect with design leaders while the other half is spent on different team’s design reviews to figure out what’s going on and if all projects ladder up to our strategic vision.
As a VP she cares about the simplicity and the cohesiveness of the user experience across products. Are we creating the most joyful, intuitive, and frictionless experience for our users? From a company perspective are we duplicating efforts? Are there things that can be merged? Thinking about these questions helps to vision the products as a whole and leverage the overall experience to a higher level.
Word of the Wise
1. Create a board of advisors
Not a single mentor. Just like a company, an individual should have a personal board of directors too. They don't necessarily have to be managers — they can be anyone that can improve a certain area of skill or knowledge.
2. Establish a personal brand
Each company has its own brand. As a designer you also need to be known as something. If there is something that you are passionate about, pursue it, try it, and surround yourself with people who are good at it. That way the next time the opportunity arises you will be the person to leverage it. No matter what this attribute is, make it your brand and own it.
3. Understand the business
Designers should not only focus on tweaking the pixels and visuals but also understand how design can help the company meet the goals to be efficient.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, Agnes!
P/S: Thanks Gina Hou for copy feedback!