Research Leadership and Coaching
What makes a good researcher?
I’ve worked with a lot of researchers over the years — Audience, Market and User Researchers. Let’s think about the qualities that make a good researcher for a moment. This is my list:
- People person
- Good listener
- Good communicator
- Team player
- Likes solving puzzles and investigating things
- Likes spending time ‘in the weeds’
- Like a dog with a bone. Tenacious
- Methodical and meticulous
- Measured and considerate
- A stickler for the details
- But also ultimately all about how the details fit into the big picture
- Can see the shades of grey and the nuances of a situation
- Takes the time to understand the nuances before jumping to a solution
- Loves to iterate and collaborate but likes to ‘hold the pen’
- Good at plate juggling and managing multiple projects
The qualities that make a good researcher mean that user researchers are often the glue in a UX team not the shining star. There are some notable exceptions who shine brightly but in general I think researchers have a different role and way of doing things compared to designers.
Qualitative researchers in particular need to have a lot of soft skills — collaboration, communication, facilitation — they are the ultimate team player. Quantitative researchers can often be slightly more introverted and very measured.
Very few researchers that I have worked with are ‘alphas’. Those that have leadership or entrepreneurial qualities tend to rise to the top of existing agencies, set up their own agencies or consult.
What makes a good Research Leader?
“Regardless of size, every design team benefits from a single point of authority and leadership, an individual with vision and high standards who can get the most out of their team. This is the most important role on the team — and it’s the hardest job to do well. The best team leads are a combination of coach, diplomat, and salesman.”
Peter talks about Design Leaders needing to manage upwards, downwards and across. In-house Research Leaders often report into Marketing (who own CX) or Design Leaders (who own UX). As a Research Leader, if you report into a design or marketing leader who understands the value of research and communicates this to executives (managing up), this leaves you to focus on managing across and down — collaborating and providing the glue for the team or the organisation as a whole.
I think the best research leaders are similar to design leaders in that they need to be a combination of diplomat and coach* but rather than a salesperson, I think researchers are first and foremost facilitators. *In some organisations I would use the word mentor instead of coach.
“A Facilitator is a content-neutral task leader who forms a group of people into a collaborative team, supporting consensus and uses a range of processes to enable the group to accomplish their task. The Facilitator is responsible for the context.”
Facilitators are enablers and helpers. They are also responsible for creating the right environment for people to contribute. In my mind, a facilitator literally holds everything together, like a connector or like glue.
Good leaders enable others to act
Getting extraordinary things done in organisations is hard work. Good leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. They inspire a shared vision.
Perhaps you don't have a Research Leader and need someone to act as a proxy. As an experienced Research Leader, I can help!
Or perhaps you are looking for someone to mentor junior researchers and coach more experienced researchers who need empowering.
Talk to me about my leadership, coaching and mentoring services.