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Content leadership with Connie Wu

The Interface: Content leadership with Connie Wu

What does it mean to be a content leader? Connie Wu, former Head of Content Design at TikTok, joins Patrick for a live podcast recording to share lessons learned on the leadership path.

The Interface is a brand-new podcast exploring trends and hot topics for UX content people.

This episode is a recording of a LinkedIn Live event held on Wednesday, April 12. Listen in as Patrick Stafford and Connie Wu (TikTok, Meta, Google) discuss the challenges of content design leadership, what skills content design leaders need to develop, and how to move from senior to leader. It’s a can’t-miss discussion for any content designer thinking seriously about moving into management and leadership.

They also discuss the ultimate question: if you were a potato, how would you like to be cooked? Listen in or read the transcript!

Ready to keep learning? Join the waitlist for Connie Wu’s leadership course.

Available to listen


Episode transcript

Patrick: [00:00:00] Hey, everybody. It’s Patrick here. Just a quick note for today. Today’s podcast episode comes from a live LinkedIn event that we held yesterday in which I’m speaking to Connie Wu about content leadership. Connie comes from TikTok, Meta, Google, and a number of other organizations. It’s a great talk, but won’t be a panel chat today. It’s just me and her. And if you hear me talking to an audience that you don’t know anything about, that’s because it was held on LinkedIn. So that’s why. Hopefully, you enjoyed the chat. We’ve also included a link to the waitlist for Connie Wu’s upcoming leadership course in the show notes. So if you’re interested, hit that link to put your name down and get notified when the course is available. Alright. Hope you enjoy the chat. We are live and welcome to everyone who is listening. We’ve already got a few people here with us. Hello to you all. And we’ve got more trickling in. Super excited to have everyone listening. This is actually our first live audio event that we’ve done. We haven’t done one of these before, so it’s a bit of an experiment for us. So bear with us as we as we get through this together. I’ve also enabled captions, so if you are not able to necessarily listen, you can read and LinkedIn tells me this is a beta feature, so I’m not sure how accurate they will be, but hopefully, hopefully they will help everyone who’s listening. Uh, great. Well, we have lots of people in already, so we can get started. I’m thrilled today to be speaking with Connie Wu, who is the former head of content design and product writing at TikTok. Connie, please forgive me if that was not your completely accurate title. That’s correct. Oh, great. Fantastic. Um, and you have an extensive history of content design leadership at places like Meta and Google and YouTube. So thank you so much for joining today and having this conversation about content leadership. It’s great to have you here.

Connie: [00:02:19] Yeah, thank you so much for having us. Having me, Patrick, and having us I guess. I’m super excited for this conversation and also my first time doing this LinkedIn audio event, so very exciting.

Patrick: [00:02:32] Yeah, awesome. So before we get into some discussion about content leadership, because I think it’s a pretty important discussion at the minute, especially as we have had a bit of a downturn in the tech industry and people feel a little bit nervous, I suppose, about how things are going, especially with both that and, you know, the growth of AI and what that means for our jobs and opportunities and so on. There’s plenty to discuss there, but I’d love to talk a little bit about how you got into this industry and this role in the first place. I sort of just outlined a little bit of your employment history there, but do you mind taking us through your journey of how you ended up in content design?

Connie: [00:03:20] Yeah. My favorite interview question, by the way, is to ask people how they got into content design, because you’ll find that the stories are always so different. For me, like when I was in college and I graduated, I don’t think content design was anything or even user experience was something I had really heard about. I started off doing marketing copywriting. I did some search engine marketing, performance marketing at an agency, and then I ended up at Google. My first real UX writing role was at Google, working on AdWords, which was their ads platform. And I think at the time, our title was something like editorial specialist. So you can kind of see how far we’ve come just from looking at our job titles, how our scope of our work has changed quite a bit. And at that time, it was really exciting actually, because I had this team, there was some structure there. There were things like style guidelines for UI text, but it was still evolving so quickly, and so being able to help shape that for the product we worked on, AdWords and then eventually, you know, more holistically for guidelines at Google is really exciting. I feel like I pretty much learned on the job. We didn’t have resources like UX Content Collective or, you know, kind of the community that we have now. And so after working on AdWords, I also joined YouTube. I worked on a product there called YouTube Red, which is I think YouTube Premium now. So working on that creator space and then went on to a couple other companies. I went to Facebook, which is now Meta. I can’t get used to calling it Meta yet. Still, after all this time.

Patrick: [00:05:19] I don’t think anyone can get used to calling it meta. So you’re not alone.

Connie: [00:05:23] It’s just too ingrained in me now. I mean that was also really exciting. I worked on connectivity and it was for emerging markets. And what I also liked about that, which is similar, I think in some ways to my experience at Google was like a lot of it was undefined. The whole: you are not your user. That mantra really applied there because we were writing content often for audiences that use the Internet so differently than what we might expect, especially living in Silicon Valley. That was really exciting because so much of it was undefined and we could really experiment. I really felt like I was still always learning on the job. It never felt like I completely knew exactly what to do or how to do it. And that was really, really interesting and exciting. I became a manager there, which was pretty much my dream job. I loved managing, I loved mentorship. I had a little bit of a challenge in my personal life, I needed to move because I had a parent who was sick and I wanted to be able to spend more time with them. And it’s so ironic because at that time, it wasn’t really common to work remotely full-time. I think this was probably 2018, I guess. And so we all know it kind of happens in 2019 where that shift to remote work happens. But at that time, it was just a very select few who could work remotely full-time. And so I kind of ended up looking for a new role and ended up at TikTok and moved to Los Angeles. And yeah, that’s where I kind of built up a team.

Patrick: [00:07:07] That’s great. It’s interesting you say that you like hearing about people’s stories because, yeah, the varied journeys people have to get to content design are so different and interesting. But we all have this love for language and what language can do and how language can affect behavior. It’s a really interesting path. Now, you said a couple of things that I want to pick up on there. You said you became a manager and that was kind of your dream job and you love managing people and mentorship. And that’s at the heart of a philosophy around content leadership, because I think people often have a struggle in content design and it’s not just content design but other disciplines as well. This tension between I want to be a leader, but I’m not necessarily a manager, right? Or at least even if they want to be a manager, it’s not necessarily a skill that they’ve been able to develop or they really just don’t know how. But you mentioned that this is something you actually really wanted to do. Could you talk about that a little bit and how did you know that mentorship and leadership was something that you wanted to pursue and how did you know that? It sounds like he knew it very confidently. Could you talk about that for a little?

Connie: [00:08:30] It’s a great question. And when I first started off, you know, in content design, I don’t think I knew right away I wanted to be a manager. But what I found over time was it was really fulfilling to see other people grow and kind of hold their own and kind of build content design presence within the product spaces they were working within. And that was really exciting and fulfilling for me. I think sometimes even more so than, you know, launching an exciting new product myself was seeing other people do it and learn and kind of see them continue to grow along the way. That was just something that was really, I guess, almost empowering for me to see them become so empowered. That was really exciting. So I knew that was something I really enjoyed. And let’s be honest, for folks that are working in content design, UX writing, or whatever your organization calls your discipline, I think a lot of times you can feel a little bit maybe alone or maybe you’re the smallest discipline on your team. Maybe it’s a little bit challenging to get your foot in the door or establish a presence. And so I think there’s something really great about seeing other content designers support each other. And I think that was something that became really important to me as well, because I felt like I know that’s always a little bit of a challenge depending on kind of your organization and your team and to be able to help other people hopefully build a stronger presence on their teams and carve out the scope of their work and make it their own, that’s really, really fulfilling for me.

Patrick: [00:10:27] Yeah, funnily enough, I actually saw a TikTok the other day, and we’ll get to TikTok, but where someone was saying that if you want to be a manager, you really have to love managing people. You know, it’s not enough to just be a skilled practitioner. You really need to know how to understand people and how to you’re essentially a coach. You need to know how to motivate people, how to give them feedback when necessary, both good and bad. And for any manager, especially content managers. These are necessary, necessary skills. How did you develop that emotional nuance? I guess you could call it EQ, like emotional intelligence. How did you develop that?

Connie: [00:11:14] Frankly, I feel like I’m still actively trying to develop that. But what I find is, well, first of all, I think a lot of times I’m developing that is just through experience, right? I don’t think you can necessarily, you know, read a book on emotional intelligence, though I will say it helps, of course, to have a little bit of an understanding of how that looks like in practice. But a lot of times these types of skills, what people would call soft skills, you know, I think really are things you develop with experience. And sometimes I feel a little bit like, you know, what makes you a more empathetic or more, I guess, like how you were saying it emotionally intelligent person, is really just observing, listening and connecting with other people. And I think for me in particular, with the challenges of content design, I think I also just lived them. Everything folks would come to me about, you know, didn’t get invited to a meeting or there was a launch announcement and they didn’t include content design. Yeah, I’ve experienced all of that. I understand. And here’s what I’ve tried and here’s what’s worked and here’s what really hasn’t. I think that is something that life experience has definitely helped me kind of hopefully support other folks with as well.

Patrick: [00:12:51] Yeah, that’s great. So let’s talk about TikTok, because that was your most recent role, and forgive me if I’m wrong, but it seems like where that was a large amount of leadership required there, not only because that was your literal role, but because you actually came into that job on your own. If I’m not mistaken, you were the first content designer there, and so you had to create, you know, basically all of these materials from scratch. A style guide, a philosophy of content design there. But what I’m really interested in are two things: you come into this role on your own. So how can you begin to be a content leader if you’re on your own? Because a lot of people would look at that and say: well, you’re not managing anyone yet, you know? And there are a lot of people who are probably listening thinking, I’m on my own. I’m a team of one. My manager doesn’t necessarily understand what I’m doing, but I’m a skilled practitioner and I’m a senior-level person with a lot of experience. How can you begin to show content leadership when you don’t have that team yet or that opportunity to grow your team?

Connie: [00:14:04] Yeah, it’s a great question. And you know, to be honest, for folks who are starting off, as you know, the only content designer or maybe one within a very small team, you are a de facto leader because you are most likely helping to establish this voice of the product. You’re establishing most likely a lot of guidelines, whether you know it or not, everything you write becomes something that is utilized as something we compare all future content against. Whether that evolves or not, yeah, of course the content is going to evolve, the product is going to evolve, but you’re helping to establish a lot of the foundations of the product. And so in a lot of ways, you are that leader. I think kind of the three pieces that I think are really important too, in establishing yourself as a content leader, regardless of whether or not you manage anyone, is one having kind of a vision, a vision for the product and that product voice and that product content, but also maybe a vision eventually for what your team will look like and its scope and you know what you’re going to be owning. I think the second really important component is that connection piece. And as someone who’s, you know, an extreme introvert, that connection piece can be tricky, but it is so important because, you know, even at its simplest level, it’s building relationships and like, knowing who to reach out to.

Connie: [00:15:47] It’s for information sharing. But at its core, it’s also developing and building trust. So folks know like, when I work with this person, I trust them because hopefully, A, they have a vision, right? And B, I know what they’re capable of and also what their incentives are. You know, what are the things that they care about and how are we going to utilize that, leverage that to make sure we build an amazing product, amazing team, whatever that is. And then I think the third piece is growth, because I think this is sort of a theme also in my own work history is that I don’t think I’ve ever worked at a place where you could be complacent because things were always evolving and changing, and so you have to continuously foster that growth in yourself. Ideally, also, you know, sharing in a way that levels up everyone around you too, right? Helping other folks grow. And those could be cross-functional folks. If you’re the only content designer helping them to understand how to work with content design or its value or, you know, showing your work so they understand the strategy behind your decisions. But it could be also growing hard skills, you know, whether that’s, Figma, IA anything, anything, and everything. So I think those are kind of the three big important pieces, I think, to leadership.

Patrick: [00:17:14] Yeah, I think that’s great. The part about vision is really crucial here. And I think sometimes when we’re either working on our own or maybe you’re not on your own, but maybe you’re in a junior to medium intermediate role, you do have a vision, but sometimes there’s that voice inside of you that says, oh, no one’s going to listen to my vision. Like, who cares? You know, that’s not my job. I had a person on my team at MYOB, and he mentioned to me, we were working on a project and we were looking at a particular piece of the software. He was saying, oh, it’d be really great if we could do this and move towards this and this wasn’t our area. And I said, oh, well, you should go speak to the product manager. And he was like, oh, not really. They’re just going to think I’m getting in the way. And I had to say to him, no, that’s what you need to have to move to that senior level. You know, you’re allowed to go and say, hey, I have some suggestions for what we should be doing and where we should be going, and you should feel empowered to speak about that. And obviously, you don’t want to do someone’s job for them. You want to build trust, right, with those relationships. But you shouldn’t be afraid, if you have ideas, to make them known and to spread those ideas with lots of people in an organization, no matter whether you’re senior or not. You kind of have to act as if you are a leader already. Don’t go around ordering people what to do, but understand your place in the organization. But you need to be you need to act as though you are in the role before you have the role, if that makes sense.

Connie: [00:19:02] Yes, I agree completely. And I think it’s sort of like being an owner, right? You have to have ownership and go into it and say I care about this product and the direction of it and its users just as much as everyone else in the room. And I have a vision for it. And this is how I think we could execute upon that vision. And I think to your point, Patrick, it’s really important to create those opportunities for yourself, which is, you know, exactly what you kind of guided your report to do because it’s not going to work if you’re kind of waiting around for an opportunity, unfortunately. I mean, you could read all the management books in the world and that doesn’t mean one day at work you just become a manager, you know, or a design leader. It means that hopefully you have some tools to give you the confidence to go and create those opportunities as well. I mean, if you’re lucky, hopefully they just fall into your lap. But most of the time, that doesn’t happen.

Patrick: [00:20:05] Absolutely. So you come to TikTok and you’re developing this vision, this strategy, and you’re on your own here. So you’re already demonstrating that leadership by having that vision. So by the time, and you left TikTok at the end of last year, how many people…what was the size of the team when you left?

Connie: [00:20:27] When I left, I think it was close to 50 people. I’m actually not sure what it is now. But yeah, it was like a team of content design. We also had support content strategists. We had started building a technical writing team, so we had a few disciplines, but the largest discipline was content design.

Patrick: [00:20:51] Got it. And so, how did you start developing your vision for what content design would look like in TikTok? Because there are so many things to juggle. Obviously there are some easy, quick-win best practices, things that you can come in and do. But beyond that. I think that’s where some, at least among the people I’ve spoken to, they know that, okay, I know how to do a style guide. I know how to create best practices or guidelines for even things like if there’s a design system creating content components or guidelines for components or creating best practices for how we create, you know, interface text. But after that, I think there are some people who aspire to be leaders who don’t necessarily know how to connect content design strategy with the strategy of the business as a whole. So how did you go about doing that and developing that vision?

Connie: [00:21:52] I hope my recruiter’s not listening, but when I joined TikTok, I had never used the product. And I mean, this was back in 2018. We forget how TikTok wasn’t the ubiquitous product that it is now. It was definitely perceived as, you know, it’s for teenagers and it’s a lot of trendy dances. And obviously, I got on it right away to try to understand the product. And yeah, initially it was a lot of teenagers doing dances. I think Charli D’Amelio was probably the most popular creator at the time on TikTok. But then, for anyone who uses TikTok, it does start to personalize according to things that you’re interested in and content that you engage with. And it was really obvious early on that there was a way bigger opportunity than just trying to capture the attention of the youths. It was like really there’s so much interesting content for anyone who is interested in exploring it. And so one thing that we wanted to do to align with our company mission was to make this a product that was really accessible for everyone. And I can’t tell you the number of times people would come to me and say, you know, I really want to incorporate this trendy slang into the text because I feel like that’s very TikTok. Like, oh, let’s hit the whoa.

Connie: [00:23:42] Or, you know, this music slaps. And I’m like, this is really cute, but it’s going to be so alienating, right? For so many folks who come on to the platform and have no idea what we’re talking about. Not to mention what a localization nightmare. Right? So one thing that I thought was really important for us, for the vision for our content team, was to make our content accessible because we wanted to make the product more accessible. And it also heavily influences how people perceive our brand. When we use language that’s really simple and clear and, you know, conversational, it keeps it light, but it’s not necessarily meant to be trendy in a way that feels like it’s gatekeeping or alienating folks. So that was one way where from the very beginning, our content vision could be not only realized through the work of our team, but it aligned so clearly with what we felt was the overall mission for the product. And so that I think was really important for us to establish early on because it is a little bit of a slippery slope if we start incorporating lots of very Gen Z slang into a product where folks will point at it and be like, well, this is TikTok, this is the TikTok voice. I think it was really important to establish that early on. Actually, we want to be a product, a platform for everyone.

Patrick: [00:25:24] What you’re talking about here is setting an agenda, really. And as a content leader, it’s your responsibility. Don’t mean you specifically mean sort of everyone’s responsibility and your organization to set that agenda and really guard it. That’s why having that vision is so important so that you can say no to things. I don’t know what your experience has been, but so much of my experience in managing or leading teams is most of the time you’re saying no. You know, and not just no, but, you know, explaining why. You can’t say no without a vision and guardrails around what it is that you’re actually trying to achieve.

Connie: [00:26:10] Yeah, 100%. I think that saying no is really powerful if you use it appropriately because I mean, it applies to so many things. Of course, I feel like the thing that I always think of is just in terms of scope of work, because this is tricky. When I first started as the first content designer, I really felt like all I wanted was to gain visibility and gain a little bit of traction because folks were like, I’ve never worked with the content designer. I don’t really know what you do and there’s only one of you. So I don’t want to bug you too much. And then I really had to kind of push my way in a little bit gently, of course, like, hey, actually, it would be great for me to attend this meeting. I really want to understand the scope and I want more context before I can make strong design decisions around the product. But inevitably, there does get to be a point where you can’t say yes to everything. You do have to start to say no. And when is that inflection point? That is a tricky thing and it really depends on the context. You know, the work environment you’re in, the projects you’re working on. But at some point, you know, that saying, yes, actually probably will start to decrease the quality of your output, right? Not to mention also potentially, really be destructive to your work-life balance. So being able to know when the right time is to say no is also super important, to your point, Patrick.

Patrick: [00:27:55] Absolutely. And what I love about what you’re saying is that you need to have a larger understanding of what the company itself is trying to do. I’ve spoken to people, and this isn’t just in content design. It’s in every discipline. You’ll speak to managers or even senior-level people and you’ll talk about what are the company’s objectives. And a lot of the time, the response is meant with, oh, you know, I don’t really know what the company’s goals are. What are the metrics this quarter? We’re just doing our own work. Like, let’s just focus on that. And to me, you can’t be a leader unless you are bought into what the company’s goals are. Now, even if you disagree with those goals, you still need to have an awareness of them to know that, okay, if we’re working on this particular product, we’re doing that because we need to make this change in order to meet this particular goal, whether that’s increasing sales or decreasing support calls or whatever the metrics are, you need to have that awareness to make sure that you’re on track. And I think that’s a critical skill for any leader. You have to be tuned in.

Connie: [00:29:13] Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that’s also where that connection piece is so important because you might find, too, as you’re, you know, information gathering or knowledge sharing with other folks that they may have a different interpretation of what that mission or how to execute on it would be. And then, you know, you might find opportunities to align or reach your goals a little more easily by having those connections. And again, like I said, I’m an introvert. It’s not always super comfortable to put yourself out there, but building a lot of those relationships is really important.

Patrick: [00:29:52] How do you build those relationships? Can we talk about that for a little bit? We just did a salary survey at Content Collective and we’ll be releasing those results in a couple of weeks. And one of the things we asked people was, what are the biggest challenges you’re having at work? And we received a number of responses. Building influence is a huge challenge. So people talk a lot about getting in the room, right? As content designers, we want to get in the room. In my mind, there’s no point in getting in the room if the people there don’t want you there or don’t understand why you’re there. So a lot of the work has to be done beforehand in building trust, in building those relationships, and that takes time. It doesn’t just happen overnight. What are some of the things you did at TikTok to build, and in your other roles, to build that trust and build those relationships?

Connie: [00:30:49] Yeah. Oh, what a great point. I think actually one thing is to be somewhat strategic about your story for why you want to be there. Do you want to be in the meeting or in the room because you want to have the context around what users are saying and what the business constraints are because that will result in you being able to write content that’s more catered to those constraints and those user needs? Or is it, you know, because you need more lead time because in terms of developing the content, maybe creating certain content artifacts, maybe you want to build in user research. You need to have that planned out in advance, like whatever it is, whatever that story is. I think it’s good to have that “why” when you go into the discussion of why you should be there. Let’s say you’re trying to set up a call or a meeting with 15 different stakeholders. Is it easier to just make that a smaller meeting with five folks in the room? Sure. But is there an added value that you’re bringing in by being there? If so, communicate that.

Connie: [00:32:17] I think people actually really just sometimes don’t understand what the value is. They kind of need to understand that story, you know? And when I say story, what I mean is, it’s not just, hey, you didn’t add me to the meeting. That was mean. I’m really offended. But it’s the why. Like why I want to be there because I feel I can do X, Y, Z with the information that I have from being on that call or being in that group or being in that Slack channel, whatever it is. So I think that is really important to share. I think sometimes people go kind of to an emotional place when they feel like they’re not included or able to be a part of the conversation. I would say 99% of the time in my own experience it’s never about ,oh, I just really want to exclude them. Someone’s wanting to be a bully and leave people out. Obviously not. You can always assume good intent. It’s just they may not really fully understand kind of the rationale, the reason, or the value. And that’s our job, I think, to kind of help them understand, yeah.

Patrick: [00:33:34] For better or worse, I tend to view work relationships as transactional. Not only transactional, but a lot of the relationship is transactional. It’s what can I do for you and what can you do for me? And so I tend to view a lot of relationships in especially larger organizations as what are your goals and how can I help you achieve them? Because if I know that Sarah’s goals are to make sure that this quarter, support requests are down, then I need to know that context before going to talk to Sarah. Otherwise, the system that I’m promoting or the feature improvement that I’m promoting to her, she’s not going to really care about. So if you go and promote, say, additions to a content design system, you need to speak to her context. “Sarah, we’re promoting this and actually we think this is going to help you because it’s going to help reduce support requests in Q2 and Q3.” Right? Just as simple as understanding what people want and how you can help them get it. I think that separates people who are at maybe the junior or intermediate levels from the senior or director leadership levels. It’s that ability to influence people by helping them get what they want, right?

Connie: [00:35:06] 100%. I think that’s really, really on point, especially because I think you touched upon something, Patrick, which is people also communicate and care about certain things. So if it is a number of support requests, if it’s a metric or if it’s, you know, this might be harmful to the brand or to user sentiment towards it, you know, like I think those are all things that you want to bring into your story and how you communicate the value of what you do.

Patrick: [00:35:39] Yeah, absolutely. And I know like for some people I’m glad you mentioned introversion because a lot of people say “I’m an introvert. I can’t be a manager or I can’t be a leader.” To me, those two things are not the same at all. It’s really just about making sure that people can trust you. Sure, extroverted people can be … how can I phrase this? It’s easy to get a lot of attention, I think, if you boisterous and extroverted and social because so much of the idea of management and leadership is social, as you’ve said, and building trust. But to me, it’s just about you don’t need to be the loudest person in the room to have people trust you. To me, it’s just following through on what you promise you’re going to do. If I ask Connie to please have this done, is it going to happen? Do I trust that it’s going to happen when she said it was going to happen? Could you talk a little bit about that? And you mentioned you’re an extreme introvert, so how have you managed to balance your extreme introversion with your leadership?

Connie: [00:37:12] The challenge for me with introversion is I actually love one on one communication, and I really love conversations when they go a little bit deeper than surface level. I think for me, it’s a little bit more of the chit-chat, the banter, that can be a little tricky for me as an introvert if it doesn’t feel deeply engaging. I think I turn off a little bit. But I do think what happens naturally as you’re reaching out to folks, you know, setting up those initial one on ones with them is you develop deeper and deeper relationships, right? Yes, there is a transactional component to it. If you are working with a product manager or a marketing manager, a product designer.”Hey, I want to work on this with you. I can hand off this to you, you can give this to me.” But I think at another point, as you develop those relationships, you understand each other better and better. I feel like your conversations can be so much more honest too. When you have those strong relationships, you can give way more honest feedback. You’re much more candid with each other because you have built that friendship alongside that that working relationship. I think that’s actually really, really powerful. And I think those types of relationships are really energizing for me, actually, even though I am an introvert. So I think that’s kind of how I like to approach it. Like when I became a content designer at TikTok and I was still the first one in IC. I spent so much of my early days just trying to get to know as many folks as I could. Sometimes folks will be like, well, what do you talk about? What am I supposed to talk about in these one on ones with folks? It’s so awkward. And it can be. But I mean, I think starting off just like getting to know them even on a personal level, if that’s something they’re comfortable with and you’re comfortable with, I think helps a lot. I think just them kind of seeing you and, mind you because when I was at TikTok, I think a good two years of it was remote. So there are so many folks that you just see their name on a screen and you never met them in real life. How do you build that connection? So I think building a little bit of that personal relationship as well, when it made sense too, helped a lot. And then that also made it easier in terms of building the trust at work, because if you kind of know them and you feel like a connection to them, naturally you just have more empathy for folks. And so I think that’s really important.

Connie: [00:40:31] UXers, content designers, have so much empathy already. It’s just in their DNA. So apply that to the folks you work with too.

Patrick: [00:40:45] 100% agree. And that’s why I actually miss working in an office. I know there are lots of people who hate small talk. I love small talk. I really love it because I love talking to people waiting in line at a restaurant or wherever. And I just love getting to know people and just saying, hey. Even if you recognize someone once and start talking to people in an office or something. I think the trick is then to pivot the conversation and to be not just small talk. It’s to say: so what do you do here? What department do you work in? What’s your biggest challenge right now? And I can say, those conversations for me have borne fruit because I have a problem, and then I can go to someone and say I actually know someone who works in that department I should go to them and ask, hey, you know, who’s the best person to speak to about this? And even if you’ve just, you know, asked about how their kids are going once or twice, they are going to be more likely to spend a little bit of time helping you. Now, of course, being remote, that’s a challenge. But I’m not saying that leadership has to, you know, you have to go about asking about everyone’s kids. But it’s just about, you know, as you say, it’s about building those relationships because you never know when they’re going to help you.

Connie: [00:42:12] I mean, it’s great because clearly, you’re a born connector. I think for me it was more of a learned thing. But that’s the thing, you can learn it and you can grow into it and learn to enjoy it much more, especially more than, you know, when I was a little younger. So I definitely agree, Patrick, I think having that little conversational in is just a great way to connect with folks.

Patrick: [00:42:38] Yeah, I think there are leadership aspects that that as you mentioned, you’re born with and they just naturally come out of you and then others you have to learn. I’ve definitely had to learn certain things like, you know, giving negative feedback for me is something that I’ve had to learn how to do. That didn’t come naturally to me. I don’t like making people upset and I’m very much a people pleaser. What are some of the things that you had to learn at TikTok in your leadership journey? You mentioned one about relationship building there. What are some other things that you’ve had to learn?

Connie: [00:43:18] I touched upon this, but I definitely think it’s important. How do you build the visibility but then also set boundaries? That’s like a tough balance. I think this is something a lot of content designers struggle with. I would imagine all of them, but I don’t want to assume, I don’t have the data on that. It’s just such a new discipline. And tech in general is so new, right? Then within tech, content design is I feel like a very, very new discipline. So helping folks to understand how to work with you, but then also getting to the point where you have established a lot of trust and understanding in what you do so that you can so start to establish some boundaries and say hey, you know, it’s probably time for us to get more support or we have to push the deadlines on this. Because I think everyone’s nightmare is someone coming to them and saying, hey, I just want you to edit this content. We want to launch ASAP. And you’re like, I have to say no. I have to say no because that’s just an unreasonable timeline and I’m working on a lot of other things. And they’re like, okay, well we’ll just launch it with what we have. And then you feel stabbed in the heart, right? But sometimes that’s what has to happen. Sometimes you have to let it go and just say, alright, launch it. You know? I mean, take that with a grain of salt. Depends on the context, right? But sometimes that is what needs to happen so that you can be like, hey, so that this doesn’t happen next time or we can get you more support or do a much more thorough job on this particular product area, or whatever it is, we probably need more resources, right? Or we need more lead time or you need to include me in all of these discussions so I have all the context. And you’re not just looping me in the day before. Whatever it is that you are working towards, you sometimes need to use that “no” strategically.

Patrick: [00:45:38] These are great tips. I should say to everyone listening, if you are interested in hearing more about leadership and content design, Connie is actually developing a cohort-based course at the UX Content Collective about content leadership. So we’ll be messaging everyone with the waitlist for that. So if you are interested in hearing more and actually learning from Connie in a course-based environment, please head on over to that waitlist once we send the link and you’ll be notified once that is released. You know, Connie, you mentioned the idea that people sometimes go to an emotional place when things happen. And as a leader, and I know when I was a manager, content designers are empathetic people, right? So we often experience things in an emotionally heavy way. I can definitely be that way. You know, I can definitely get offended or upset when certain things happen at work. And I think part of being a leader in content design is understanding how can you know when to set those feelings aside or channel them into something productive. I’m wondering, has that been a challenge for you or has that been a pretty natural thing for you to develop in your leadership style?

Connie: [00:47:07] Oh, definitely a challenge, I imagine probably for everyone. So I totally empathize. I think for me, the truth is, through experience, I’ve often found that I’ve proved my hypothesis wrong that someone is just, you know, being mean to me or out to get me. It’s always been disproven. I think sometimes it depends on how folks like to react, or not like to react but tend to react in those situations, because it tends to be a little bit of a fight or flight situation, at least for me. I tend to be like, oh, if I feel excluded, it feels like a rejection and I might say, “oh, well then I don’t want to work on this thing. Gosh, why don’t they include me? But simply reaching out and asking why wasn’t I included? I would love more context, could I understand where we’re headed? I kind of need to be in that meeting. Perhaps I’m just lucky, but I’d say 99% of the time the response has been that was just an oversight on our part. We’re more than happy to include you or you should have been included, or so on and so forth. But I do think, just in addition to that, I think it’s really important, if you are a leader, to really incentivize a positive culture. Definitely while working remote, I could see it was a little trickier for folks to have those connections because we were working remotely. And it was actually really helpful. Someone on my team established these social hours, these getting-to-know-you type of events where they would get to know someone one on one or two-on-one, depending on how the numbers shook out. Also getting to know folks from our closest cross-functional teams like PM and product design. And they would ask fun, silly questions. What’s your favorite TV show? There was a really silly icebreaker question we used once, which was: If you were a potato, how would you like to be cooked? Which is like absolutely absurd, but it made people crack up and they felt like it was okay to be a little silly. Just doing little things like that. I could see it bled over into the actual work too, right? It is a very collaborative work environment. There are things like design critiques, there are product reviews, there are team meetings and standups. That more positive environment kind of bled over into that too, because people kind of knew each other and felt a little more comfortable with each other. So I do think it is important for leaders to kind of help build that into the environment as well.

Patrick: [00:50:37] Yeah, it’s funny, there are people listening probably thinking, oh my God, that’s my idea of hell. Participating in forced fun. But yeah, as a leader, it’s something that you, you know, it’s just a matter of doing it in a way that feels natural to your group. We’re reaching the end here. We’ve got about ten minutes left. So I want to focus on just a couple more questions here. The first is, how do you think leadership and content design differs from leadership in other disciplines? Obviously, you and I haven’t been leaders of development teams or product managers, but I think every discipline has its own challenges. So what do you think are challenges that content design leaders have that perhaps other areas don’t?

Connie: [00:51:28] I think in a lot of ways it is very similar because fundamentally it’s sort of all those same three elements that we talked about, that vision, that connection, and growth. But I think one thing that is actually kind of interesting and unique for content design is how much of it is a science and how much of it is an art, how much of it is a creative discipline. Because you will bring content right into a content critique or a design critique, and you might have ten people in the room and get ten different pieces of feedback or ten different opinions or ten different perspectives. Maybe for something that’s a little more technical. Obviously there are different ways you could like code something. I think maybe the nuance is even more kind of widespread. There’s even a larger spectrum of perspectives in a discipline that has so much creativity in it. And one thing that can be tricky for folks is well, there’s so much feedback, which direction do I go? And there’s a lot of ambiguity actually. Balancing that ambiguity and taking the feedback and then synthesizing that into what you think is the right decision based on all the context you have, it is a complicated piece of problem-solving that you have to do. And so I think even as a leader, the reason that’s so tricky is, sometimes, you know, I personally have a preference, but I’m not going to tell you exactly what to do because, quite frankly, there isn’t always such an obvious thing that is right. Sometimes you have to experiment. Sometimes you have to go with your gut instinct. And ultimately as a leader, when I talk to my reports, I may have an opinion, but at the end of the day, they actually have way more context than I do. They’re way closer to the product. I can give you a lot of feedback, but hopefully you have the tools and the resources to go in and make the final call that makes the right sense. That makes the most sense to you.

Patrick: [00:53:44] Absolutely. One of the things that I had a challenge with as I was, you know, developing into leadership is I came from journalism where you get edited and you don’t have a choice in what edits are made. If my editor edits my work, sure I could maybe push back against 1 or 2 things, but not really, you know, and especially if they’re substantive changes. When I went into content design, I was having trouble because I wanted to implement all the feedback. And the head of UX at the time was telling me he’s like, you know, you don’t have to take all of this feedback. He’s like, it’s up to you to decide what you want to do. Developing those instincts can be a challenge and often comes over time. But as content leaders, as you say, we have to make sure that we are training content designers so that they can make those decisions and teach them principles so that they can push back on certain suggestions and not necessarily have to accept everything as gospel. And I think that’s part of the difficulty in teaching content designers and being a manager is helping develop that inner critic that can understand what to accept and what to put aside.

Connie: [00:55:17] Yes, yes. Those instincts, as you said. Yes. 100%.

Patrick: [00:55:21] Absolutely. So I think we’re heading towards the end here. So I want to just ask you one last question, actually, 2 to 2 last questions. So the second to last question I’ll ask you is, for someone who’s in sort of a junior to intermediate role and they’re heading towards this leadership path, maybe they’re even a senior and they want to be a principal or a director. What you’ve already mentioned, the three core things that they should be developing, what are some techniques that they should be working on now to help make things easier for them? Like if you look back at your journey, what could they be developing now that would make life easier for them? Maybe that you could go back and do again if you could?

Connie: [00:56:04] Yeah, this is a great question because there’s actually a lot you can do without the leadership title or the leadership role. I would say take a look at your organization and see what the greatest needs. Do a real analysis of what is maybe missing or could be optimized because I feel like folks also have strengths as a leader in different areas. You don’t necessarily have to be extremely strong in every single aspect of leadership, right? Ideally you’re what they call T-shaped, right? In terms of your skill set, you have that table stakes level of skills broadly. But a lot of folks, you know, they are really strong in specific areas. So for some folks, it’s more that operations piece. If you’re lucky and you’re on a team that’s large enough to even have its own operations team, maybe leadership in that aspect or role is right for you. Or perhaps if you don’t have that, then it’s really kind of leading in that space. Operations could be process. It could be content systems, things that are broadly applied to everyone on the team and help them with their day-to-day work. Maybe you’re really, really strong in terms of measuring success of content and showing that value. If so, you could really lean into owning things like AB testing, working closely with UX research. Perhaps you’re actually really, really strong or most passionate about mentorship or developing folks. Maybe there’s an opportunity for you to work on developing a career ladder if your team doesn’t already have one. As an IC, you have a lot of insight into what that looks like, that kind of climbing that career ladder. Or maybe you have a lot of questions around it. That’s great. Then working on it could be the best way for you to better understand or kind of apply what you think is missing and bring that to whatever it is, a career ladder, you know, maybe a mentorship program, something like that. So I think everyone has something that they’re really excited about. And because they’re excited about it, they’re able to apply so much more effort and maintain a lot of interest in that area and therefore come up with a lot of great solutions in that space. So I think, you know, as an ICU or junior to senior IC wanting to develop your leadership abilities more, I say start with an area you’re really excited about and go from there.

Patrick: [00:59:14] That’s fantastic. Connie, this has been a fantastic chat. Thank you so much for joining. We’re just about out of time here. So for everyone listening, thank you for joining as well. As I mentioned before, Connie is developing a content leadership course for UX Content Collective. It’s a cohort-based course. So we’ll send that link out and please join that waitlist if you are interested. And Connie, I just have one final question for you. Are you ready? If you were a potato, how would you like to be cooked?

Connie: [00:59:46] The obvious and only correct answer is to be a French fry. I mean, it’s literally the most delicious way to eat a potato. Yeah, that’s my answer. Excellent, actually. Okay, Patrick. Okay. I was going to say, Patrick, I wanted to hear what your answer was because in case you wanted a different, different cooking method, but you also pick French fries.

Patrick: [01:00:11] Well, no, I was actually going to choose Mashed. Mashed potato with some oil. And, you know, just some nice creamy mashed potatoes right next to a steak.

Connie: [01:00:23] I mean, that’s a really good second choice. I’m just kidding. No, I love mashed potatoes as well.

Patrick: [01:00:34] I don’t know what that says about our respective leadership styles, but I’ll let the audience make that assessment. Connie, thank you so much. This has been fantastic. I hope everyone’s taken something from this. I certainly have. So thank you so much. And for everyone listening, we’ll continue to have these events in the future. So hope to see you again.

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