Last week I talked about how User Experience Design is the New Marketing. Companies that are positioning themselves for success see the increasingly digital, socially-networked world of the future and are structuring their companies to address these new changes and challenges. If you’re a CEO you now need to think about how to identify top talent to lead User Experience Design efforts. If you’re in the User Experience field with leadership ambitions you may be thinking about what you can do to advance your career.

Through AnswerLab’s work across a large number of Fortune 500 companies I’ve been able to meet lots of user experience leaders and understand the attributes that define the most successful ones. After a recent lunch with two User Experience Design execs that I’ve known for more than 10 years I started to reflect on what it was that separated top talent from all the rest. I’ve identified four key attributes that companies should look for when hiring a User Experience Design exec. If you’re in the user experience field working your way up you could use this as your skills-development blueprint. The four attributes are:

1. Curiosity– The top leaders are always asking questions, learning, challenging, and are very open to new ideas.
 
2. Teaching / Communicating– Though very busy people, top leaders constantly find time to share what they’ve learned both internally and to the broader industry. Speaking and teaching hones the mind and refines ideas in ways that just doing can’t.
 
3. Strategic thinking– While I see a good amount of curiosity and teaching/communicating skills when I talk to leaders in the industry, many senior people in this field I think would actually rather still be in the lab. It’s the hard work of applying UX thinking to a company’s strategic objectives that makes for a successful exec.
 
4. Execution – Top leaders know how to motivate people and make things happen. They organize their teams for action, and they know how to get buy-in from the executive team and across their organization.

 
Is academic background important? I have noticed that many highly effective user experience leaders have PhDs, however in my opinion it’s not the actual academic training that’s most important, (especially 10 to 20 years after finishing the PhD program) it’s that people who are curious and like to teach and communicate ideas are often attracted to PhD programs.

I often see people with two or three of these qualities but four is rare. If you’re hiring a user experience leader I suggest you look for these four qualities. If you’re an aspiring user experience leader you can look to find ways to take on new challenges and further develop these qualities in yourself.