The innovative potential of design thinking is exemplified in the development of Apple’s iconic products, such as the iPhone.

Under the leadership of Steve Jobs and with the creative genius of designers like Jony Ive, Apple revolutionized the technology industry by focusing on user experience and intuitive design. This approach involved understanding the needs and desires of users, prototyping, testing, and iterating to create products that were not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly.

Apple’s success story demonstrates how design thinking can drive innovation and create products that resonate deeply with consumers.

In leadership, design thinking involves applying similar principles to solve complex problems, enhance processes, and create value for stakeholders. It encourages a user-centric approach, fostering creativity and collaboration to develop effective and innovative solutions.

Design thinking defined

Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves understanding the needs of users, generating creative ideas, prototyping, and testing solutions. It is a human-centered methodology that emphasizes empathy, experimentation, and iteration.

Design thinking’s most popular framework (from IDEO) involves five key stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test, each of which plays a crucial role in developing innovative and user-friendly solutions.

In a leadership context, design thinking can be applied to a wide range of challenges, from product development and process improvement to strategic planning and organizational change.

By adopting a design thinking mindset, leaders can foster a culture of innovation and creativity, encouraging their teams to think outside the box and develop solutions that meet the needs of their stakeholders.

Authentic human leadership

Authentic human leadership is deeply connected to the principles of design thinking. Leaders who embrace design thinking demonstrate a commitment to understanding and addressing the needs of their team members and stakeholders.

This user-centric approach fosters a culture of empathy and collaboration, as it encourages leaders to involve their teams in the problem-solving process and value their perspectives and insights.

Design thinking also enhances a leader’s ability to inspire and motivate others. By creating an environment where creativity and experimentation are encouraged, leaders can drive higher levels of engagement and innovation within their teams.

This inclusive and iterative approach not only boosts morale but also leads to better decision-making and problem-solving, as diverse teams bring a wider range of ideas and insights to the table.

Furthermore, design thinking helps leaders navigate complex and dynamic environments with confidence and clarity. By focusing on the needs of users and iterating solutions, leaders can develop effective and sustainable strategies that drive long-term success.

This capacity for creative problem-solving is essential for maintaining a competitive edge and driving innovation in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.

How coaching helps

Professional Certified Coaches (PCC), credentialed by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), are instrumental in helping leaders develop and strengthen their design thinking skills. Coaches use a variety of techniques to enhance empathy, creativity, and iterative problem-solving, such as reflective exercises, brainstorming sessions, and prototyping workshops.

These practices help leaders gain a deeper understanding of design thinking principles and develop the skills needed to apply them effectively.

Coaches also model the core competencies outlined in the ICF PCC Markers, such as maintaining presence, listening actively, and facilitating client growth. These competencies are essential for design thinking, as they involve being fully engaged and attentive to the needs and perspectives of others. By working with a coach, leaders can strengthen these skills and become more effective design thinkers.

Additionally, coaches help leaders integrate design thinking into their daily interactions and problem-solving processes. This may involve setting specific goals for design thinking, practicing empathy and brainstorming in meetings, and seeking feedback from team members.

By making design thinking a regular part of their leadership practice, leaders can create a more innovative and user-centric organizational culture.

Let’s connect

I’m an ICF-certified and experienced professional, coaching authentic human leaders with a focus on organizations whose Director+ population is facing complex, nuanced problems. Use this link to schedule a call with me to discuss potential coaching services. You can also email me or message me on LinkedIn.


International Coaching Federation (ICF).

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster, 2011.