Be the wolf that leads the pack
Top ten leadership hacks in Product Management
Leading an organization or team comes with its own challenges, and it’s easy to get subsumed under daily tasks while losing sight of the big picture. You need to stay focused and consciously develop qualities that let you become a successful Product Leader.
Here are our top tips for effective leadership:
An effective Product Leader knows exactly how much attention to detail is needed. When deadlines loom, clients send critical feedback, and sales is breathing down your neck, it’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty and simply do some fire-fighting – till the next fire comes up. While this is necessary, micro-management is not something that Product Leaders should do. So, learn to hand off the problem and trust someone to solve it for you.
Once you have communicated your needs to the relevant teams, you should re-focus on what you were hired for in the first place — strategy. Having clarity on business goals, target audience, target segment, unique value proposition of your product, current market trends and the metrics to measure performance are a few aspects that you need to consider to build a successful product strategy.
You’ll often find yourself doing both of these in the same day, and maybe even within the hour. The key to this is to balance the tightrope so that you are strategic, yet tactical.
As a Product Manager or Product Leader, you often need to work with multiple functions within your organization and the customer. To be an effective leader, you need to collaborate and communicate effectively with all stakeholders – internal and external.
When you need an opinion or a review on a new feature, make sure that you arrange for meetings with all the stakeholders, so there are no surprises at a later date. Listening to others’ viewpoints and building consensus are going to help you get the required buy-in.
Communication and Collaboration are cornerstones of effective leadership.
“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” - Herbert Swope
Collaborating with multiple functions and stakeholders can be tiresome, and you’ll often need to play hardball. Negotiate your way through the day, giving in a little, and getting what you need without being dominating. Remember, negotiating does not mean that you play as an intermediary between two stakeholders. Rather, you need to get your point across while also acceding to certain demands on the other side. Also, people often remember your attitude rather than what you asked for. It doesn’t hurt to be polite – saying “Please” and “Thank you” is surprisingly simple and effective.
While Product Leaders and Product Managers are often one-man armies, especially in smaller organizations, it’s useful to remember that there are others in the organization too. Leadership is all about delegating well so that there's always someone to keep the ball rolling.
While delegating, remember that it’s your job to find the right expert, set clear expectations regarding quality of work, completion and deadlines, include relevant information, and any constraints such as budgets, formats etc. Keep a two-way communication open, and keep the task accountable. You also need to trust your team members to solve problems.
These may be difficult to achieve at the beginning. But as you go along, you’ll find yourself free to face the next ball, and begin to see the benefits of doing so.
It is equally important to give credit where it’s due. Often a simple “thank you” mail, copied to the person’s team or manager, can go a long way in making people willing to take on the next task you assign to them. Rather than having an “I-Me-Myself” attitude, make sure that you acknowledge and appreciate everyone on the team (and other teams) when you achieve a milestone or close a crisis successfully. Avoid pointing fingers and personal attacks when something goes wrong.
Provide your team members equal opportunity for growth by involving them and seeking their opinions. Incentives, rewards and recognition are formal ways to recognize contribution. Informal means such as team lunches and a pat on the back helps build bridges
Being collaborative and polite does not mean that you dither when it comes to taking hard decisions. Whether it is postponing a release or letting go of a feature, you need to take decisions based on the value-add to the customer, and ensure you stay aligned to business goals to achieve a balance so that all stakeholders remain satisfied.
Through all of this, your product strategy should keep the customer at the centre of everything. No matter how path-breaking an idea is, it’s going to be of little value if it’s not useful to the customer. Get customer buy-in for new ideas, do market research (or get it done), and make sure there is a definite value-add for the customer before it goes into development. This can save precious time and money, and lets you focus on other important activities.
While customer focus is important, it’s equally important to make sure that your product strategy aligns with the organization’s business goals. Identify the metrics to measure product performance and use analytics to determine if you are on the right track. You should review priorities periodically to make sure that you remain at the top of things.
Don’t underestimate the power of networking in leadership. When you build a network of cohorts across your organization and the industry, you are keyed into the current trends, possible risks and also receive valuable insights. Often, informal chats and conversations lead to new ideas, which in turn can lead to new products. You need to not just “manage” people, but build a strong network that can help you align with stakeholders, set up meetings with different teams and use indirect influence to steer decisions.
“To lead people, walk behind them.” - Lao Tzu
When you are a leader, people will not just look at coming to you with their problems and expect you to solve them, they’ll also look up to you. It’s important to stay on the right side of ethics, be a motivation to team members and take bold decisions when necessary. Most importantly, being accountable for your team’s actions and standing by them in times of crisis is going to earn you the respect, and pivot you to next level of Product Leadership.