What Does It Take To Lead A Product Team?

by drjim on August 5, 2013

This product leadership thing is hard work…

This product leadership thing is hard work…
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So you are a product manager? Just exactly what does that mean? I can tell you that it’s not all about creating the perfect product development definition. I mean, sure you are in charge of a product, but in order to get your job done you need to work with other people and get them to do what you need them to do for you. Just exactly how are you supposed to do that?

What Kind Of Leadership Traits Do Product Managers Need To Have?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was someone out there who could tell us just exactly what skills you and I need to have on our product manager resume in order to lead all of the people within our company that we need to work together in order to make our product a success? It turns out that such a person exists: Dr. Bob Sutton.

Dr. Sutton is a Stanford University professor who works with some of the smartest people in Silicon Valley to find out what it takes to be a good leader. He’s come up with some interesting observations including that sometimes product managers need to know how to be boring.

Look, being a product manager is not all about good news. Bad things happen to our products all the time and we are on the hook to pass that information on to others. However, that’s where Dr. Sutton’s advice comes in handy.

When all you have is bad news about your product, you really want to minimize the amount of outside attention that you and your product are receiving. That means that you’ve got to know how to be boring. Good ways to do this when you are providing an update to your management is to use the passive voice and use long sentences. Create PowerPoint charts that are hard to read and turn your back to your audience and read from the charts when you are presenting them. If you do this well enough, your management will lose interest in the bad news that you are presenting and you’ll have bought yourself enough time to fix things.

What Is The Most Important Leadership Trait That A Product Manager Must Have?

Being a product manager means that you need to have a lot of different leadership traits. With a long list of skills that you really should have, it can be difficult to pick out just exactly which of these skills you need to focus on first.

Dr. Sutton suggests that the #1 leadership trait that we all need to work on first is the ability to see how others see us. If we want to be successful product managers, then we need to be moderately assertive.

This does not mean that we need to be moderately assertive all the time. Instead, what we need to be able to do is to “read” each situation that we find ourselves in. There will be times that we need to ramp up our forcefulness in order to get what we want and then there will be times that we’ll need to tone it down in order to make sure that we get out of the way in order to let things happen. The ability to determine what to do and when to do it is the key to our long-term career success.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

One of the biggest secrets to being a successful product manager is to understand that it’s not all about your product – you have to manage people also. Your product manager job description should have told you that in order for your product to be successful you will need to have some leadership traits that will help you to work with others.

One thing that product managers need to become good at is the ability to be both boring and vague when the situation calls for it. In order to be successful, all product managers need to be able to understand how others view them.

Every product manager will go through both good and bad times. In order to make sure that your product is able to make it through these times, you are going to need to develop the leadership traits that will allow this to happen.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: When do you think that it will pay for a product manager to be deliberately vague?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Sometimes as product managers we wish that our lives could become better if only one of our competitors would just go away. It’s events that like this that would make developing your product development definition just a bit easier. Somewhat amazingly this does happen. However, all too often, the reason that they went away was because they were bought by one of our other competitors. This means that we now have a new much larger competitor to deal with. What’s a product manager to do?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger L. Cauvin August 6, 2013 at 11:41 am

“Dr. Sutton suggests that the #1 leadership trait that we all need to work on first is the ability to see how others see us.”

This lines up well with Gerald Weinberg’s thoughts on leaderships, as described in his classic book, BECOMING A TECHNICAL LEADER.

Contrary to popular belief, product management leadership doesn’t always mean assuming centralized “ownership” of the product.

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Dana Pillay November 7, 2013 at 5:30 am

Good post! this topic is interesting and there are lots of things to remember from this article. good ideas are coming from this topic. people who will read this article will be having a good learnings.

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