Many people associate product leaders with owners of strategy, tools, and systems. But I think a product leader is someone who helps individuals and teams be their best selves.
A product leader’s role is to listen, learn, and ask questions; define a positive, trusting culture; and hire and promote top talent to achieve the best results on behalf of customers, stakeholders, shareholders, and users.
Each day, I set out to accomplish this while navigating the demands of family, business, and industry. I believe that everything and everyone has an opportunity to continuously improve. This foundational belief is powerful to me as a product leader because digital transformation requires enormous amounts of change, adaptation, and general evolution. It’s not only about changing technology but also processes and the skills people bring to the table, both for technology and those it reaches.
As today’s product leaders seek to grow day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year, here are four important tenets to remember:
1. Strike a balance
Product leaders must balance time between internal stakeholders, customers and prospects, and their team. This balance changes by time of year, product lifecycle, and organization dynamic. There isn’t a right or wrong; what’s important is that none of these are ignored.
[ Also read Cognitive scientist: A day in the life. ]
Take time to build a connection with your teams. Be proud to mentor team members and encourage them to be their whole selves always. Behave with transparency, empathy, and an overwhelming desire to win. These skills are essential in building world-class teams that build world-class products.
2. Expect the unexpected
Day-to-day, you may experience unplanned events that impact you or your team. These may be product issues like an outage or launch delay, customer escalations, or even high-priority injections to the roadmap. These unexpected items are, frankly, expected if you are a product leader. They happen to every company and every product. Remembering this helps you to stay calm and on track.
It helps to practice dealing with these occurrences, but the most important thing is to trust that you have an excellent product and engineering team that will make timely decisions, triage issues with focus, and balance their priorities accordingly.
3. Play the long game
In times of uncertainty like our current macroeconomic climate, many business leaders think they must do more with less, and they may become intimidated by technological investment. However, this “less with more” mantra actually aligns with the purpose of digital transformation: to move away from difficult processes and drive necessary outcomes in a more efficient and effective way. The technical decisions made within an enterprise’s data stack and vendor integration points accomplish this.
Seek solutions that are privacy-first, deliver high-value ROI, and fit into the data stack of tomorrow. They must leverage cloud computing and cloud data warehouses, and reduce security breaches and associated risks. As a product leader navigating worldwide change in technology and business, you must not only understand your users but also technology trends in order to future-proof your organization.
4. Be human first
If I’ve learned anything over the course of my two-decade career, it’s that there’s no one type of product leader or organization. Rather than chasing the skills of your “best” peer or competitor, focus on complementing your skills with your team, and remember you are a person working with people.
Here are six key things to keep in mind:
- Soft skills are much more difficult to teach than hard skills. For product managers, designers, and people managers, having empathy with users, stakeholders, and team members is critical to working as a team.
- Output is less critical than outcomes. This is a key attribute of digital transformation – you cannot focus on just working faster; you must also work smarter to achieve better outcomes.
- Teams want someone to look up to and learn from. Strive to be your best self in every meeting, every interaction, every day. It’ll inspire others to do the same.
- You will never be very good at being someone else, but you’ll always be the best at being yourself. Bring your full self to every circumstance.
- Be a lifelong learner. As technology changes constantly, skill sets are constantly adapting. Set out to learn – admit what you don’t know, ask questions frequently, and encourage others to do the same.
- Give feedback, ask for feedback, and encourage others to want feedback. This is part of learning but also part of growing.
As enterprise teams prepare for a new calendar year, product leaders must maintain a deep understanding of technology trends and effective communication with their counterparts but also manage shareholder and customer value. Those who understand their users, are empathetic to their teams, competitive in their industries, and produce positive customer outcomes will come out on top.
[ What is a ‘day in the life’ like in your role? If you’d like to participate in this series, reach out here! ]