What does it mean to be an amazing product leader? Some of the best product leaders I’ve met seem to manage their teams effortlessly. They push without forcing, inspire without dictating, and generate loyalty without playing favorites. They demonstrate discipline while also knowing exactly when to not follow the process—all while leaving their egos at the door. You know it when you see it and probably have met at least one VP of Product Management who was a rockstar.
In a recent blog, I highlighted why some of the most successful product managers turn into the worst product management team leaders and VPs. The need for validation, the desire for power, and fear often drives excellent product managers into brutish leaders with whom no one wants to work.
So, let’s flip the conversation around. What does it take to be a GREAT product leader (not just a good one)?
What are the most important things we can do as product leaders to share our passion, motivate our teams, and be superstars? After speaking with over 1,000 product leaders at Aha!, we think the patterns are clear and that all great VPs of product share these characteristics. Here are their four key attributes and how to adopt them yourself.
You are the product leader and it is your job to show the team where they should be headed. It is your responsibility to ensure they are not executing against their individual agendas and objectives, but that they are aligned and working towards a common product roadmap and business objective. As a product leader, this is one of the hardest things to do. When it is done effectively, the team is humming. When it is done poorly, there is chaos and the team is demotivated. Set the direction and have a point of view and the team will follow. It is your job to mold and influence them in a particular direction.
As an exceptional product leader you are in constant communication with your team and your peers who are leading different aspects of the organization. Being communicative means you have a pulse on what is happening across the organization and that you are engaged. It is also about sharing information. The best product leaders do not hoard knowledge about customers, the market, or the organization. Holding information too close is a sign of weakness and insecurity. Sharing information across the organization gives everyone insight and the ability to be an active contributor to your team’s success.
Great product leaders are open to new ideas. Listen to and be interested in the ideas of the creative product managers on your team. Remember that you do not have all the answers. Sometimes the best ideas come from the most unexpected places. And if you are too set in your thinking or mindset, you will potentially miss the most meaningful insights and suggestions.
As a product leader you need to make the tough decisions. But it is also important to know when to let your team make the decisions and let them live with those decisions. If you step in all the time you are thinking too much for your team. You will end up with demotivated people and product managers who cannot think for themselves. If you never enter the fray you will be disconnected and unable to make the tough call. You need to follow along in a supportive way, yet step in when you are best prepared to make the right call.
The best product leaders are evangelists for their products—sharing with everyone connected to the product their vision, knowledge and insights about customers, the market, and how the product creates value.
They are great communicators and know when it is time to apply influence and when to step back and let the team thrive on their own. If you step in too much, you are undermining the team. If you do it too little, the team may steer into trouble.
Are you an exceptional product leader or do you work with one?