Making the move from product manager to product master requires becoming a leader.
A competency on the path from product manager to product master is leadership. As product managers and innovators, we rarely have any actual authority. For example, we can’t fire and hire employees.
What product managers do have is influence, and it is this competency that allows you to motivate others to support your ideas and plan.
At the core of leadership is influence.
This interview explores how you develop influence and become a leader. My guest is Ken Lane, principal coach at Summit Catalyst, where he provides senior executive coaching and helps organizations with strategy development and implementation, change management, and executive team development.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
- [2:47] What does it mean to be a leader in an organization? Product managers are in a unique role. They are future thinking and must work with other functions, such as engineering, marketing, sales, etc., in the creation and management of products. Some think of leadership in terms of how many people report to the leader, but that’s not always true. A leader can be someone who is at the forefront, helping to guide others. They take the initiative to lead in any role they are in. This is especially true for product managers. They have the advantage of being in a position that requires aspects of leadership today but also can prepare them for formal leadership roles in the organization.
- [7:15] How can product managers turn their growing influence into growth as a leader? Let me suggest the use of the CAPI model: the coalesces of authority, power, and influence. These forces exist in any organization and need to be understood by someone wishing to be leader. Authority is defined as a legal right to say “yes” and “no.” Power is the ability to withhold or grant cooperation or reward. Reward power often exists at the top of organizations. Cooperation power can be expressed by people across the organization. Influence is the ability get things done without using personal authority or power. People may have authority but not have power to execute against a particular project. A product manager may need to use influence to pull in authority and power to move a project forward, break down a barrier, or resolve an issue. Influence is the most challenging to develop as you have to learn how to motivate others to accomplish what the project needs. Product managers that develop influence are looked to as potential organizational leaders.
- [11:10] How is goodwill a factor in the growth of a leader? Goodwill develops trust with people. The network of relationships developed as a product manager’s career develops stays with them. As you are successful, those around you rise with you. As others are successful, you may rise with them. You are part of a constellation, not a single star. Further, who works with or for you today may be your boss in the future. Pay attention to the relationships you are building and expand your network of influence.
- [14:42] What actions can product managers take to grow as leaders? Product managers are positioned to move into leadership roles. For those who wish to, first be curious. Find people in other roles above you as well as organization leaders and invite them to lunch or approach them in the hallway and ask questions you are curious about. Keep questions safe and simple, such as saying, “I’m curious, what was your first job.” Often when you express a sincere interest in someone, they will be curious about you as well and look at you differently. In the process, you may find someone you want to be mentored by, and you can ask if they would do that for you. Also, never be afraid to volunteer for something. Step into the gaps and offer to help. It will differentiate you from others.
- [21:07] Tell us more about mentorship? Some organizations have a mechanistic approach to mentoring in the form of formal programs. An organic approach that begins with you making a connection with someone you are interested in being your mentor can produce good rewards. This begins with you showing curiosity in the potential mentor and exploring if the person is someone you wish to learn from. If you decide they are, then ask them to consider being your mentor.
- [22:48] What is a resource you recommend to product managers to help them develop as leaders? Start with gaining an awareness of your strengths and the impact you can have on others. The book “Management/Mismanagement Styles” by Adizes is a helpful resource to explore this. It will help you learn the leadership styles that are relevant to you and what works best for you. It will also help you discover how your actions impact others and how you can modify your approach to be more effective.
- [27:03] How can feedback from others be used to help product managers grow as leaders? Most people I work with are afraid of getting feedback, but if you don’t get it, you are doomed to your blind spots. Without feedback, you won’t know about behaviors – blind spots – that need your attention. A mentor or colleague you trust can give you valuable feedback about your style, areas to improve, etc. Feedback will help you be more aware of your style.
“Turmoil accompanies every great change…and we have experienced more than our share, for we are agents of that very change.” – Christopher Paolini
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.