Product Leadership — common traits, developing instincts & letting go

Anatomy of a product leader. In 2012, Jason Baumgarten and Greg Sedlock sat down with some of the most influential tech product leaders in modern times. They’re entire findings are a required read, but they also hone in on several traits that define a great product leader. It starts with having a genuine passion for your product. Then you must know how to work effectively within your organization or, as they put it, “manage through influence rather than authority”. A great product leader also has vision and will use it to make decisions — which will mostly involve saying ‘no’ to new ideas regularly to keep development focused. The last two traits are having a wide and varied understanding of technology and being able to find and manage great talent.

10 leadership qualities of successful product managers. Similarily, Roman Pichler lists the traits he thinks are important in a great product leader. What’s interesting about his perspective is that these traits are often diametrically opposed, e.g., collaborative and decision making, strategic and tactical, data informed and intuitive. This underscores that, to be a great product leader, you must be able to test your natural instincts and put yourself in uncomfortable situations.

Steven Sinofsky on building your product team. Steven Sinofsky is widely known for his work leading product at Microsoft. During this time it became clear to him that there is a path towards becoming a product leader. It starts with building your core competencies as a Product Manager, such as having deep understanding of your product and being able to empathize deeply with your customer. Interesting side note: Steven maintains that, for software Product Managers who want to know what’s ultimately possible, you must know the code intimately. But as your position rises and you start managing others you must learn a new skill — managing people — and be prepared to relinquish many of your duties to members of your team.

Secondly, as a Product Manager you will have developed certain instincts, e.g., knowing when there’s a resource or third-party integration issue coming down the road. Rather than committing significant time to finding these issues, a director of Product Managers needs to let their team develop their own instincts in order to effectively catch them at the right time.

Lastly, the product leader needs to ‘let go’. “As a product leader, it’s not necessarily your responsibility to build the product, but to be the creator of a framework for how decisions are going to get made.”

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