March 5

Becoming a Product Leader (When You’re Not Yet a Product Leader)

We’ve been having a lot of fun with the newest season of Rocketship.FM, which features confessions about the workplace submitted by product people. These confessions have been a lot of fun to listen to and dissect with guest experts. One of the upcoming episodes features a confession about a very ambitious product manager who has his sights set on the Chief Product Officer role at his company. There’s just one problem — his boss currently holds that role. The confession was essential that this person wanted their boss’s job.

Our guest expert for this episode was Product Coach and Consultant, Dan Olsen — Author of The Lean Product Playbook. I won’t give a complete spoiler here. But Dan gave some great perspective about this particular person’s confession. Really, Dan was trying to answer the question, “What do you do when you want to be a Product Leader… but don’t yet have the title that reflects that?”

The answer isn’t that you should be gunning for your boss’s job. Instead, it’s actually much more simple. If you want to be a Product Leader… then lead.

Find ways where you can exert yourself as a Product Leader within your company, whether or not you have a title that reflects it:

  • Care about metrics that you know your management team is tracking, and look for ways that you can positively impact those. 
  • Improve lines of communication not just within your product team, but with all of the groups that your product team interacts with internally.
  • Don’t just be willing to take on new projects, but proactively recommend new projects for you to lead — particularly those that have a direct impact on the company’s strategic efforts and give you an opportunity to utilize the talents of others in your organization.
  • Externally, make your voice heard! Find opportunities to speak or contribute content. In this remote-first world, virtual opportunities are more abundant than ever, and hey — our DM’s are always open if you have a great post you’d like featured!

What’s most important is that you don’t focus on the title so much at first. Instead, focus on your own actions and impact. Doing so will increase the chances that those leadership roles find you.

Mike Belsito

About the author

Mike Belsito is a startup product and business developer who loves creating something from nothing. Mike is the Co-Founder of Product Collective which organizes INDUSTRY, one of the largest product management summits anywhere in the world. For his leadership at Product Collective, Mike was named one of the Top 40 influencers in the field of Product Management. Mike also serves as a Faculty member of Case Western Reserve University in the department of Design and Innovation, and is Co-Host of one of the top startup podcasts online, Rocketship.FM. Prior to Product Collective, Mike spent the past 12 years in startup companies as an early employee, Co-Founder, and Executive. Mike's businesses and products have been featured in national media outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, NPR, and elsewhere. Mike is also the Author of Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of us, one of the top startup books on Amazon.


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