Leaders are not born, they are made. If you have the right mindset, you can learn traits of leadership. Here are few habits of leaders that I have observed over the years. Some of these traits are essential to succeed as a product manager as well.
1. Be self-aware.
As a leader you need to be self-aware. You should be aware of your strengths, weaknesses, biases, wants, and needs.
I realized that as a product manager, self-awareness is a constant and unending quest. Earlier in my career, I was extremely solution biased where I would often find myself arguing with others over the solutions that I had proposed. I still continue to love my solutions however now that I am aware of my biases, I approach such situations out of curiosity to learn rather than the need to justify.
A major part of being self-aware is the ability to self-reflect. You can only self-reflect when you give yourself the time and space to do so. Reflection does not happen; it needs to be done.
As a product manager, you should be in a constant quest to improve. This trait to reflect constantly will help you question the status quo and will show up as improvements in your product and processes. You, your team, and your product should constantly evolve to meet the needs of the dynamic and evolving world.
3. Create clarity.
As a leader you need to communicate the information that creates clarity with the teams. Everyone in an organization operates in some level of ambiguity however a leader tries to establish clarity in ambiguous situations. Accepting that you don’t have an answer is also great information to share and creates tremendous clarity.
As a product manager, you are often operating in extreme ambiguity. Great product managers are those who are able to navigate through this ambiguity and create clarity in terms of product vision & objectives that can drive the team & product forward.
Many times, you may have more information than the team on the product strategy and roadmap. As a good product manager, you should err on the side of sharing information that provides more clarity to the team. At the same time remember that partial information or unverified information can cause ambiguity & speculation and may randomize the team.
Leaders are influencers. Different situations may warrant different influencing styles. You may draw ideas from others to influence a decision, share data to create clarity, or drive home a point with your energy and passion, or at times just put your foot down with authority when there is limited clarity. No two situations are alike therefore you need to understand what situations would require what kind of influencing strategy.
As a product manager, you would find yourself influencing decisions on the basis of customer intelligence, data, your gut instinct, feedback, customer voice, user research, and just raw passion. Great product managers know when to leverage the right style to influence decisions to ship customer value while keeping the stakeholder interest in perspective.
5. Say thank you.
Great leaders show gratitude. Leaders operating from gratitude have teams that are more engaged. Leaders operating from gratitude are themselves more engaged and innovative.
At times, product management can be a catch all job. You are neither writing code, nor designing, nor writing legal documents, nor doing marketing, nor doing direct sales yet you may be the glue that holds everything together. The ecosystem around you is what will make the product successful and you need to have a gratuitous relationship with this ecosystem.
Great leaders may not be the smartest one in the room but are definitely the best listeners. Also, they do not listen to speak or hear but they listen to understand.
A great product manager is always listening. While talking to a customer, you may listen to understand the unstated needs. While seeking feedback, you are listening to understand and interpret the perspectives. Great product managers listen to their team to understand their motivation. Great product managers listen to themselves to understand what their inner voice is saying to make the right calls for the product and for the team.
7. Growth Mindset.
Great leaders consider failure as an opportunity of learning and growth and do not get frustrated by downturns. Few may go a step forward and orchestrate failures and design an ecosystem that thrives on failure, so failures become expected, respected, inspected, and corrected.
If you are building a product and not failing, it means you are playing it too safe. A great product manager builds a system that is designed to fail. A system designed to fail succeeds when it fails. Therefore, good product managers don’t use terms such as “bounce back” from failures but rather embrace failures to learn.
8. Bias to action.
The world around is extremely VUCA i.e. volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Great leaders who have a bias for action are those who are not afraid to make decisions and take actions, even in the most uncertain times. These are individuals who are often comfortable with uncomfortable and are willing to take the plunge without holding themselves back.
A great product manager is able to have laser focus on customer value and ship consistent success. This should not be confused with making irrational decisions and shipping products and features with a solution first approach. A great product manager is able to solve the right problem and also solve the problem right & do not get caught up in analysis paralysis.
10. Energy managers.
As a leader, you may find yourself in situations where you would have more work than the number of ticks and tocks on the clock. Leaders don’t manage time, since you can’t manage a finite resource that is not in your control, they manage their energy. Energy, in physics, is the capacity for doing work. Leaders are masters of managing their physical energy and emotional energy and on the outset, you may find them having tremendous capacity to do work.
As I mentioned earlier, product management can become a catch all job. You may have a To Do list that you cannot complete in a day, a week, or a sprint. Great product managers are able to prioritize, delegate, refuse, and complete work while managing their energy. They know how to dabble through various situations while keeping their emotional and physical energy high. They know when to sprint, when to walk, and when to run.
If you were able to read the complete blog, you should have found a mistake. True leaders would have seen it in first go.