Part 2: Leading with intent
This is part 2 of my five-part series on scaling your product management craft (Creating Conditions, Leading with Intent, Building Foundations, Recruiting World Class PMs, Preparing for Scale).
As you progress in your product management career, you quickly realise that you can’t afford to burn out every few years. You need sustainability for the long journey through treacherous conditions not only for yourself, but those who are in a position to follow you.
In Sachin Rekhi’s post about the most underrated product manager skill: influence without authority, he recommends investing in relationships and inspiring others. What if:
- You don’t have sufficient domain knowledge or work experience?
- You are in an environment that isn’t psychologically safe?
- Every attempt feels like this:
In the first part of this series, I wrote about creating the conditions for flow to deploy some techniques that will make you more efficient. In this part, I want to cover some strategies that will help spend that newfound time to become a leader with intent.
1. Incur individual risk
To retain the trust with your stakeholders and development team, you might exhibit bad behaviours like this:
- Self-deprecation: “I know the timeline is tight, but we need this done for the customer. I know product managers are the worst. Imagine if you had to do this job. This job sucks. So, release next Tuesday?”
- Blame the bosses: “I agree with you 100%. This strategy is awful, and I can’t entirely agree with it. But this is coming from the top. These bosses don’t understand how it is like for us. Let’s do this one time.”
Earlier in my career, I’ve resorted to such acts myself. Trust me; they don’t work out in the long run.
The next time you are delivering the product strategy, you might find yourself confronted with disagreement.
At that moment, try this: “Here’s why I think this is the approach we need to take. Here are my assumptions and beliefs. We might fail. If you don’t agree, let’s spend more time on this so I can help convince you why we need to try.”
It will be scary to say this out loud because you are taking a risk. You are willing to be accountable when things go awry.
You cannot transition from individual contributor to management without incurring individual risk.
2. Communicate up
As you start to build trust with your stakeholders and your team, misalignment with the bosses will creep in. You might find yourself in an actual “us vs them” situation.
Let’s avoid that, by communicating up and closing the loop. The next time you face an urgent customer request, try this: “Yes, I think we might be able to deliver feature X. We’re currently working on feature Y. If this is more important, we can start immediately, and with the additional resources currently working on feature Z assigned to X, we can attempt to deliver this on the expected date.”
It won’t be effortless to use this language with your bosses. But I’m willing to bet that it will spark a productive conversations. If you’re working at a sales-driven company, follow these tips to build the platform for confidence with your executives.
Don’t insulate leadership from trade-offs.
3. Set the culture
When you’re vulnerable to gain trust from your team and your leaders, how do you avoid the catacombs of imposter syndrome?
Here’s a suggestion: don’t focus on where you are, but where you are going. Setting a culture will give you indefatigable will.
When I embark on a new role, I always start with who I am as a person, what I stand for and write it down. Next, I meet with everyone on my team to adapt it so we can resonate with this shared culture. The result is a handful of sentences and images that stand as tenets that define the team, and by extension, my culture.
Use this document to:
- Guide incoming team members on how the team operates
- Train executives to understand team motivation
- Check yourself, so you don’t deviate from your original intent
- Measure the effectiveness of your leadership by tracking team accomplishments in these areas
- Adjust appropriately as the company and team changes
Through this process, you will find the authentic leader in yourself. These tenets offer consistency, so everyone knows how to operate when things don’t go as planned. Figure out what you stand for and define “the way” for your team.