Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Five rules for executive product leadership

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The original idea for starting Lead on Purpose was a recognition that product managers have the need to lead (inspire, motivate, guide) people who do not report them. Their success depends, to a large extent, on people in other parts of the organization. The PMs who take a leadership approach to their job have the most success.

The leadership role of the product team (PM, PO, PMM, UX) is critical to the success of any organization. Much has been written about where product management should report. The most common departments for product management reporting are marketing, engineering/development and directly to the CEO. Different factors such as the size of the organization  play a role in where the product team reports.

Regardless of where the product team reports, the leader of the product team (the “product executive”) plays a key role in the success of the company. They play a crucial role in enabling their teams to succeed at leading product direction. Here are five rules that will help product executives effectively lead their teams:

  • Build the people on your team: First and foremost, the product exec needs to develop the people in his or her organization. Hire competent people who can do the work effectively. Give them opportunities to grow. And most importantly, support them in their endeavors to not only produce successful products but also to grow and develop in their careers. Work with them to set goals and measure their progress. Understand what motivates them. This takes time and effort, and it’s definitely not easy, but it’s the most important part of a product executive’s job.
  • Develop trust: Tied closely to building your team is developing relationships of trust with the people on the team. Team members thrive when they know their efforts are appreciated and their work is meaningful. They step up to greater challenges when they know someone has their back. They will go beyond what they thought they could do and have greater results when they know their work will be appreciated and rewarded. Building trust is the key to building a great team.
  • Represent the product team: As the product exec you need to promote the interests and needs of the product team to the rest of the company. Make sure your team has adequate budget to do their work (somehow this aspect seems to get overlooked; PM never has enough budget for travel and other key responsibilities). Be their advocate to the executive team, the sales team and others both in and outside of the company. Gaining a seat at the executive table (i.e., having key influence in the company) should be a high priority for product executives.
  • Cultivate stability: Creating great products takes time and consistency. The best way to build an effective team is to create an environment where people want to work. Spend time with your team both in and outside the office. Travel with your team members; the best relationships are built on the road. As the leader of the product team, make sure they know that the team is your first priority. Show it by your words and by your actions.
  • Remove roadblocks: Every team runs into problems. Effective product executives look for ways to remove or lessen the impact of problems that arise. Do everything you can to make sure your team members are working effectively.

The product executive is key to the product team’s success. A team with a capable product leader will create great products and generate success for their organization. Lead on purpose at the executive level.


The Product Management Perspective: Product leaders can and should exist at all levels of the organization. Regardless of your role, work and behave like the “product executive” and you will be pleased with the results.

Special thanks to Jim Holland for his contributions to this post

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3 thoughts on “Five rules for executive product leadership

  1. Great post! I would add cultivating creativity and innovation to this list. This is crucial for executive product leadership.

  2. Great stuff! I just wrote a similar post about why leading a product org is really hard. One area I find to be particularly challenging is optimizing personal scale while getting involved in the right details versus just delegating everything or micromanaging.

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