Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Five factors of leadership


I’ve stated before that product managers have to be leaders (in the true sense of the word) because they have the responsibility on their shoulders to get products out the door on time, with high quality and under budget. The kicker – and the reason they must be leaders – is the people they rely on to get the job done do not (usually) report them. Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the team members to do great things.

I have identified five factors that, if understood and applied, will improve the leadership role of product managers:

  • People are assets: In any company or organization, the real assets are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization. When product managers see the people on the team as the true assets, and treat them accordingly, they will command the respect of a leader.
  • Trust is vital: Those who value their team members build trust. The trust goes both ways: product managers need to carry out their tasks in such a way that the team members can trust them. They (the PMs) also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do.
  • Knowledge is power: Truthfully, knowledge is potential power; only when it’s applied does it become true power. It’s vitally important for product managers to be learners. Many resources exist for learning: books, trade magazines, blogs, analyst reports, etc. As they take in knowledge and put it into action, their success will increase.
  • Paradigm provides focus: The way in which product managers see their world – their ‘paradigm’ – influences their effectiveness as a leader. They can take the ‘victim’ approach or the ‘agent/hero’ approach. If they blame others and wonder why the world (or their team, or their customers) is against them they are taking the victim approach. If they take accountability for their actions and do whatever it takes to succeed, they become agents of positive change. They become heroes to those whom they lead. Not ‘hero’ in the sense of super heroes, but in the sense of someone who does more than they are expected (and probably paid) to do.
  • Decisions determine future: Leaders make decisions regularly. Successful product managers understand their markets and make difficult decisions that are not always accepted by team members or customers. They do not make decisions carelessly or in cavalier style, but they also do not cower from the responsibility to make a judgment call. They make choices and stand behind them. Ultimately they make decisions that lead their teams and their products to succeed.

These factors apply to many other disciplines and aspects of business. The focus on product management stems – as mentioned – from product managers needing to lead without having management authority over the people responsible for their success. I am confident that product managers who understand and apply these factors will become effective leaders. I am equally confident that anyone – in any field – who applies these factors will find success.

Please leave a comment and let me know whether this resonates with your experience in product management or any other discipline.

One last note: I have been invited to speak at the Software Management Perspectives conference next week where I will examine the Five Factors in more detail. If you attend please stop by and introduce yourself.

15 thoughts on “Five factors of leadership

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  9. another very vital factor in leadership is communication..that is managers need to communicate with their followers,the communication should be a two way communication..this enables sharing of ideas and brings in utmost good faith between the two parties..that is employee and leader..

  10. I agree with katso tsile that effective communication is another important factor to consider. Meaning both employee and leader has a open two way type of communication where leaders clearly explain what the goals of the organization are, and employees can freely give their feedback on how to attain these goals. Many companies fail because of one way communication ( top to bottom approach) but in doing so, leaders miss the point of harnessing suggestions from workers who are involved with the “dirty work” and are most likely have more effective and practical solutions to various issues faced by the organization.

    Transformational type of leadership I believe will work for a product manager, where creativity and innovation is encouraged. Clear cut goals are laid out to employees and the product manager leads by example and encourage team members to work for the attainment of these common goals.

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