Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Five Factors of Leadership revisited


In the first episode of the Product Management Pulse podcast, my guest Dr. Paul and I discussed the Five Factors of Leadership, originally posted in May 2008. I have updated the content and re-post it here.

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 team members to do great things.

The following five factors, if understood and applied, will improve the leadership role of product managers and increase their value within their organization:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Knowledge is power: Truthfully, knowledge is potential power; only when knowledge is applied does it become true power. Product managers must be learners. Many resources exist for learning: books, trade magazines, blogs, podcasts, analyst reports, etc. As they accumulate knowledge and put it into action, their success will increase.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. Product managers who understand and apply these factors will become effective leaders.

17 thoughts on “Five Factors of Leadership revisited

  1. A good product manager also build excitement about their product by endlessly talking about the product, its features and benefits, current customer feedback and product trends including the future of the product or product category.

    This endless discussion builds excitement and interest in the product in all stakeholder groups. This in turn makes it a lot easier to influence the people to assist you when required.

  2. I like that you’re talking about Leadership in what I think is a response to the inauguration, instead of writing more material about Obama.

    I am confident that Obama will do well, even if not for himself but because of the incredible amount of confidence that most Americans have for him.

  3. @Ian I agree it’s important for a product manager to “talk up” his or her product(s) regularly. It helps the team build confidence in what they are doing and helps customers develop trust in the team, the product(s) and the product manager. And all tolled, it definitely makes it easier to get people’s help when you need it.

    @Dan I appreciate your linking leadership with confidence. I think they go hand-in-hand and each is necessary for the other to thrive. With that said, I must confess this post had absolutely nothing to do with the inauguration or Obama. I like that my post applies, but it truly has no genesis from current events. In fact it came from my observations of the need for product managers to lead people who do not report to them.

    I appreciate the comments from both of you. -Michael

  4. High Altitude Leadership is a great book. I’m not done with it yet, but the lessons within, thus far, have been enlightening. There is no question in my mind that when a challenge doesn’t exist for a group, and if a group has nothing to strive for, then self-interest kicks-in. It’s natural. Individuals begin to focus on their own goals because there are no group goals to focus on.

  5. Sorry, the above was supposed to go on your newest post!

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