Product School

New Leadership: How Product Leaders Can Bring Organizational Transformation

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Author: Product School

December 19, 2023 - 8 min read

Updated: March 5, 2024 - 8 min read

In the age of new leadership, product leaders are required to undergo a transformative journey that goes beyond skill acquisition. This transformation encompasses a profound shift in mindset, roles, and interactions within leadership teams, leading organizational transformation. The ultimate goal is to reimagine organizations and industries, fostering sustainable, inclusive growth for all stakeholders.

To navigate this transformation, product leaders must embrace these shifts:

  • Beyond profit to impact

  • Beyond command to collaboration

  • Beyond control to evolution

  • Beyond competition to co-creation

It's essential for you to embrace these shifts and lead your teams toward a brighter, more adaptive future. 

Digital transformation

Reshaping product leadership

The attributes that define successful product leadership are undergoing a profound transformation. For decades, the focus has been on delivering profits, demanding results, exercising control, and competing fiercely. However, to thrive in today's disruptive era, these traditional leadership characteristics must evolve.

Your mission involves adopting fundamental shifts in your mindsets and approaches. These shifts don't nullify your current skills; rather, they enhance your leadership capabilities.  Let's delve into these five critical shifts:

1. Beyond profit to impact

What we focus on: Shift from delivering profits to shareholders to generating impact for all stakeholders.

How we create value: Transition from competing for existing value through advantage to co-creating new value through reimagining.

It's essential to recognize that while profit remains a vital objective, it's no longer the sole focus. Today's organizations must extend their vision beyond monetary gains and strive to maximize value and impact for all stakeholders, including contributing positively to society and the environment.

To lead your product teams effectively in this direction, consider the following components:

Aligning on purpose

Start by aligning your teams around a clear and shared purpose. A resonant purpose inspires your teams to move beyond incremental improvements and toward a more significant impact.

Defining value metrics

Clearly define the value to be created for all stakeholders. This entails measuring success through key operating and financial metrics that reflect the broader impact of your product and organization.

Societal and environmental contribution

Embrace your role in contributing positively to wider society and the natural environment. Recognize that your product's impact extends beyond the immediate business context.

Team success

2. Beyond command to collaboration

How we organize: Replace the command mentality with a collaborative approach, fostering partnerships and teamwork.

How we show up: Transition from meeting expectations to being our whole, authentic selves.

New methods of organizing work are emerging, offering a solution to organizational bottlenecks and promoting more effective collaboration. Shifting from isolated hierarchies to a network of autonomous teams that work transparently, trustingly, and collaboratively provides companies with a more adaptable and potent organizational framework.

For product leaders, this shift means evolving from directors who primarily issue and receive instructions within vertical hierarchies to catalysts who empower and guide self-managing teams. This transformation fosters connection, dialogue, and cooperation across traditional organizational boundaries. It encourages the development of trust, respect, and compassion, and necessitates relinquishing positional authority in favor of openness. It also promotes human connections within teams and transcends formal hierarchies. Here are some leadership practices to facilitate this shift:

  • Empowering individuals in small, self-regulating entrepreneurial teams.

  • Cultivating horizontal transparency and collaboration across the network and beyond.

  • Transitioning from a hierarchy of individual leaders to networks of leadership teams.

3. Beyond control to evolution

How we get work done: Shift from administering with rigid control to evolving through discovery and adaptability.

Leading companies today are on a mission to transform into learning organizations, constantly evolving and engaging in a multitude of activities in parallel. This approach, which involves accelerating change and embracing positive surprises and innovations, consistently positions them ahead of their counterparts fixated on delivering the "perfect" plan.

This transformation calls upon leaders to transcend their roles as controllers, driven by a mindset of certainty, and instead adopt the mantle of coaches, guided by a mindset of discovery. This shift encourages continuous and rapid exploration, execution, and learning. You and your teams have the opportunity to master the art of setting and pursuing outcomes rather than fixating on traditional key performance indicators.

Have a look at several key leadership practices:

  • Operating in short cycles of decision, action, and learning.

  • Regularly reprioritizing the portfolio of initiatives to simultaneously manage today's business, cocreate tomorrow's business, and gracefully let go of yesterday's business.

  • Engaging and leading people, helping them embrace the fact that significant and ongoing change is a part of the journey.

Are you actively encouraging people to experiment and learn? Sometimes, innovation can be sparked by reconnecting with the past or envisioning the future.

Office collaboration

4. Beyond competition to co-creation

What we focus on: Move beyond fierce competition to a mindset of co-creation, where new value is born through collaboration.

Creating value for stakeholders is at the core of every organization's mission. For decades, companies have been fixated on gaining a competitive edge to capture a larger share of the existing market value. 

In an era marked by rapidly shrinking product life cycles and the swift commoditization of goods and services, organizations must elevate their focus beyond competitive advantage. They are reimagining their business models and industry ecosystems to generate entirely new levels of value for both customers and stakeholders.

This shift demands that leaders undergo a transformation. You have to evolve from being a planner who operates with presumed scarce opportunities and resources to becoming an architect of new business models and systems. 

This transformation also means a significant shift in the nature of  your work, transitioning from tactical optimization and execution to deep strategic thinking, exploration, and fostering social connections. 

Several leadership practices are instrumental in driving this shift:

  • Building a robust and enduring foundation of core competencies that drive value.

  • Delivering value by applying these core competencies to a constantly evolving business portfolio, achieved both organically and through strategic mergers and acquisitions.

  • Amplifying value through innovative collaborations with suppliers and competitors, actively shaping and expanding the organization's industry ecosystems.

Transforming leadership to drive organizational transformation

In the pursuit of transforming your organization into a thriving powerhouse capable of delivering sustainable, inclusive growth, the spotlight inevitably falls on leadership transformation, particularly within your senior leadership network. 

This transformation often spans the top three tiers of your organization's hierarchy, encompassing the enterprise leadership team, leadership teams within major business and functional units, and leadership teams at primary units within these major units, including cross-unit governance groups.

Crucially, this transformation must be a voluntary, self-driven process. Real change cannot be imposed from above; it must emerge organically as individuals recognize the collective benefits of transformation. This is the pivotal moment when new mindsets, capabilities, and practices are embraced individually. 

It's the time when fresh leadership roles, career paths, incentives, and performance management systems, all centered around the concept of a network of leadership teams, are co-created and implemented.  So, what might a solid product leadership transformation program entail for your organization's senior leadership? Here's a glimpse:

Initial discovery and design

Start by assembling a leadership transformation team responsible for guiding the effort. Define your transformation goals, desired impact, and the overarching framework for your program. During this phase, assess the readiness of your leaders, understanding where they stand today compared to their desired future state.

2. Immersive introduction

Offer leaders an introductory experience spanning three to four days, bringing together cohorts of leaders from across the enterprise. This immersive encounter fosters engagement, triggers initial "aha" moments, and ignites momentum and connections.

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3. Leadership team coaching

Provide coaching support to each leadership team within the network, beginning with early adopters. This coaching spans three levels: individual leaders within the team, the leadership team as a whole, and how the team engages people within its organizational unit and beyond traditional boundaries.

4. Collective training

Transition from the traditional siloed and politicized management hierarchy into a flat, open, and collaborative enterprise-wide network of leadership teams. Over time, this network evolves into a leadership community that operates with the new approach across the entire organization.

5. Internal practitioner development

Develop an internal community of leadership transformation coaches to help scale the new leadership approach. Extend this approach to mid level, frontline, and informal leaders across the enterprise. These practices allow you and your organization to reimagine your roles within each leadership team and as part of the network of leadership teams. 

This journey towards creating a thriving organization through collective product leadership transformation can be measured at three levels: shifts in leadership mindsets and behaviors, the initiation or acceleration of business and organizational transformation initiatives, and holistic impact on all stakeholders.

The emergent path of product leaders' transformation invites senior leaders to personally embody and apply these new principles and practices, sparking organizational energy, passion, and ingenuity. These shifts collectively redefine leadership for this new era of product management. They challenge the traditional norms and open doors to a more inclusive, impactful, and adaptive approach to leadership.

Updated: March 5, 2024

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