The 4 Best Strategies to Be an Effective Product Leader

There are a wide variety of theories on what makes the perfect leader. Some of these ideas date back thousands of years and are still used today (i.e. The Art of War written in 500 BC).

Despite these time-tested methods, there are still new philosophies being birthed to this day. After cross-analyzing this mountain of literature, there is one thing that has remained consistent since the conception of leadership training:

Leadership is a mindset! Not a trait you inherit.

Becoming a person of influence is something that you can achieve through work. In other words, being in a position where you are leading is not something that is given to you, but rather it is harnessed by your actions and way of thinking.

For Product Managers, Product Owners, or anyone in a managerial role, developing this mental approach can be the defining factor in one’s career. However, just like anything worth implementing in your life, creating the correct mindset to lead others takes diligence and a commitment.

While there is no shortage of tips on how to be an effective leader in Product Management and otherwise, we are boiling down all the collective information into our 4 key concepts.

Man playing chess.

1. Personal & Collective Vision

If you don’t have a long-term goal that you are tirelessly working for, how can you expect others to work towards an undefined Northstar? The easy metaphor for this style of work is like taking target practice in complete darkness; you and your workforce are shooting for something that can’t be seen.

Subsequently, a defined vision is paramount to being an effective leader in Product Management for several reasons. First, it defines a set mission and the work necessary to complete this mission.

Secondly, having a set vision paves the way for your product roadmap. You can now define the smaller, daily tasks that need to be completed, as well as the longterm milestones that need to be hit. Leadership requires personal accountability to set and hit these targets on the way towards the bigger picture.

Angeli Jain sums up the importance of vision with regards to leadership exceptionally well in her talk about what she looks for when hiring PMs for Airbnb. Her insights hammer home the importance of having a long-term mindset to garner support and drive results.

Man looking out over a valley and mountains

2. Be The Example

For those looking to shirk the responsibility hard work, you better start preparing to lose the respect of your team (let alone your job). Those who do tackle their objectives with enthusiasm, and those whom go beyond what is expected, are the people who end up standing out amongst the rest.

This “above expectations” mentality is the cornerstone of leading by example. Colleagues, friends, and whomever is supposed to be influenced by your actions, are likely to mirror your behavior and work ethic. As Tyler Odean – Director of Product at Reddit – writes in Ship It, “Influence is essential… your team needs to be on board with you for the roadmap to success”.

You can imagine this “mirroring of example” effect with some straightforward examples:

  • Being positive produces a positive work environment
  • Work as hard (if not harder) then what you expect of your peers
  • Create a culture of accountability and colleagues will take responsibility

Influencing others is made nearly impossible if you are unable to work at the same level that you expect of others. On the other side, if you have high expectations that you are able fulfill for yourself, you can apply the same expectations to those around you.

Man on laptop with the words "DREAM" on the table in block letters

3. The Utmost Respect

To be very clear, respecting your colleagues and peers does not mean you have to love the them. What it does mean is that you have to value their input and not attempt to change them.

It is entirely possible to have a coworker who is unpleasant, but who is also capable of producing results and taking accountability of their work. As long as you respect their positive efforts, these unlikable individuals will continue to have a positive impact.

Furthermore, colleagues who see their leaders acting with reverence are likely to mirror this behavior. This mirroring of behavior becomes a part of company culture, which in turn facilitates positive results.

In essence, respect breading respect is in large part a top-down effect. So, use the golden rule, and don’t try to change a person from who they are; in the end, this attitude will be the catalyst towards solutions and success.

Fist bump between two women

4. Be Accountable

Nearly all literature discussing leadership goes to stresses the importance of accountability. Some even may go as far as dubbing it as the number one most important trait (especially for Product Managers).

Why is being accountable tantamount to being a good leader? There are two primary reasons that are most relevant to Product Management:

  1. Accountability can make or break productivity. If you as a leader are not taking accountability of finishing your work and producing your results, the don’t expect your coworkers to either (see leading by example).
  2. Admitting your errors or faults demonstrates humility, and with humility comes trust. Accountability with what you did wrong shows that you are human, and helps people remain focused and driven to create a solution.

Accountability for completing work, as well as owning up to errors, is humanizing. This humanizing effect helps you become more relatable, which in turn bolsters your ability to influence.

Group with hands in the middle

Pave Your Own Way

Remember, being a leader depends on your actions and attitude, not whether you were born with specific traits. Learning from others, and putting in the time and effort is how you will be able to gain the trust and support of your peers.

Who are some of your favorite leaders (product or otherwise)? How do they establish influence? Let us know! Drop us a line on our Slack channel! We want to know what you think.

Ship it banner on how to be a leader and innovator.

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