Leadership In Tumultuous Times

Editor’s note: the following was written by a guest blogger. If you would like to contribute to the blog, please review the Product Blog contribution guidelines and contact [email protected]

We may face many setbacks, but we must not be trounced. In actuality, it is important for us to face the losses, so that we are able to know who we are, therefore we can grow. Life is going to heave us challenges, but then again it is during those challenges to which we learn who we are.

As I write this post, my colleagues and I have been working from home for 11 months. Even though leadership is central to the work we do in product management, during these turbulent times I have discovered it is even more imperative, after all there is no guide or plan on how to product manage or lead during a pandemic.  When our leadership made the decision that we should work from home my colleagues and I thought telecommuting would last maybe a month, we were not anticipating it could be a year or longer.  As we settled into the unknown, I started to notice the apprehension, fear and discontent in myself and the folks I work with it. 

As the country was going through civil unrest, and there appeared to be even more bad news than good news. I found that I had to continuously compartmentalize, for instance the day of George Floyd ‘s death I had to be emotionless. As a woman of color, I was not surprised it happened. My fear for my boyfriend, brother and nephews came thundering back ten times more than usual, the fact that I had no control, and I could not keep them from such a fate paralyzed me even more, but I could never show it, I had to be detached.  That day I attended and guided my meetings pretending like the world had not changed, I joked with my coworkers but deep down I was hurting.  After completing work, I would become reclusive and spoke to no one about my concerns. I held it all in thinking I had to be the only one feeling sad, isolated, and worried about getting sick from COVID. In addition, with the unrest going on I did not feel safe being outside my house in the evenings. 

person standing on mountain

This was the way it was weeks after; I feigned contentment and led my team.  My aha moment came about three weeks after the George Floyd event when my mentor who happens to be Caucasian reached out to me and led me through a small moment of grace. She reminded me of the importance of empathy. My life journey which has preceded me to this very moment, the question was will I meet this moment with the grace it deserved. 

We had a frank discussion about the state of the world, our country, race relations, my role in corporate America as a Black woman, the coded language used to describe the conduct of Black men and women. We discussed the opportunities I had lost because of racial discrimination and being a woman. We talked about the many times I had wanted to give up and how if I had, I would not be where I am today.  I am an immigrant who moved to America at age 11 and here I am doing great product management work that will add to the incredibly large global footprint of my employer. 

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She helped me see that I am probably not the only one feeling dejected by the events that were transpiring in the country and that I can make a difference, I can be of service to my family and colleagues by continuously checking in on them. This means when I call or slack a colleague, I am not asking them for a report, but really checking in and ask how they are coping and how I can help. 

It was during these sessions that I discovered some of my colleagues were experiencing unease about the world, their families, careers, and the uncertainty of what life will be like after COVID. I had coworkers who were struggling about how to tell their children about COVID and death. I also discovered my female counterparts were dealing with guilt that COVID intensified.  They were finding it hard to attend meetings that were early in the mornings, be 100% present while helping their children with their remote learning. Some were also taking care of their own parents. They felt like they were failing. 

The more I talked to my colleagues, the more I uncovered they needed to vent, there were weddings, birthday parties and travel on hold due to the pandemic. Just like me they needed to laugh, even if it was about the most mundane things such as how cute baby Yoda is, the meaning of his name, if The Big Bang Theory is better than Friends and can we get our sprints named after episodes of Frasier. 

Like you all I felt powerless at times. in the middle of my personal pity party, I experienced a recognizable shift to gratitude. I also realized my love of product management was there in the background. The reason I got up every morning was there, except now I wanted to include service to my family and colleagues. While I miss seeing coworkers, collaborating with them in person, debating about who is the GOAT, Drake or Kanye, or who is the most powerful Avenger (I still believe it is Captain America), having meetings in conference rooms, traveling for work, visiting customers, and most importantly I really miss the white boards and the smell of markers, and I really really miss our cafeteria especially Poke Thursday and Fridays. I have learned things do not need to be picture-perfect for me to be appreciative. The small gestures, they add up.

Since we have been home, I have learned my everyday act out of kindness makes a difference to my relatives and coworkers.  Some of them have not been able to travel, see or hug their loved ones in almost a year.  I implore that you pass on some compassion to your cross-functional and scrum teams by acknowledging their fears, listening, laughing, providing encouragement, asking “What can I do to make your day better”, “How can I help” “How are you”, letting them know they are not alone, and my favorite send them a “virtual cupcake”.

About the Author

Ronke Majekodunmi

Ronke Majekodunmi is a Senior Product Manager with a mission to ensure immense enterprise satisfaction accessing payment-related information. At PayPal, she leads a web-based payments portal, develops the strategy of roadmaps, brings solutions to life by executing in an agile environment, and measures product solutions’ impact on key performance indicators. 

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