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Want to become a better leader? Product Managers have the answers

by Imogen Lees6 September 2023 3 Min Read

Think about the best manager you’ve had. What did they do that made them so great?

I recently completed the Coachable Leadership course, where we were asked this very question. It got me thinking about the best leadership skills – and where I’d seen them before.

I realised, after working in product for the past couple of years, that many of the skills you need to be a good leader are the same skills that we use in product all the time.

By product skills I mean things like running experiments, learning from your audience and making decisions based on data. You know, the day-to-day stuff of doing good product.

Developing leadership skills can be hard, but if you work in product, you've already got an advantage: your product toolkit. Read on to learn the good product skills and frameworks that can teach you how to be a good leader.

1. Understand your value

Being a good leader starts with understanding your skills and your blind spots. Self-awareness is key.

The same goes for product development. Every project at Planes kicks off with a team canvas. It’s a tool which helps get a team on the same page, aligning their goals, values, and expectations. It allows you to work more efficiently as a team and build better products as a result.

Or perhaps you’ve run a RACI before: why not give that a go for mapping and understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a leader?

2. Empathise with your audience

Worrying about how to get buy-in from the rest of the leadership team for a new initiative? Think about how you test the desirability of a new product feature or proposition.

Perhaps you’d start by building a prototype: something small you can test with your audience. To do this though, you'd first need to understand who your user is and what they want through user research.

Think about leadership in the same way: speak to your stakeholders (or whoever you need to get buy-in from) and try to understand their problems. Getting in your audience’s head is a core product and leadership skill. In fact, it’s a core life skill. We all want more empathetic leaders.

3. Communicate a vision

There’s no point having all the best ideas and strategies if no one knows about them – or believes in them. Good leaders tell a memorable story about where they’re heading that leaves their audience feeling warm, fuzzy, excited – and focused on a clear outcome.

A leadership exercise like Simon Sinek’s Start with Why teaches how to frame stories with the 'why / what / how' sequence. It's exactly how you would write a good product vision. Tips like: start by knowing where you are, using data to tell your story, and thinking about visual ways to communicate a story, apply to all types of good visionary communication.

In product, we always talk about striving for outcomes over outputs: strong visionary leaders apply the same approach.

4. Create a safe space for experiments

Psychological safety is the #1 most important element for a team to be successful. The best leaders prioritise creating a safe environment: because ultimately it fosters a team where people can make autonomous decisions. And if they make mistakes, that’s fine, because that’s how we learn.

As we know, psychological safety in the agile world of product and tech is everything. Activities like experiment plans and prototyping are how we at Planes make space for de-risking the product development process.

Luckily, product people already have all the skills to be a good leader. It really all comes down to empathy: understanding yourself, the people around you and your audience. Look to the toolbox you already have and you’ll be CEO in no time.

If you're new to product or just want to expand your product toolkit, check out our Product Playbook which has a bunch of very practical templates and exercises across Discovery, Experimentation and Delivery. You might even find an exercise (or two) that you can use to develop your leadership skills.

I’m our marketing lead and I’m in charge of our brand, content and Planes fan club. I’m tracking your every move on this website, including how long it takes you to read this bio.
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