Top Strategies to Advance Your Product Management Career Rapidly – Part 4

Catch up on Part 3 here!

“Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” — Peter Drucker

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the concepts around how to step up and become a leader to your product team and organization. Product Management is a unique role because Product Managers have all the responsibility for a product’s success yet no formal authority. It is not easy, but it also gives you a huge advantage.

Leadership Definitions

Let’s start with a couple of definitions of leadership.

Our first definition is from the book An Integrative Theory of Leadership. It defines leadership as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” Notice it says enlist. It’s not about ordering people around. It is about learning how to influence others, with facts and emotional appeal. And notice the phrase “common task.” Part of leadership is finding common cause for everyone involved. How will making this product successful help everyone involved further their own goals?

As big fans of Peter Drucker, we particularly like this definition of Leadership: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” Mr. Drucker is emphasizing the strategic aspect of leadership – knowing enough to be able to make smart choices and do what’s best for the product, customer, and company.

The Managerial Grid

Now let’s talk about different styles of leaderships and frameworks. As you read through this, think about the leaders you know and where they fit in. And think about yourself – where do you fall on this matrix?

Figure 1: The Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid (1985)

Authoritarian — strong on tasks, weak on people skills
Country Club — strong on people skills, weak on tasks
Impoverished — weak on tasks, weak on people skills
Team Leader — strong on tasks, strong on people skills

Breaking it down

In this model, the X axis is concern for results (achieving goals), and the Y axis is concern for people (building relationships and careers).

From his years working at Apple, Brian learned quite a bit about Steve Jobs. Brian ranks Steve as a definite 9 in terms of concern for results. He was often viewed as only a 3 or 4 in terms of concern for people, putting him in Authoritarian territory. Yet, when he challenged people, and when he pushed them and said “This is not good enough,” he was pushing the person to do their best work. So it’s a little tougher to rank his concern for people – perhaps it was more of a 5 or 6, putting him on the border between Authoritarian and Team Leader.

We’ve both had managers who’ve had lots of concern for their people, but their teams didn’t get anything done. These managers were in the Country Club category – very strong on people skills but very weak on driving towards achieving goals.

Impoverished leaders are folks who probably shouldn’t be put in leadership roles. They don’t exhibit very strong concern for people or for results. Not everyone is cut out to be a leader, but they can certainly be effective employees in other ways.

In many cases, leadership is going to be contextual. You have to think about who you’re working with. For instance, if you have very self-motivated employees, you can set goals with them and turn them loose.

But if you have employees that need a lot of guidance, an authoritarian approach may be more appropriate.

A Second Model for Leadership

A second way of looking at leadership comes from a 1939 study that identified three different types of leaders; authoritarian, participative and delegative.

Source:1939 psychologist Kurt Lewin study

Authoritarians

From the previous model, we know that Authoritarians are focused on achieving results. But this study also identified Authoritarians as leaders that set clear expectations. They will make decisions with little or no input often times because 1) they’re the expert or 2) they have absolute power.

In the Authoritarian style, the decisions tend to be less creative because they don’t draw upon the input of others. On the other hand, it’s an optimal style when you have little time, and when the leader is respected and knowledgeable.

Participative

Participative leaders offer guidance to the group. You start by setting the general direction and rough goals that need to be achieved, but you get the group to participate in setting the final goals and metrics for success.

You will get a lot more creativity if you take this approach, and you’ll have a lot more buy-in, because the whole team has participated in setting the goals. This approach allows the best ideas to bubble up, forming a better set of goals than those set by one person alone. That said, Participative leadership is not a democracy – ultimately you must agree to the goals and set the direction. You won’t get everyone to buy in all the time but if you take this approach, you will form a more collaborative team that achieves its goals together.

This style can be very effective when you’re defining your product’s next feature set. Instead of presenting a completed and prioritized list of features to Engineering, you bring the problems you want solved, the reasons why these problems are important. You then ask the team to provide creative solutions to solve the problems. You’ll work together to prioritize, and the result should be a better product that the whole team is bought into.

Delegative

The third style is delegative, where the group members themselves make the decisions. This works well when the group members are highly qualified. The big challenge is that sometimes it can be undefined who really owns what, and what should happen. To avoid this pitfall, you start by agreeing on the goals and metrics for success up front. Then check in with the delegate to make sure they are making progress, offering to help when they encounter a challenge.

How Will You Lead?

As you can see, there are a number of different leadership styles to choose from. You’ll likely find one style comes more naturally than the others, but no one style works all the time. Understanding the character of your team, and the individuals on it, will help you pick the right leadership style for the situation. To grow as a Product Management leader, you need to learn multiple styles, and how to apply them effectively for the benefit of your product, your team, and your own career.

The associated webinar has passed. Please view the slide deck below.

This article was written by Roger Snyder and Brian Lawley.

About the Author

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *