Becoming a successful Product Leader is a difficult undertaking.
If you want to be successful, you need to consider giving up these things.
Let’s find out what they are.
1. Always Making Gut Feeling-Driven Decisions
Are you relying solely on your intuition when making product-related decisions?
Did your CEO make a product-related decision ever just based on his personal preference and without any evidence that this would be a good idea?
Relying solely on your intuition can be quite dangerous if you have no data to back it up.
I am not saying that you should completely ignore your intuition, especially in the absence of data or in uncertain situations.
In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman categorises intuition as a quick, non-conscious and effortless system we use to make decisions.
According to his experiments, we are making logical errors and making bad decisions if we rely only on our intuition.
Bruce Henderson, the founder of the Boston Consulting Group, defined intuition “the subconscious integration of all the experiences, conditioning, and knowledge of a lifetime, including the cultural and emotional biases of that lifetime.”
Our intuition is extremely useful in life-or-death situations where fine distinctions are irrelevant.
Product Management is by far too complex where subtle differences matter.
We have now the opportunity to collect extensive data sets to learn more about our customers and to understand more what works and what doesn’t.
2. Controlling Everything
Many years ago we had a boss who was micromanaging us by asking for status updates several times every single day. Also, words of appreciation were not part of his vocabulary.
Nobody in the team had the feeling that he trusted us and this affected badly the team morale and performance. As a consequence, two people left after six months.
There is no need to act like that. Instead, it’s much more efficient to give your team a sense of empowerment and accountability. It’s important to find a good middle ground between not caring and consistently controlling your team.
“It’s part of our human nature to be in charge of your destiny.”
How do you empower your team?
You are giving them a sense of empowerment by recognising their work, encouraging them and by demonstrating that you trust them to make the right decision. Give your team the autonomy to make decisions.
“Recognition is the most powerful currency you have, and it costs you nothing,”
― James M. Kouzes, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organisations
In the book, “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever” Michael Bungay Stanier gives us advice on how to coach effectively in only 10 minutes.
You only need seven good questions during your 1:1 meetings with your direct reports. Just pick the most useful one depending on the situation.
Here are his seven questions:
- What’s on your mind?
- And what else?
- What’s the real challenge here for you?
- What do you want?
- How can I help?
- If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
- What was most useful for you?
On top, if you can support your team with training, tools and resources, this will give them a tremendous confidence and motivation boost.
3. Ignoring To Define A Clear Product Vision
How many times are product teams asked to work incredibly hard without having any understanding “why” and “how” their activity is aligned with the company strategy?
Many businesses might have a company vision, but failing to craft a compelling product vision because it’s very challenging.
The product vision defines the underlying purpose of your product.
“Why does it exist and what problem does it solve”.
Why does it matter?
You can only inspire and lead your product team if everyone has a common destination. The main priority is for you to define the “Why” and work with the team to flesh out “How” you can achieve it.
The product vision becomes the North Star for the entire product team. Your product vision has to be in line with your company vision and should be even independent of technology and trends. A good product vision is unique, ambitious and timeless.
According to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, you need to, “Be stubborn on vision, flexible in details.”
How do you create a product vision?
At every Amazon all-hands meeting our Global VP used always to remind us of the company and product vision. That is the most efficient way to ensure that we never lose track of our shared destination.
You should also include your product vision in all your Go-to-market documents.
At Amazon, all our Go-to-market documents reminded us precisely why we build this product and what problem we solved.
4. Never Focussing On One Task At a Time
The life of a product leader is filled with distractions and fire fighting. Every single email and request is marked as urgent. Your next product release is behind schedule, and you probably haven’t filled the latest job openings.
Are you trying to do everything at the same time?
Do you have the feeling that you accomplish more by multitasking?
Unfortunately, this is not the case. In reality, by always multitasking or task switching, you won’t achieve more.
In fact, according to recent research, your productivity goes down by 40%.
Our brains are not made to multi-task.
Have you realised that by constantly switching tasks, you lose time because you need to spend time thinking where you left off last time and figured out what to do next? Constant task switching is stressful.
The more worrying part is that another study highlighted that multitasking has, in fact, more severe consequences for our brain because it impacts our IQ.
According to a study workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a 10-point-fall in IQ which is more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.
Unbelievable, but true!
So what should you do instead?
Professor Cal Newport and author of “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” offers us some advice to break free from our current habits.
“To produce at your peak level, you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.
Put another way, the type of work that optimises your performance is deep work. If you’re not comfortable going deep for extended periods of time, it’ll be difficult to get your performance to the peak levels of quality and quantity increasingly necessary to thrive professionally.”
5. Only Caring About The Customer, Not The Team
The other day a friend of mine shared her recent interview experience. She ended up rejecting the offer after having read all the Glassdoor reviews and after having met her future boss in person. During the interview, she even openly mentioned that she didn’t care about the team.
She might have underestimated the importance of her team and the impact it has on being able to recruit good candidates.
Now, why is that relevant?
We now live in a very complex, demanding and fast-moving era.
As a product leader, you rely more than anything else on the input, performance and resourcefulness of your team.
Collaboration and a motivated team are now more than ever critical for any successful product organisation.
If you signal to the team that you don’t care about them, how can you expect to get any support and succeed?
Of course, you can apply pressure and force the team to execute.
That might work in the short-term, but backfire in the long-term when they leave.
It is so much easier and efficient to align your team around your product vision by working on it collaboratively as a team. The more everyone feels empowered and has the feeling that what they say matters and is appreciated, the more energy they will put into contributing to reaching the common goal.
In the Book: “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”, Professor Cal Newport teaches us that the best way to motivate your team is by focusing on the following three psychological needs:
It’s the feeling that you have total control over day and that your contribution at work matters
2 . Competence
It’s the feeling that you are good at your job.
It’s the sense of connection and trust between colleagues
Have you noticed that extrinsic rewards such as a raise or a fancy office are not mentioned here?
If you are unable to satisfy the above needs, you will extinguish the intrinsic motivation or inner fire in every single team member. The natural consequence is to leave their job or maybe stay a bit longer because of a raise or promotion.
Take some time to think how you can best satisfy these needs.
6. Sticking To Your Perfectionism
Are you the kind of person who needs to have a full analysis or needs to be 100% satisfied before making a decision?
This reminds me of a story while working in France. Given the latest competitor movements, we requested a price decrease to our top management in Tokyo. Repositioning the price locally to match our competition without adjusting our buying price would mean we would make a loss on each sale. That was untenable given our margins. It’s only after submitting five different scenarios that we received the approval. Unfortunately, that came too late, and we lost our leadership position.
The inability to take a calculated risks is also one the reasons Brands fall behind.
Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman provides in Thinking, Fast and Slow, good explanation. When we assess risks, we rather focus on what could wrong instead of looking at potential gains.
At Amazon we lived by a leadership principle called “Bias for Action”:
“Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.”
It’s true that speed matters more than ever in our DNA age. If you are unable to make a decision quickly, you will fall behind. Not all decisions will be the right ones, but does it matter?
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon offers some words of advice:
“We are willing to go down a bunch of dark passageways, and occasionally we find something that actually works.”
You can only achieve greatness or excellence by moving forward and making a decision.
7. Hiring Only People You Know
One of our former European Directors brought over time most of his old team into the new organisation while slowly pushing out the existing team members.
Back then we were joking about the fact that every single team member was executing his wishes without questioning him. It looked like he assembled a team of servants. It wasn’t a surprise to see that team performance suffered over time.
How do you think this ended for him?
He got fired.
It is in our human nature to rely on people we trust, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t build trust over time with a new team.
According to an HBR article “enriching your employee pool with representatives of different genders, races, and nationalities is key for boosting your company’s joint intellectual potential.”
Also, a 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.
This highlights well how important it is to spend more time in hiring a diverse team to elevate your performance.
It might take you longer to hire the right people, but your team will benefit from it over the long-term.
“Product is people. Every single person in your organisation influences the customer experience in some way, so the experience your customers have is a direct outcome of the people you hire and the decisions they make.”
Here are some simple suggestions around hiring:
- Define your team values if there are not set on a company level
- Create an interview questionnaire with set questions
- Consider establishing a diversity hiring dashboard
8. Ignoring The Strategic Context
Is your target customer the sole focus?
That is certainly key, but what do you do if you are unaware that a new law is prohibiting the launch of your product? What if your competitor has just launched a similar product or a new technological breakthrough is making your product obsolete?
It would be foolish to ignore the external context your organisation operates in.
Changes in your business environment can create great opportunities for your organisation – and cause significant threats.
How can you identify opportunities or threats to your organisation?
Some useful tools for that purpose are:
Once you have a better idea of the strategic context, you are in a much better position to formulate a suitable a product strategy or action plan to stay on a winning course.
9. Not Taking The Time To Validate Assumptions
How much time are you spending to validate whether your latest product idea solves a major pain point in your industry?
You hear all the time that validating the demand for your new product is key to success. In fact, it’s more important than anything.
No demand = No sales = No product.
Sounds easy, but in reality it’s hard.
You need to validate your assumptions to evaluate whether there is a demand for your new product idea. The earlier you can validate, the better it is for your team because you avoid wasting time, resources and money on a product nobody needs.
Although it requires planning to meet customers, it’s fascinating to talk to prospective customers to understand more about their Business and problems. You need to figure out whether your idea resonates with your potential buyers and more importantly whether they are willing to pay for your product or service.
Especially in the B2B space, it’s even more important to have a face to face discussion to understand better the complexity of their problems.
Just because you think it’s a good idea is unfortunately not that relevant.
If you are just starting out, you can validate your idea by reaching out to prospective customers using LinkedIn, Facebook, your contacts or other sources.
You can also use landing pages, AdWords, start a crowdfunding campaign or even leverage your social community if you are an established brand to evaluate demand.
If you are interested in learning more how to validate your product idea check this article out.
Feel free to use other methods to gather as much feedback as you can.
10. Always Saying Yes To Your Boss
Are you saying yes to every new assignment or project to please your boss?
Do you feel guilty by saying no? Do you think that this will get you a promotion?
What if someone else gets the promotion? What happens then?
Pleasing others is in our DNA. Since we are children, we are looking for safety, love and acceptance. Feels safer right to say yes!
The biggest problem with pleasing is that you are putting your needs aside and give priority to the needs your boss might have.
Although pleasing your boss might sound a good idea, you are running the risk of over-committing without being able to complete all projects and ultimately reach your goals.
The result – you lose credibility, and you set yourself up for failure.
What is the alternative?
Steve Jobs gave some valuable advice:
“People think focus means saying yes to the things you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying “no” to 1,000 things.”
Next time you need to decide whether accepting this assignment will help you reach your goals without overloading your team. If you are unsure, sleep on it and check if your team can take additional projects.
11. Believing Your Intelligence Is A Fixed Trait
How many books have you read this year? When was the last time you learned something new?
Do you believe that talent or IQ alone is the recipe for success?
Are you constantly looking for new challenges or do you prefer comfort?
I have experienced on several occasions where managers become leaders with the belief that they have now the right answers to all questions. Let’s not be delusional here.
On other occasions, I have even seen some leaders claiming credit for a big win without sharing it with the rest of their team members.
How would that make you feel?
These stories highlight the danger of entering a leadership position with a so-called “fixed mindset”.
In her study and book “Mindset – Change the way you think to fulfil your potential”, Psychologist Carol Dweck reveals some interesting findings around mindset.
“In a fixed mindset, students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount, and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”
You have the capacity to develop your intelligence and skills through dedication and hard work. If we look around us, almost any successful leader or even athlete has a growth mindset. How do you think Serena Williams or Usain Bolt managed to become the best in their field?
Have you considered to see yourself in a perpetual beta mode and are you ready to learn something new every day? We have now access to more knowledge than any previous generation.
Even if you don’t have much time, why not use your commute to work by reading a new book on your Kindle or listen to a podcast. Ask your team to challenge you and work with your team to establish the same mentality within your team.
For example, at Amazon, we invited several internal and external experts to share their learnings and then we discussed how we could apply this to our daily work.
You could also set some time during your team meetings to share best practices which will benefit the entire team.
12. Forgetting To Take Care Of Yourself
Did you notice every time you board a plane that the flight attendants instruct you to put your oxygen mask first, before helping others?
Why is this important?
Because if you are running out of oxygen, you can’t help others.
This principle can also be applied to your daily life at work.
I met over the last years many people at work who believed that just working harder and enduring high stress, would lead to success. I used to be one of them.
Unfortunately, this self-destructive attitude can have severe consequences for your health.
If you are not taking some time to rest and recover, how can you maintain the pace and handle the stress?
According to research, sleep deprivation has a negative consequence on your health and can even change your genes. Did you know that stress has even an impact on your measured IQ level? Incredible isn’t it.
How many times are you continuing to work from home because there are not enough hours in the day? Do you spend enough time with your family?
The reality is that your work is dominating your life.
In her inspiring book, The Sleep Revolution – Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, Arianna Huffington wrote that:
“the total annual cost of sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy over $63 billion due to absenteeism and “presenteeism” (“when employees are present at work physically but not really mentally focused”).
Did you also know that your brain consumes 20% of your body’s energy despite the small size?
This highlights that if you don’t have the energy, how can you expect to perform.
What is the alternative?
The only way to be more resilient is to take some time to recharge your batteries at and outside work.
Don’t you have the time apart from taking some holidays?
It’s an excuse, find the time.
There are three basic things you can do to help you cope with the constant pressure and stress.
1. Practice Daily mindfulness
2. Get at least 7 hours sleep at night
Less than that can have over an extended period adverse consequences on your health.
3. Do some regular exercise
Exercise has many health benefits.
13. Pretending To Be Someone Else
Have you ever met a leader outside of your normal work environment and realised that they behave differently? Do you believe in acting and pretending to be someone you are not at work?
If you think that you have been successful so far in pretending to be someone else, do you think your team will not realise at some point that it is just makeup?
Have you thought how much energy it costs you?
Instead of hiding from your true self, work instead of becoming a more authentic product leader. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes an authentic leader. Authenticity as a concept has been explored and debated for centuries. To avoid confusion let’s define what authentic leadership is?
To simplify at the heart of authentic leadership lies emotional intelligence (EI).
In a recent HBR article Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis provide more insight what it is. Emotional intelligence consists of four domains:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management.
The most important aspect of authenticity is self-awareness.
How can you apply this model on a daily basis?
You can start becoming more authentic by being more mindful how you behave and phrase your words in the presence of your team. The emphasis here is on being aware of your impact on others and not on changing who you are.
To learn more about yourself, ask the people who are important to you how they perceive you.
Whatever you do, it needs to resonate with who you are as a person.
14. Taking Yourself Too Seriously
Have you ever experienced a leader who emphasises every time you meet them how great they are and how grateful you should be to work with them?
A while back I had frequent interactions with one of our division leaders. He liked the sound of his voice more than anything else. Every time we heard the stories of how great he is and how much he has achieved.
He never used the word “we”. It was “I” only. How many times did I see some colleagues crying at their desk? Nobody liked him and everyone was starting leaving his team.
This is no surprise. Nobody wants to work with a self-interested, self-absorbed, self-serving self-promoter.
How should you behave instead?
In his book Leaders Eat Last – Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek offers us some good advice:
“the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.”
This is an invitation to focus on developing more purposeful brands and products with the genuine desire to put the needs of your team ahead of your own.
Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner says:
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
15. Release Your Frustration On The Team
One of our regional directors was known for having quite a temper. He used to shout at people during meetings publicly. He visibly didn’t care what they thought of him and the impact it had on the entire team. At the start of every meeting, you could sense the fear amongst everyone present.
You certainly feel the pressure to deliver results, but this is not the way how you should deal with it.
In her latest book “Radical Candor – How to be a Great Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” Kim Scott reveals that leaders need to guide every single team member. She emphasises the need to establish a culture of being open to provide, receive and encourage direct feedback or guidance.
How do you think that your team can understand what is going right or wrong if you are not providing them with any feedback?
Some might have the illusion that they are performing at the right level, but unaware of the mistakes they are making.
This shouldn’t be addressed during the exit interview when it’s too late.
How should you provide that guidance?
According to Kim Scott “Radical candor is humble, it’s helpful, it’s immediate, it’s in person — in private if it’s criticism and in public if it’s praise — and it doesn’t personalize.”
My previous boss applied these principles. After a client meeting, we sat down to discuss what went well and what could be improved. This is the only way to reach excellence.
Even further your team members should also feel safe and comfortable to give you direct feedback as nobody’s perfect. By creating a culture of transparency and trust, you will help your team achieve great things.
Over to you
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