Posted by: Ivan lybbert | October 30, 2009

Part 2: A Product Manager is a Leader

leadershipLast week I wrote the first of a three part series defining product managers.  I wrote that product managers are entrepreneurs (and thanks for all of the lively comments!). This week I say…

We are Leaders!

I’m not sure if this is a proven fact, but I’ve heard it stated that product managers eventually gravitate toward owning their own company.  I believe it!  Many product managers have felt like the Pied Piper (minus the part where we take the town’s kids!) as they demonstrated the following characteristics shared with “true” leaders:

We are visionaries – When my kids were younger and would ask me what I did for a living, I would tell them, “Daddy predicts the future, and when he’s wrong, he gets fired.”   My daughter now says that we are like the weathermen of software, except we can’t be wrong!  The truth is that we aren’t fortune tellers, but we seek to reach a destination before our competition does.   Once we’ve collected the pertinent data points, and have laid out the direction, we continually communicate it to everyone, ad nauseam.  In every presentation, with every customer, in every scrum meeting, we describe the destination with clarity, passion and enthusiasm.

We are influential –A significant reason for our success or failure as product managers lies in our ability to influence those around us.  We can be eloquent communicators, logically irrefutable, or amazingly good looking (I’m not familiar with that one either), but unless others whole-heartedly agree, we’ll just be an “Army of One” (and despite the US Army’s slogan, that’s not a very big army).   Don’t overlook the absolute requirement to show solid evidence in support of our vision, but great product managers know how to help others understand and internalize that painted vision, and then toe the line with as much vigor as you.  How?  Because…

We have people skills – I think the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”(Carnegie, 1936) should be required reading for any product manager.   Product managers need more than themselves to direct, make, promote and sell software.  Relationships with those who direct, make, promote and sell software is everything to us!  Taking the time to understand what motivates people helps us understand how we can best interact with them and help them succeed.  If you do that without any self-promoting reasons, you’ll find them doing the same for you.

We are trustworthy – People who are trustworthy have people who will fight for them.  This doesn’t mean you’ll always win (I’ll reference this in future blogs), but you’ll sleep better at night knowing you did the right thing.  How? Don’t say anything about anyone that you don’t feel comfortable repeating to their face (that goes for email too).  When you say you’re going to do something, do it.  When someone tells you something in confidence, keep it.  Basically, be the person your Mom raised you to be.

As always, I’m very interested in your thoughts.  What other leadership characteristics do you believe are shared with product managers?

Next week – Part III:  A Product Manager is a Scientist



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