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A friend of mine shared an article the other day from Forbes titled Are You Sabotaging Your Career By Being Perceived As A Doer And Not A Leader?  While I have reservations about a one or two points, much of the article is a good read. And for me it helps expose certain truths about being a leader that resonated deeply with me.  While I agree with my friend’s sentiment being a leader also means being a doer at times, it requires more of us. This quote from the middle of the article perhaps summarizes it best … leaders are not afraid to do … but they are most effective when they calmly influence and motivate others towards the broader vision!

Often the missing ingredient is “Executive Presence.” Those with executive presence exude confidence; they are influential, proactive and respond calmly, but firmly in challenging situations. In other words, they are “cool as a cucumber” under stress. They are considered leaders as they focus on the big picture and motivate others toward the overall success of the company. They are not afraid to step outside of their offices, roll up their sleeves and pitch in when needed.

As always, read the article for yourself, but these 3 truths spoke most to me about the transition from doer to leader:

Truth #1 – The lone ranger. This comment described me well for the better part of my early career.  I have always been good at taking the odd jobs and getting stuff done; at figuring out the problem and getting to an identified path forward; and I was often seen as the go-to-guy.

But until I understood the value of being a people person, of involving others, I was never going to be much more than that.  If you are working in isolation, you will have at least 1 champion who sees your results (your boss).  But they may or may not reveal your worth to others in the organization.  When you collaborate with others to gain consensus on the root problem, to align on the work to be done, and to share in the joys or pains of the endeavors … you will have gained many champions who would go to battle with you!

Truth #2 – The student. Even from my graduate study days, I have always been interested in the topic of leadership.  And when I got the chance to become a Product Manager, I really enjoyed the role I was serving. But until perhaps 7 years ago, I wasn’t intentional about either.

This blog is the genesis of me becoming more serious about understanding the role of the product manager as a leader, and about leadership in general. I love spending time learning and reading about both, and I gain a sense of satisfaction in sharing the things I’ve learned along the way here.  This recent post I shared summarizes many of those learnings, and could easily have been titled Good Leader/Bad Leader.

Truth #3 – The servant leader. This is the one area where I perhaps disagreed with the author … I am not a big fan of tooting one’s own horn or self-promotion. Nelson Mandela once said “Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people”.  I am a big fan of Mandela’s, and more of a proponent of the servant leadership model he represented.

The main principle of servant leadership is leaders are attentive to the concerns of their followers and empathize with them, including those with little power in a system. Servant leaders make others better by listening, through understanding and empathy, by being aware and especially being self-aware, through persuasion, through conceptualization or vision, by being a good steward, and through commitment to the growth of people and the greater community.

In essence, and to borrow from another blog post:

  • “Have moxie but don’t self-promote: Compliments should always go to the team. Credit should be handed out freely and generously.
  • The role of a PM is to redirect praise to the people who deserve it, and absorb blame. This is key to the role. Success belongs to the team but failures belong to you.”
  • The hard part is that your contributions often aren’t recognized the same way you try to recognize others.

Think of it this way in the context of market leadership with the products you manage …  you are a market leader when others in the industry say you are, not when you claim it for yourself.