I have to admit, I took the bait. When I first saw the title for this article … Product Managers – You Are Not the CEO of Anything … I admittedly got a bit perturbed. As a champion for the Product Management role, I have often used this analogy myself (see So … What Do You Do For A Living? as one example). Obviously, arguing to the contrary means you likely don’t understand the full scope of the responsibilities!
But then again, my reaction is likely exactly what the author intended. And by opening the article to read it further, I was gone … hook, line and sinker! And boy am I glad I pursued it. And to use the third cliche in just this opening section, don’t ever judge a book by it’s cover.
After digging in for myself, this article captures many of the thoughts I have around Product Management specifically … and leadership in general, and can be summarized by a quote I’ve previously shared …
“It’s not the title, or the perceived authority that comes with the role, that defines leadership. You are a leader when you start acting like one.”
Read the article for yourself, but here are some of the richer ideas I walked away with:
The Anti-Servant Leader
Too many product managers I meet buy into this trope of CEO-of-the-product and believe their role is to act like an authoritarian CEO, often with disastrous results. These product managers tend to believe they have all the answers, that they produce the best solutions and designs, and that their teams should just do what they’re told.
I’ve worked with these types of product managers, product leaders, and frankly people in leadership positions. To go back to the Good/Bad Product Manager post, these are the ones in pursuit of what’s best for themselves (the “I” mentality). Steer clear.
Understanding Your Role
“When you’re a product manager, you’re generally not the boss. You need to gain authority through your actions and your leadership skills, not your role.” … Truly successful product leaders instead embrace their lack of authority and lead their teams and the wider company through communication, vision, and influence. They focus on collaborating across the company, bringing together the best people to move the product forward, and setting those teams free to execute on their product vision.
So what makes a good leader? It’s a journey I’ve been on for several years now and perhaps this post summarizes things best for me … and its where the quote in the intro came from.
You Are Not the CEO … Yet
You are not the CEO of your product, you are not Steve Jobs, you are not a lone genius designing a product from your ivory tower …
But … “I think actually product leaders, not surprisingly, are often seen as great potential candidates for the CEO or COO when they get further on in their career. I think that’s because at an executive level, all the product management attributes are really relevant because you’re focused on the money, you’re focused on the users, you’re focused on the data, and you’re focused on the future”
I agree. But even if/when you get there, don’t forget leadership is about the journey, not the destination.