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Issue #26: So you want to become a Product Leader, technical requirements for Product Managers, and 5 things
How to prepare for your product leadership next step, in defense of managers, and why being technical is an outcome and not an input to Product Management.
Hola friends! 👋
This week’s thoughts and feelings include:
So you want to become a Product Leader
(FAKs or Folks.Ask.Kax) Do I need to be technical to become a Product Manager?
5 things to help you this week
01 So you want to become a Product Leader
When you’re a Senior Product Manager, being a Product Leader is a natural next step for your career.
For some people, the leap to Product Leadership is unintentional. They become one because of their seniority level so they are asked to fill in a gap or are promoted because there was no other path available in the organization to move up.
For others, the leap to Product Leadership may be attached to a career ambition. An intentional choice to move up the career leader and Product Leadership was their path to take.
Me? I wasn’t really actively thinking about becoming a Product Leader. There was a bit of interest for sure. Mostly because of the shiny new title and the potential seat at the always-talked-about table that came with it.
But I got it anyway because I had to fill in a gap. My product leader was going on parental leave. And somebody needed to cover for her while she was gone. That somebody was me.
Before starting the role, I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be a Product Leader. I thought I “just” needed to do the following:
Define a product strategy for our group
Have 1:1s with the people reporting to me to check-in
So I can make sure my team delivers what they committed to deliver
I wasn’t exactly paying attention to what my leaders were doing apart from the obvious things that were visible to me. So my first few months of being a Product Leader were a disaster.
So dear reader, if you’re on the path of becoming a Product Leader, or you’re already one but still new to the role - let me share with you the main responsibilities of a Product Leader. And yes, it’s a bit more complex than “just doing 1:1s”.
A Product Leader is the intersection of 3 personas.
1 People Manager
Probably the role that most of us are familiar with. Because it’s the role that we technically get promoted into. But what is the role of the People Manager?
People managers take care of the team. And they make sure that their team has the right environment to succeed.
They manage their team’s work and ensure that they are impacting the company’s overall goals
They design organizations
They ensure that their team has the budget to operate properly.
They hire the right talent that the team needs
They define processes and make sure that company policies are enforced (or challenged when needed)
They design development plans with their team and promote people according to the leveling criteria the organization has
They understand the limitations and implications of the company and define ways to work within its confines
They try to create stability for their teams by making sure that objectives and priorities are clearly defined
But they also make sure that their teams feel safe and productive in their roles, and when they are not - they figure out how to make it so.
In a lot of ways, when wearing the people manager hat, the Product Leader becomes very operational and tactical.
2 Strategic Leader
Probably the role that a lot of us aspire to become. Many books have been written about becoming one. And many TED Talks have been given about how to be one. But what is the role of the Strategic Leader?
Strategic Leaders inspire and motivate people into action.
They define an inspiring product vision rooted in the company’s overall goals
They create a strategic path that their team can anchor on to prioritize and make decisions with
They are great at bringing people together - getting buy-in, support, and commitments
They have developed a strong product sense but are also mindful of making sure that data, users, and business goals are at the forefront of their decision-making.
They are confident and see opportunities in uncertainty
They embrace change
They shape the culture of their organization - seek accountability and constantly raise the bar for their team
They are unafraid to take risks and are always prepared to mitigate them
Strategic leaders are often seen as charismatic and lead by example.
At the end of the day, Product Leaders will be working with their team of Product Managers. Product Managers who, will not only need to deliver impact, but are also aspiring Product Leaders themselves. So what is the role of the Coach/Mentor?
Coaches and Mentors use their experience and expertise to help their team constantly grow and improve their performance
They help their team define their goals and break down their challenges into something more actionable
They help their team understand their strengths and come up with solutions to solve their challenges with
They identify skill gaps in their team and help them fill those gaps with new skills and knowledge
They use their deep domain knowledge and experience to help their team gain perspective about their situations
They give advice or they ask powerful questions
They teach new frameworks and tools or make sure their team knows how to learn them
They hold their team accountable to make sure they’re always performing at their best
As coaches/mentors, they lift their team up and help create the next generation of Product Leaders.
It’s funny sometimes when I see so many comparisons between Managers and Leaders. Often the Manager is vilified and seen as weak. The caricature often drawn up is the old-school boss. While the Leaders are always the hero in the narrative who sweeps in and launches their team into unquestionable success just by their dreams alone.
Several years into the role, I learned that you need to be both and a 3rd to be a good Product Leader.
People managers create structure. Strategic leaders give direction. While coaches/mentors help their team build their product muscle.
Are there other responsibilities you can think of? Share them in the comments 🙏
02 Do I need to be technical to become a Product Manager?
This a popular question that every experienced Product Manager gets from aspiring PMs. So let’s answer it one more time.
My answer will always be: Absolutely not.
One does not need to have a degree in Computer Science, to be able to read and write codes, deploy anything, or <insert other very technical things technical people do in this part> to become a Product Manager.
What is needed is the ability to bring clarity and understanding to people:
to the more technical-minded people in the team so they can align with the ambition
to the stakeholders so they can have the correct expectations based on the complexity and effort needed to get the work done
So what the Product Manager actually needs, is not to be technical, but to have the capacity to understand technical things. So they can ask questions, challenge decisions, and help even lesser technically exposed parts of the organization understand better the context of building products.
Instead, I think, becoming technical is an inevitable result of being a Product Manager.
03 Five things to help you this week
If you only have time to read 5 things this week (aside from this newsletter), let it be these:
But before you go!
Are you struggling with your job search right now? Your application is being ignored? You get feedback along the lines of “We’re just looking for somebody with more experience”. Get my ULTIMATE GUIDE for creating a Sustainable Job Search system for the Modern Product Manager. And get cracking with 10% OFF.
My coaching calendar has some free slots starting in July! For the Product Managers and aspiring Product Leaders out there who are feeling stuck in their current role and unsure how to get to their next step. I’d love to help you. Let’s chat 💙
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