We Become Product Managers for a Variety of Reasons
But our common characteristics are that we are smart, we like to be the center of attention, and, well, we feel compelled to expose those things in what we optimistically cloak as evangelism.
Product managers need to lead teams that do not report to them; they need to be decisive in the absence of perfect information, and they need to educate others about often unrelated products. Product managers also need to play judge when there are other conflicting opinions, and they need to defend their product decisions and plans despite internal and/or external argument. However, product managers also need to listen intently to input from a variety of, sometimes ignorant, stakeholders and put their own opinions aside to really hear the voices of the customers, and then some. They need to accept product failure as their own fault and yet pass on congratulations when there is success to the entire product team.
As such, Product Managers Must Check Their Egos at the Proverbial Door
Few things deteriorate a product manager’s credibility and earned respect from others than a product manager who tries to explain something he/she does not understand. An engineer or other technical individual will find insult when the PM tries to overstep the line between requirements and specification, between the “why we built it” versus “how we built it.” And while the product manager may ultimately be responsible for the product baby, a senior manager may pull ownership rank much like birth parents appear to claim credit and affection only once the product is successfully grown.
No, Product Management isn’t Typically a Thankful Position, but it is Ultimately One of Honor.
And with that honor comes great responsibility to be a clear communicator and an understated but effective leader. Knowing how to manage your own passion while remaining committed, knowing enough about the product but, more importantly, knowing how to manage the product team and process, and, in the end, being smart enough to pick the right battles where you neither have be to defensive nor offensive in your position . . . well, that is the mark of a truly successful product manager.
So before you rush into a meeting filled with vim, vigor, and veracity, think about how great leaders would handle conflict and challenge. Garner intellectual and data-backed knowledge to be better prepared than a bulldozing project manager that takes no prisoners but leaves utter doubt about who is really is in command. If Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi were product managers, they would gain consensus and collaboration using their charm and by setting their own examples. Challenge yourself to be someone worth following instead of leading with a big product management stick—after all, not many of us have the public track record of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. Refrain from being the know-it-all—instead be someone that all know they can follow, learn from, and ultimately trust to lead the product toward success.