The role of a product leader has become more complex and demanding than ever before. This complexity is particularly evident when leading self-sufficient product teams, where the balance between management levels and leadership skills is needed for long-term success. 

Management responsibilities

Coaching

One of the main responsibilities of a product leader is coaching. Effective coaching is not based on micromanagement but understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Providing guidance, feedback, and support to help individuals grow and develop their skills cannot be understated or underestimated. Bill Campbell, a legendary Silicon Valley coach, stressed that being a good coach is integral to effective management. In fact, up to 50% of a manager’s time should be dedicated to coaching, demonstrating its importance in nurturing a high-performing team.

Staffing

Product managers play a critical role in staffing their teams. This means the entire staffing process, from recruiting and hiring to potentially replacing team members must be done with due diligence. While HR may support the process, it doesn’t replace the manager’s role in staffing. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once noted that maintaining high standards in hiring is the most important thing for long-term success. Product leaders must actively participate in this process to ensure that the right talent is brought on board, aligning with the team’s goals and values.

Leadership responsibilities

Product vision and principles

A product leader’s ability to set a compelling product vision is a defining characteristic of effective leadership. The product vision inspires and aligns the team towards a common future goal. It’s an art that needs an expert leader to emotionally persuade the team while providing enough detail to guide them without being overly prescriptive. 

Team topology

To maximize autonomy, product leaders must design team structures that are loosely coupled but highly aligned. This structure lets teams take ownership of their work while alignment with the broader organizational goals. It’s important to note that creating effective team topologies can be challenging, especially in larger organizations where complexity abounds.

Product strategy

Turning insights into actionable objectives is the essence of product strategy. Leaders absolutely must identify key insights and translate them into clear objectives that focus on solving specific business or customer problems. Effective product leaders understand that a strong product strategy is a staple of leadership, even if it means making tough and, at times, unpopular decisions. It’s about making choices that serve the long-term vision.

Team objectives

By assigning tangible and achievable objectives to teams, product leaders help them determine the best solutions to meet goals. This process is iterative, involving setting objectives, proposing key results, and guaranteeing alignment with broader organizational objectives. It means teams take ownership of their work while contributing to the overall success of the product.

Empowerment vs. Command and Control

A crucial aspect of product leadership is distinguishing between two leadership styles: “command and control” and “empowerment”. In the former, leaders dictate tasks and closely manage their teams. The “empowerment” approach means giving teams problems to solve within a strategic context. For empowerment to be effective, leaders must provide teams with the necessary strategic context, so they can make informed decisions and take ownership of their work.

Alexander Procter

January 23, 2024

3 Min read