From “dawn to desk”, we go from task to a user story. Pressing deadlines, endless kanban boards, life in the post-it lane is not easy. It can be quite stressful, especially when your friends are called grunt, bower, and git.
On a more serious note though, many of us know that product organisations are unique and team dynamic makes or breaks success for everyone. Most product organisations need to operate at the intersection of creative, customer, data, and technology. In other words, diversity is both desired and inevitable. It is worth pausing for a second and thinking about what contributes positively and negatively to this coveted “team dynamic”. I have observed that big words such as empowerment, collaboration, and alignment can be hard to translate on the ground. It ultimately comes down to how everyone on the team really feels. This in my opinion, is highly influenced by the type of power dynamic within the team.
The more you use hard power (coercion), the less soft power (persuasion) you have. Which means yet more use of hard power. Feedback loop.
— Balaji S. Srinivasan (@balajis) July 19, 2016
This tweet really sums it up for me. Most of you may be familiar with leadership constructs that rely on hard power. Even situational leadership talks about “directive” behaviour. You know, where you order, and people follow; there is little room for opinions or discussion. While that might work in some places, it is definitely a disaster in product teams. Leaders need to remember that using hard power is a one way street. Interdisciplinary talent, differing skills & personalities is a norm when it comes to building products. Designers, engineers, data scientists, and marketers are all highly qualified & accomplished within their respective areas. As a product leader, you are rarely qualified to tell them how to do their job. You use directive behaviour, and the first thing the leader loses is respect. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you don’t hold people accountable or you don’t coach and give feedback it just means that product teams are somewhat different. If a person on the team doesn’t respect you, you get no dedication, commitment and loyalty. The “power trip” you have just had does not help anyone.
There is a secret weapon though…. soft-power! It means influence, or your ability to persuade others without formal authority. This is one of the fundamental tenets of product leadership but very often forgotten. Imagine working on a really complex app, and you need to get your UX designers to create magic. Let us say you want to add an icon to the app to indicate camera functionality. Do you choose an image icon, you choose a camera, or you choose a circle with a red recording button? while it seems like a trivial decision, some product leaders will go on a power trip. They will say this is what I want, it is my way or the highway 🙂 this not only creates a potential sub-optimal outcome, it damages relationships in the team. The UX designer may not want to work with you, may stop caring about product that he may have felt passionately about. Product leaders need to recognise that everybody is on the same side! a product leader could instead suggest how they perceive customer goals, listen to ideas, persuade the designer, even give him or her a free leash to go out of the box and seek direct customer input. In my experience the latter option creates amazing outcomes. When given responsibility and freedom to choose, people put their hearts and minds into the task, they will feel a sense of ownership. This style of collaborative working, where a product leader instils and harnesses soft-power in the decision making, fosters a great team dynamic.
Teams are made up of people and not “resources”, success depends on how everyone on the team feels. Product leadership is not only about the “what”, but it is also massively about “how”