How Product Leaders are destined to be great Culture Leaders
A key trait of a strong product leader that can be easily overlooked is our innate ability to be strong cultural forces within a given company. Product people are growth-minded, passionate and driven to solve problems and challenges - you hire them to ship out wonderful products that users love which will generate revenue. While most of our work is centered around solving end user problems, at times we do find ourselves solving deep problems within our own organizations and team with the same level of gusto. While fostering team culture isn’t going to directly yield the same revenue as shipping a strong product into the market, it’s still an important skill that should be more sought after when choosing the right product people to join your team. Having a product team that continues to promote positive culture is at the heart of a building a strong agile team in many ways.
"It’s about people over process." Based on this guiding principle of agile methodology, it comes as no surprise that a good product leader is also a strong culture leader. Individuals & the interactions we have with them are at the heart of what drives a great product forward. Product people come with a can-do attitude that’s hard to bog down with organizational bureaucracy & process. A large majority of a product manager's day is spent directly interfacing with people to gather insights that help move a product forward. This constant communication with multiple team members across the organization allows you to build rapport with many people at once. Providing face time with your colleagues allows them to share their insights, impacting culture by giving people a place for their opinions to be shared.
Beyond gathering insights from your colleagues, giving a damn about people personally helps build strong working relationship that promotes positive culture as well. It allows us the intrinsic ability to get to the heart of what may drive and motivate our fellow teammates because we understand who they are as people. Approaching your work with empathy & care aren't just skills a PM should hone but a skill everyone on a team should possess in some capacity. It facilitates communication and adds to the company culture. Naturally, a top notch PM will lead by example influencing the culture from within.
Product leaders also bring in a lot of passion and vision into their work. Sharing this outwardly with all colleagues can really help be a driving force for culture. When you’re passionate and excited about something you’re doing, your enthusiasm is contagious and will reach others whose excitement may have dulled with time and process. Bringing in fresh spirit and hunger for future potential can quickly invigorate the team around you. It's common to hit a few disgruntled nay-sayers, but as a product person, you are likely well-versed in how to combat adversity with kindness & understanding.
One of the toughest parts of being in a product role is the inevitable fact that you will often need to facilitate some choppy conversations. This can be tough when you have no cultural capital or authority within an organization. You are the connector between your scrum team and the various stakeholders in your business. Communication breakdown can occur when many people from different areas don’t see eye to eye. As part of your work developing rapport with individuals, you are uniquely positioned to be able to challenge people directly without them feeling threatened or extinguished. You’ll be able to use your EQ to speak with the different opinion holders in a manner that may help them align with one another to come to an agreement that works best. Conflict resolution is therefore naturally part of the job and important in building strong culture. You’ll be the glue that holds the team together and keeps driving the product (and likely, company) forward towards the true vision.
A product leader who favors people over process, comes to work with passion, provides empathy & care, and challenges teams directly, is likely promoting positive workplace culture through the organization. Continuing to harness these skills can help you deliver amazing products to your customers but also pave your way into a great leadership role and become a cultural cornerstone in your company.
If you’re at an organization that has a team dedicated to improving workplace culture, it may be in your interest to join or provide insights to support the cause. Chances are you're doing a lot of the work on daily basis. If you happen to be in a company without anyone actively acting on behalf of culture, it’s a wide open green space for you to create. It may take some work to foster the right people into action but it’ll pay out in the end when your team can collaborate & work together like a well-oiled, truly agile machine. Product is Culture.