The Lessons of Servant Leadership

Updated: Oct 19

Efficacious product leaders work for their cross-functional teams. They empower them; they build up the people around them to dream big, become more conversant, ameliorate, and flourish. As a result, their leadership has an everlasting footprint.


What is servant leadership?
Why is servant leadership important in product management?
Final Thoughts

Efficacious product management teams are precisely that - effectual. They can collaborate well, have the freedom to set their sights high and innovate, and have no limits to their possibilities. Their ethos is to build products not only to solve today‘s problems but the future‘s as well.


Furthermore, they want to grow with their customers and be proactive at delivering cutting-edge and exceptional solutions that their customers have not asked for yet or even realize they need. As a result, the individuals on these product management teams can contrive trusting relationships and connections with their colleagues and customers.


Product management teams are successful because their product leaders exemplify servant leadership.


At their core, these teams are there to serve and to precipitate an effusive, unreserved, exuberant exchange of ideas. Servant leadership ameliorates positivity, and consequently, team members feel empowered and free to set their sights on the bigger picture - bringing those ways of thinking and inspiration to the table. Those thoughts and suggestions become products that enhance humanity. Product magic transpires because of servant leadership.


What is servant leadership?

In the case of product management, when distinguishing between servant leadership and traditional leadership, you can see extensive and distinguishable corollaries.


Traditional leadership methodology denotes that the product leader ameliorates their cross-disciplinary teams to do their projects by giving them assistance, oversight, and incitement. In addition, the intention and purpose of a traditional product leader would be to demonstrate the organization‘s role in the marketplace.


Servant leadership antedates that the product leader's ambition and aspiration are to be of service to their cross-functional teams. Even though building prosperous, flourishing, and customer-focused products is their principal responsibility, they also recognize they must build up the people around them with empathy, gratitude, and motivation.


A servant leader’s cornerstone becomes the people around them rather than their organization. Servant leadership postulates that the cross-disciplinary team members can dream big, become more conversant, ameliorate, and flourish into more. Their product leader’s role is to remove obstacles and help them build the impossible, thereby winning customers’ hearts now and into the future.


Why is servant leadership important in product management?

When product leaders exemplify servant leadership, their cross-disciplinary team members trust the decisions being made. They want to be part of the process, searching for transformational ways to solve customer problems and contribute ideas. Team members are engaged and want to stay in their organization to help deliver on its goals and objectives. Then, what you then have are highly productive, accomplished, experienced, and passionate individuals who are more than ready to research, design, build and launch best-in-class products that make a difference in the lives of their customers. Likewise, this helps their organization deliver on its mission and vision, producing increased earnings.


Product leaders can become servant leaders by exemplifying specific attributes. Let’s dive into what this means for product management.


#1 - Listening

Product leaders who take the time to listen to their cross-functional teams tend to be much better at developing long-term connections. They are also more effective when it comes to instigating participation and teamwork.


Additionally, PMs who listen are deemed to be persuaders and influencers because they understand the importance of active listening. They let their cross-functional teams express their viewpoints and difficulties before providing an assessment. The importance of hearing direct reports, cross-functional teams, colleagues, and partners has never been more valuable. If anything, these last 26 months have proven how much we need to listen to transform, align, and inspire each other and our customers.


#2 - Empathy

Listening with empathy has never been more paramount as the impact of the pandemic has directly affected our well-being, mental fitness, and workplace citizenship. We are all experiencing unease about the world, our families, careers, and the uncertainty of what life will be like post-pandemic.


Empathy is one of the most consequential characteristics a servant leader can epitomize. When product leaders show a sincere interest in their cross-functional teams’ lives (like the difficulties they face and their overall well-being) and offer support, their team members are more motivated, productive, and comfortable in the workplace.


Furthermore, a servant leader who puts empathy into practice will also have cross-disciplinary team members demonstrating empathy and trust. This has a domino effect throughout the organization. As a result, we have individuals who care and nurture each other.


#3 - Presence

The science of human relationships demonstrates that we want to be seen, heard, acknowledged, and valued. Therefore, to enhance our own and our team’s engagement, we must be present during our team meetings, discussions, and 1-1s. We have to take care not to be engrossed in other matters that lead to aggravations, demoralization, and loss of inspiration in our cross-functional teams.


As product leaders, we have an exceptional opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people with whom we work. It starts with getting to know them. For instance, the names of their family members, things going on in their lives, sending thank you notes of gratitude when extraordinary efforts have been made, or when they face challenges (whether professional or personally), we acknowledge them by offering support any way we can or simply writing them a personal message of reassurance.


#4 - Gratitude

To be appreciated for what we’ve done is one of the most profound and fundamental human objectives that we all share.


When gratitude is put into practice, thankfulness enhances effectiveness in our cross-functional teams. After we release a new product/feature or see that our scrum and partner teams have been working extraordinary hours to complete a project, I handwrite a personalized thank you note to each team member.


In addition to a personalized thank-you card, if I find that someone on the team has done an outstanding job, I make it a practice to write a complimentary note to their manager listing their accomplishments and their impact on the project and our organization. Likewise, I always ensure to point out how these individuals embody the values of our company and how their actions reverberate.


When product leaders routinely practice gratitude, we discover that our direct reports, scrum teams, teammates, colleagues, partners, stakeholders, and customers feel valued. It expresses that their involvement matters. Furthermore, it reinforces the behaviours we want to see repeated - their effectiveness and engagement increase, which is a success story for our organization.


#5 - Provide opportunities

Leadership is an endeavour in service. Successful product leaders build up the people around them by caring about their professional and personal well-being while helping them attain their professional objectives. In other words, they instill in them that the sky's the limit by encouraging them to dream big and grow even bigger - if it protrudes beyond their organization. Therefore, they set their cross-functional teams up for success by introducing them to opportunities and new experiences


#6 - Empowerment

Empowerment ensures that employee actions are in alignment with company aspirations. This means even when they are empowered and can make their own decisions, they do so in favour of the company’s goals. Exemplary product leaders recognize that their cross-functional teams, stakeholders, partners, and colleagues are their organization‘s most strategic asset. Thus, the empowerment of these individuals has a direct correlation to bringing product vision to effectuation and meeting the objectives and goals of their organization.


Product managers who want to build people empower them by helping and supporting the alignment between their ambitions and organizational objectives. Therefore, they endorse their cross-functional team’s independence to make assessments and take on accountability for the outcomes of those determinations. Conversely, organizations miss out on great ideas and innovation when employees do not feel empowered.


Final Thoughts

Servant leadership in product management is indispensable. When product leaders are servant leaders, it establishes a medium where members of product teams come from diverse backgrounds, lived experiences, work experience, and perspectives to build successful products that all members of our communities will use for years to come.


Servant leaders safeguard their product team members to feel heard, valued, understood, validated, regarded and empowered. This, in turn, means increased employee engagement and freedom to think out-of-the-box and dream big to solve customer problems for today and the future.


Product leaders who practice servant leadership lead with mindfulness, thoughtfulness, compassion, and unobtrusiveness. These leaders put their cross-functional team wellbeing first and foremost. They see themselves as stewards who motivate and inspire to build impossible products, some of which will change and enhance humanity.