The Soft Skills of a Product Leader
Updated: Feb 13
Great leaders lead with heart and empathy. They are filled with aspirations, ideas, and ideals without preeminence. They use optimism and inspiration to galvanize their teams.
At the core of every cross-functional team that creates product magic lies an exceptional product leader who excels in building both people and products. Their daily use of soft skills to make a significant difference is the secret.
We are minor characters in each other's lives, and as product leaders, we serve as stewards of our products for a limited time. During this period, we aim to learn as much as possible from our multifunctional partners, direct reports, and leaders because we understand that the lessons they share will make us better individuals, leaders, and product managers. It is, therefore, part of our ethos to ensure that we lead with grace and empathy, knowing that our tenure as their product leader will eventually end as we move on to new opportunities. We hope that the individuals we have had the privilege to lead and work with will remember that we genuinely cared about them, saw them, heard them, and hopefully made a difference in their lives.
Leading Cross-Functional Teams with Soft Skills
I lead interdisciplinary teams by leveraging my soft skills, experience, interpersonal abilities, and psychosocial competencies. When it comes to hiring a Product Manager (PM), I prioritize candidates with strong soft and social skills. Hard skills, such as understanding frameworks, story writing, backlog prioritization, and developing product visions, strategies, and roadmaps, can all be taught. However, soft skills are crucial for an effective product manager or leader.
Let's dive into why soft skills are critical in product leadership. Here are the abilities that matter the most.
Being personable is extremely important for a product leader. It shows excellent ability in working with others, be it teammates, direct reports, cross-disciplinary partners, or leadership. The abilities and character of a product leader are significantly more important than hard skills. Moreover, being amiable and trusted is crucial for success as a PM. Being personable enables effective communication, and earning respect garners authority.
Collaboration is another vital skill. Product leaders should strive to bring out the best in their colleagues and amplify everyone's voices, ensuring they are heard and validated. This is crucial because PMs have access to their leaders and a platform to elevate their teams and acknowledge their contributions.
Passion and curiosity are traits that enable product leaders to be effective. These qualities inspire cross-functional teams and motivate the entire organization to support their product vision and strategy.
Enthusiasm is a form of strength. Product leaders who exhibit enthusiasm find it contagious, making collaborating with teams and partners easier. Excitement leads to inspiration, innovation, and creativity.
Empathy is an invaluable characteristic of leadership. Being empathetic involves understanding and connecting with others to support, motivate, and empower them effectively. While building successful products is a primary task, product leaders must also nurture the people around them with empathy, gratitude, and motivation.
To develop customer-focused products, solutions, and services, product leaders must empathize with and understand their customers. This means perceiving and relating to customers’ circumstances, emotions, and motivations, enabling leaders to see things from their customers' perspectives.
Exceptional communication is essential for product leaders. They must convey their product vision and strategy through storytelling, ensuring the narrative resonates across cross-functional teams. This involves explaining how the product addresses real-world problems, its relevance to the organization's core values, and its importance to customers.
Being a product leader means you must make decisions. This is throughout your day and every day. Do not be afraid to make judgment calls; the worst thing to happen is that it fails and things do not work out. Own it and move on with your team. Do not blame your team.
Product leaders must possess strong presentation skills, as they often need to articulate their product vision and passion to multifunctional partner teams and leaders. This includes engaging with diverse observations and questions and effectively sharing stories.
Curiosity encourages and boosts knowledge. Product leaders should be curious, seeking to learn from the experiences and insights of colleagues, multidisciplinary partners, and leaders, especially regarding historical contexts and previous decisions.
Perspectives & Behavior
A product leader‘s attitude speaks volumes. Their direct reports, partner teams, colleagues, and leaders are watching to see how they handle themselves and how they manage complex, challenging situations. They are taking cues from their product leader. Attitude is central since it affects and impacts a product leader‘s ability to lead within their team and the organization.
Fortitude and Perseverance
Product management is difficult, challenging, and hard. Some days, PMs reconsider if they were meant to do the work. There are days when a product leader will get blamed for everything going wrong, from timelines not being met to an unhappy customer leaving. Product leaders must persevere to make it through those arduous and grueling days. Their partner teams, direct reports, and leadership are watching and taking cues on how they will weather these daunting defining moments.
Effective and authentic leadership stems from self-actualization. Successful product leaders understand their strengths, weaknesses, and temperament and have critically assessed the impact of their actions and decisions through an unbiased personal SWOT analysis.
Successful product leaders often stress that their soft skills make a difference, enabling them to cultivate meaningful relationships with their cross-functional team, colleagues, and leadership. They underscore the fact that no PM can succeed in isolation; it's crucial to build alliances within the workplace.
These leaders highlight the significance of having individuals who are invested in their success and will coach and support them. They will help you accomplish your personal and professional ambitions. When the going gets tough, your allies will hold your hand and help you overcome the most difficult days and challenges.