(Originally published on Medium here)
Whether you are a product manager or managing a group of them, there is often a career milestone when a PM can get stuck or feel like they’ve reached a career plateau.
Leadership coach Gordon Tredgold recently wrote a piece in Entrepreneur, The Real Difference Between Leadership and Management, and Why Most People Struggle to Make the Grade, on understanding how you can set yourself up for success in climbing the leadership ladder. He states this can be done by avoiding becoming a victim of the Peter Principle, understanding the general leadership stages and challenges/skills needed for them, and seeking out leadership development opportunities.
Avoiding the Peter Principle
For those unfamiliar with it, the Peter Principle states that we are promoted based on our past successes, but when we get promoted to the point beyond our capabilities and know-how (or to put it bluntly, “promoted to the point of incompetence”), we get stuck and are not really set up for success in reaching the next level. Why?
The article describes five stages of leadership and where there is a learning leap when new skillsets are required.
5 Stages of the Leadership Journey
Leadership Level 1 — informal leader who provides direction and some guidance
Leadership Level 2 — hands-on leader who produces direct results
Leadership Level 3 — expert leader who leads, coaches, and is the subject-matter expert
<<BIG LEADERSHIP JUMP WITH NEW SKILLSET REQUIRED>>
Leadership Level 4 — engaging and enabling leader who builds and leads teams and sets them up for success
<Another Leadership Jump>
Leadership Level 5 — aspirational leader who inspires others to follow you and your mission; creates the culture and environment and sets up the organization for sustainable success
Setting Yourself Up for Success in these Leadership Leaps
“Develop the people skills that you will need to engage, empower and motivate people.” (Gordon Tredgold)
Emotional intelligence (EI) and empathy are critical and heavily referenced at levels 4 and 5 (not to say they are unimportant at the other levels). But when you no longer have direct control over every aspect of the product or are no longer the subject matter expert, it is much more important to be an effective leader.
There are many ways to set yourself up for success to make that leap to levels 4 and 5, and it depends on your individual situation. For newer rising product leaders, Roman Pichler recently wrote an article, Tips for Moving into a Head of Product Role that provides actionable takeaways.
There are a host of leadership books, and many PM community members publish their short lists. For example, Jens-Fabian Goetzmann compiled a list of books for PMs trying to hone their product management skills, and Robert Drury recommended six books here for more experienced product leaders who are involved with people management. You can also ask your network for books they recommend. That is usually a great way to help filter through all the choices.
There are conferences, local product management meetups, and online product events where you have a chance to learn about various topics while meeting PM peers.**
For more experienced product leaders, executive-level programs like Product Management Executive Programme from INSEAD can help accelerate making that career leap.
Additional options are seeking out a mentor or leadership coach or investing in internal company trainings depending on the type of training or guidance needed. In general, you can discuss what approach(es) could be best for your situation with your manager or HR lead.
Survey Shows: PMs Want the Learning Opportunities
Product leaders managing groups of PMs need to not only invest in themselves, but also invest in their teams to help enable others to make that leadership jump. And as seen below from our Trends and Benchmarks report, PMs themselves are greatly desiring more growth and learning opportunities.
From Being a Hero to Creating Teams of Heros
“There is a solution, and that is you need to understand what your new role is. It’s no longer about being the hero. It’s about creating more heroes, teams of heroes. It’s about sharing control and allowing others to thrive. If you can do that, you can transition from the role of expert leader to become an engaging, inspiring leader and continue the climb up the leadership ladder.” (Gordon Tredgold)
We at PMF have had the privilege of watching many of the PMs in our community advance through their careers. Inevitably, the leadership topic comes up often; even moreso now with all the COVID-related impact on everything. Hopefully this post can help spark some ideas in your next PM leadership development move.
**If you need ideas, Product Management Festival hosts annual conferences, local PM Night meetups, and online PMF Connect webinars. Feel free to check out productmanagementfestival.com or reach out to us at [email protected] if you want to learn more about any of them.