Assuming the Role of the Champion

Justin Risedorf

Director of Product Management at sticky.io



I think that every PM should see themselves as a team captain. It’s not like you’re waiting for somebody else to come and to say to you that everybody believes in you to lead. It’s more presumptive than that. You have to find the desire within yourself to see the team at its most effective and its highest-performing, value-creating potential. You need to take it upon yourself to enable this.

What that looks like practically, I believe, begins with building a personal relationship with each person that you’re working alongside. I don’t actually know anybody on my team when we all first start out. I may know their titles and their job descriptions, but I will know little about their passions or their strengths. I don’t know any of this until that relationship is established personally. If we’re all going to be high-performing, it’s all going to start with that foundation of trust.

Actions taken

There is this concept in the military concerning high-performing units. The best-performing teams are not the ones made up of the highest-performing individuals, but rather the teams that are able to attain the highest trust dynamic. I think that’s what you’re really trying to cultivate. You want to be that Product Manager who has the vision to champion the success of the team, no matter what they’re doing.

Getting to know everybody personally and building that foundation of trust is so important. From that place of humility and vulnerability, you can then call everybody to excellence together. As you’re working out the individual contributions of each team member and as you start to come up with problems and work out solutions together, the Product Manager becomes the team captain that encourages, lifts up, and applauds each member.

Some people hold a lot of preconceptions concerning what the “correct” structure is for a team. A more impactful Product Manager takes a closer look at the experience of each of the people on their team working with them. When you come out of the other side of a high-risk, high-reward endeavor through the power of teamwork and relationship building, you should always be looking for ways to create a better outcome for the next sprint. What can be done differently in retrospect?

The experience of you and your people after the fact will be something to look back upon. If you find something to be proud of together, to be a part of that at any level is really awesome.

Lessons learned

  • From a philosophical standpoint, clarify what your idea of excellence is. You as the leader are the captain and the champion. How can you lift each member of the team to this idea of success?
  • Get to know each member of the team and gain a sense of where they’re at and where they shine. This will show you how best to apply their abilities to the challenges that your team faces as a whole.
  • Your team probably has many Individual Contributors who boast very different skill sets than your own. Even if you cannot do what they do, you can take a level of responsibility by remaining present and engaged, providing emotional support when necessary. You win and you lose as a team.

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Justin Risedorf

Director of Product Management at sticky.io

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationIndividual Contributor RolesTeam & Project Management

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