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Thinking Both Short-Term and Long-Term as a Manager

Personal Growth
Leadership

27 May, 2021

Justin Risedorf
Justin Risedorf

Director of Product Management at sticky.io

Justin Risedorf, Senior Product Manager at nCino, juggles the practical needs of the present with a broader view of the goals of the organization, beyond his own current tasks and objectives.

Problem

As a Product Manager, you have to wear two hats. You have to wear the manager hat, but you also have to wear the leadership hat. They’re very different functions. It’s kind of like the difference between writing and editing. It’s hard to not edit yourself as you write. If you do, you don’t make a lot of progress. Conversely, if you only write and never edit, you’re not likely to come up with anything that’s super readable.

Management is all about choosing a direction and determining what needs to be optimized in order to get there faster. Leadership, on the other hand, rises above, and asks higher level questions. What is really the best direction to go in the long run? Where should we be headed, and why? You’ve got to be able to move between both of those. That’s the vision-strategy element. There has to be conviction behind the why.

Coming back down to earth as a manager means getting into the playing field with your team, leading them through the thousands of details. What is the call here, or here, or here? This is only effective, however, when the guidance is tied back to that larger vision.

Actions taken

In the best companies, the Product Managers and Product teams are empowered to not just execute on a practical level, but also to think critically about what will be needed in the future. The challenge facing any new Product Manager is becoming educated in how best to go about this.

The typical educational paradigm: here are the facts, the information that we have on the situation. Here are the rules for how you solve these types of problems. Now, apply them. Show us that you’ve memorized them.

The leadership function and that type of thinking must be much more critical. It takes the ability to form your own judgements. You have to master those essential soft skills: how to act, how to interact, with customers or stakeholders alike. Applying these soft skills will help you to test your ideas, getting feedback on the story playing out before you in order to figure out which direction is the best for you to take. Where can the value really be found?

A lot of times, the Product Manager will find themselves suggesting things that are not top of mind. Charting a course that may not come to fruition until eighteen months down the line may not appear to solve any problem in the present. Our job is to try to address a pain point being felt currently, while also delivering on value later on down the road.

Lessons learned

  • Being able to come up to that leadership level and to think about those things means asking critical questions. Engaging with your business and customers is a process of both testing and refining those ideas. You need to create buy-in around them. This forms the basis of Product judgement, enabling you to continue thinking on this level after stepping back into your shoes as a manager.
  • In a lot of companies, your pathway to advancement will depend upon a proven ability to think from a leadership perspective beyond the immediate needs of your domain. Look beyond the roadmap of your current sprint. Rise up to see those higher-level implications by looking across.
  • Sometimes, you’ll need to solve a problem that affects another part of your company. Try to devise ways of approaching these intersections holistically. How does what I’m doing play within our offerings as an organization? What role do we play in the value being delivered to our customers? Find that overlap and those trends concerning what you’re responsible for.
  • Before you can lead effectively in an outward sense, you have to develop those leadership characteristics personally. There is some personal leadership and management that needs to happen first. Recognize the levels that you’re responsible for functioning in and for the value that you’re expected to provide. The management side of you will show you how to fulfill these demands practically and realistically.
  • Habitually plan your weeks. A practice every Sunday before the week ahead will show you where your calendar is in alignment for the goals that you’ve set. Prioritizing and the responsible allocation of time is key.

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