Personal pivot. WTF is leadership?

12 Jan 2018

It’s a wonderful time

Simon Wardley published a thread of Tweets yesterday, with my take on it being that ‘business strategy is in its infancy, with organisations often relying on meme copying and gut feel; there’s an entire field yet to be discovered, to be understood - its a wonderful time.

The last year or so has seen me starting to figure out what leadership (specifically product leadership) means to me, and my assumption is that business strategy is an important part of this. So Simon’s thread of tweets helped to collect my thoughts and, aided by a couple of strong coffees, I’m pulling together some early assumptions that I intend to explore over the next few years.

Pivot: product management –> product leadership

I’ve been working as a Head of Product for since 2016 and it’s taken me a while to get my head around the role.

I spent my career trying to do what’s most valuable, rather than what I was told to do, seeking out spaces where I can focus on outcomes over outputs. The role of Product Manager has given me the most opportunity to do this, so I’ve spent around a decade trying to hone my craft as a Product Manager in order to work with teams to maximise the value of projects, products, and services (you can see evidence of some of this in my blog). Over time, my role as a product manager started to bleed out into broader organisation and system improvement, which brings us to today. I need to improve my understanding of what the value of a Head of Product is - for myself, for my profession, and for my organisation.

I’m choosing to pivot, tweaking my professional development (and this blog) so that it no longer focuses just on product management but also focuses on product leadership and helps me to figure out what product leadership means. I think that, in the process, business strategy will become a key theme. In a recent post, I argued that the label of ‘product manager’ is rubbish at describing what we do and that we actually manage value: we maximise the value of projects, products and services by prioritising the most valuable problems to solve. Extending that logic, any space in which prioritisation takes place could benefit from product management. Based on this, I have an assumption that product management might help to improve business strategy.

WTF is leadership?

I assume that leadership is an activity carried out by everyone in an organisation. I’m starting to consider the following catgories (but expect to refine this and uncover more):

As I said, I have an assumption that product management as a profession can play a role in leading business strategy within an organisation. And in the above paragraph, it already seems that leadership means different things in different contexts. Simon Wardley suggests that a lack of context is a weakness of existing thinking on business strategy. Therefore, I’m setting myself the goal of acknowledging context when thinking about product leadership and business strategy so my next post will be a space to think about the contexts in which I want to think about leadership and business strategy.

Business strategy and product leadership

My leap of faith for the pivot from product management to product leadership is that we as a profession can be valuable in contributing to the development of business strategy. My thinking is extremely sketchy at this point in time, so excuse the rambling nature of this post. The next post should help to set some context and increase definition.