In our rapidly changing product world, we are constantly trying out the new and unfamiliar as we look to bring delight to our customers. Always exploring the unknown is exciting and scary, especially when considering up to 82% of people suffer from some form of impostor syndrome (Bloomberg). As a result, being understanding and sympathetic are especially important qualities for product leaders.
As a product leader, you have the opportunity to coach and encourage your team (and yourself) to tackle unknowns, as imposter syndrome and fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) can be the “grit” that powers great product people – people who set their sights on a goal and then work diligently and intelligently to attain it despite the fear of failure.
It also takes “grit” to be a different type of leader, to be one of “high character” who puts their people first – even above revenue and return. What’s ironic, according to the Harvard Business Review, organizations with leaders of high character — individuals employees rated highly on integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, compassion — had nearly five times the return on investment of those who were defined at the opposite end of the spectrum with low character. And being compassionate does not mean being a pushover. Author Simon Sinek describes that when leaders focus less on being “in charge” and more on taking care of those who are “in their charge”, that’s a sure sign of a compassionate leader.
Why don’t more companies encourage positive leadership character?
Often there is a belief that character is only reflected in ethics or is innate and cannot be changed. Others perceive positive character as “soft” and lacking qualities which motivate superior performance. This thinking results in missing the micro-moments, small actions which have a big impact. And, guess what, as humans, we like to know when we have done something well.
On a Culture Brand podcast hosted by Aga Bajer, Jessica Zwaan recommended thinking about your employees as “subscribers”. People “buy” into your product (company, you as a leader) when they join. Then, every day, they continue to subscribe – until the day they hand in their resignation or become demotivated (what has been termed “quiet quitting”). Through positive leadership character and acknowledging all types of wins, you help to encourage your employees to continue “subscribing”. At a company which only focuses on revenue, not people? Remember, it’s cheaper and more effective to retain existing employees than it is to attract and train new ones.
Positive leadership character also helps to unstick or nudge a product team by creating forward motion. On Twitter, Matt Schnuck shares, “Whether you’re taking on a new work project or trying to build a new healthy habit, it can be easy to get stuck in the planning and process phase. Always remember that movement creates momentum. Start taking action and let the early small wins compound.”
Thinking only a leader high up in the organization can institute change and increase the perceived value of positive leadership?
I believe otherwise. Wherever you are in the organization, you can have an impact. The individuals you lead will notice as your character weaves through all actions you take. Applying the influencer model, your team will become champions and bring positive character to other parts of the business. Your adoption of a positive character with your team can have a ripple effect as their interactions will encourage others to be positive too. Your behavior can be the start of keystone habits, which when started, over time, transforms everything.
Wondering about a way to kick off positive momentum within your product team?
I recommend creating a “win wall”. It’s a wonderful way to remember and celebrate your successes as a product team and as individuals too. A win wall is an interactive exercise where the entire product team shares breakthroughs, successes and positive moments.
A win wall is a place where we celebrate and share our wins with each other: big or little, personal or professional. I use FigJam. Miro and Mural, even a Google doc, works well. With your team, it is very likely that you’ve had opportunities where things went well. Invite your team to share and celebrate. Highlights the win moments together.
- Navigate to a sticky note
- Write your win from this week (as clearly or vaguely as you’d like)
- Keep going, share more wins (personal, professional, etc.)
- Location is key: Add a link to your win wall in a place where your team visits a lot, ideally multiple times during the day. For example on the starting page of your documentation hub or on a frequented place in your intranet.
- Anonymity is perfect: Each person has a certain level of comfort when it comes to sharing emotions in the workplace. The point of the win wall is to celebrate, and if someone wants to do so anonymously, that’s 1000% fine.
- Life wins, and work wins: Successful win walls are a mix of professional and personal wins.
- The glass is half full: By creating a win wall and sharing positive moments, you are building a healthier work environment.
When you, as a leader, shine a light on wins, you are providing a pathway for your team to do the same. When a leader stops to recognize the good things happening in their team, they deliver inspiration and encouragement – and can change the entire outlook of their team.
Remember how you lead, specifically your leadership character – how you think, act, behave – can set your team apart. By conveying positive character, during the good times and the bad, you encourage your team to bring their best every day, even in challenging and uncertain situations. Establishing an environment of positive character can be your team’s competitive edge.
Find out more about Diana
- Say hi on Linkedin
- Watch her talk at #mtpcon San Francisco
- Find out more about her coaching and learning opportunities