Emotional intelligence in product leadership roles
Emotional intelligence is a critical skill in both product management and leadership positions. Many studies have shown that people and teams with higher levels of emotional intelligence perform better. For example, Kate mentions that, on average, an individual with a higher level of emotional intelligence earns approximately $30,000 a year more than those with lower levels of emotional intelligence. “It’s well documented that teams with higher self-awareness better deal with conflict, make better decisions, and are higher performing,” she says.
What happens if emotional intelligence is missing amongst product leaders and teams? One of the first issues that arise is a lack of trust and communication across the team. It’s important for teams to feel empowered to make the right decisions and communicate them well. Having a product leader with high emotional intelligence ensures great communication, and, consequently, builds trust. Kate adds the importance of self-awareness in leadership roles: “One of the main competencies in emotional intelligence is self-awareness,” Kate says. It’s important to understand yourself, understand how others see you, and understand how you fit into the world around you. Kate has previously shared her thoughts on emotional intelligence with Mind the Product in the past. Here are a few of them to learn more about this skill:
- The Secret Sauce to Hiring Great Product People by Kate Leto
- Emotional Intelligence: The Missing Skill in your Product Stack
“Emotional intelligence impacts everything we do as a product people—we have to work with so many different types of personalities in different business areas,” she says. “Having self-awareness is the meta-skill of product management.”
Kate spends her professional life coaching product leaders and offers valuable guidance on building self-awareness. She prescribes a three-step approach:
- Know thyself: Kate encourages daily reflections and suggests asking “what” rather than “why” questions, as the latter tends to be less effective in self-discovery.
- Accept thyself: Seeking input from trusted peers to identify strengths and weaknesses is crucial. Embracing both positive and negative feedback is essential for personal growth.
- Improve thyself: Turning insights into actionable steps is the final part of the process. Ask questions like, “What small action can I take to try something different?” and “What have I learned from this experiment?”
This simple guide, when practised regularly, should serve as a solid foundation for building emotional intelligence in leadership positions.
The biggest challenge for product leaders
Product leaders face diverse challenges throughout their careers. One common challenge has been dealing with the fast rise of artificial intelligence (AI), with pressures from executives above looking to integrate these tools into their products. Kate highlights that AI significantly impacts products, both positively and negatively. “Consequently, recent AI developments have led to an increased focus on ethics, values, beliefs, and privacy among leaders,” she explains. This stresses the importance of aligning personal beliefs and values with AI-related decisions, underlining the necessity for self-reflection.
In leadership, Kate emphasizes the importance of focusing on the beliefs and values of the product team and businesses when dealing with the rise of AI. This approach can help leaders to make decisions about AI that align with the principles of the business.
How to deal with adversity as a product leader
Dealing with challenging moments is an ingrained part of leadership. Kate emphasises the importance of creating space for reflection and asking, “What do you want your role to be in the face of change?” While working with teams can be rewarding, it’s a challenge that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Kate urges leaders to invest in self-awareness, self-reflection, and seek guidance from coaches, partners, or friends to navigate through change successfully.
“Working with teams is a challenging thing. If it weren’t, I probably wouldn’t have a job. It can be completely rewarding, but it’s not something to take lightly.” Kate says. To be a good leader of a team, you have to be in touch with yourself because that brings a whole new presence to your team and your potential to grow in an organisation.
“I really encourage people to build self-awareness, do some self-reflection, talk to somebody – be it a coach, a partner, a friend – and make some space for yourself to do that work.”
Doing this can help you grow as a team leader and help your team through some crazy changes that everybody’s still going through. Read some tips on how to build self-awareness by reading Kate Leto’s slides.
Another not-so-much talked about topic in the product sphere is looking after yourself as a product leader. Kate stresses the importance of creating boundaries and taking time to reflect. “It’s important to feel comfortable and competent in creating boundaries. A lot of product leaders that I talk to feel as though they don’t have the right to say no.” Kate says. If you have difficulty setting boundaries, you need to explore into that issue, and identify what is holding you back from saying no to certain things so you can give yourself time to reflect and refresh, she adds.
Taking care of yourself requires you to identify your expectations of yourself and others. It also requires you to clarify and make expectations more real for everyone if they remain important expectations. Going through that process eliminates a lot of noise that exhausts us.
As product leaders strive to thrive in a world of continuous change and challenges, Kate urges those who undertake these roles to make space for personal growth, speak to others when in doubt, and ensure that leaders set boundaries to reflect the ever-growing complexities of the product landscape.
This interview is part of a wider conversation that we had with Kate Leto for our brand new case study series, Leading product teams through change. We explore the stories of five product leaders who have effectively navigated change in their current and past positions. Each case study unveils crucial lessons and shares the principles you need to embrace in order to tackle challenges in your role as a product leader. Download now.