Leadership Without Authority By Aeneas McDonnell "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs June 06 2020 True good product leadership, ProductTank, ProductTank London, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 395 ProductTank London Product Management 1.58

Leadership Without Authority By Aeneas McDonnell


In this ProductTank London talk, Aeneas McDonnell, Director of Product at The Times and Sunday Times shares with us some guidelines on how we as product people can be leaders without having clear authority. His key points include:

  • Anyone can be a leader
  • Positioning to lead
  • Skills
  • Leading through levels

Watch the video to see Aeneas’s talk in full. Or read on for an overview of his key points.

Anyone can be a Leader

In this world, it’s indicated that you generally need to be in a position of authority in order to lead. However, Aeneas argues that anyone can be a leader. Leadership, he says, is a choice you make rather than a place where you sit. You simply need to give people a reason to believe in your vision and the work you are doing. Also, despite people in positions of authority being the ones that lead, authority doesn’t always lead to good outcomes. Product people can often find themselves in situations where there is chaos. To lead from such positions, it requires putting structures in place to be able to influence.

Positioning to Lead

Aeneas describes himself as a reluctant leader. Many persons in a team may find themselves in this exact situation. Instead of being driven to lead, he is instead driven to make sure that good decisions are being made. When positioning to lead, you need to have an intuition about the context of the problem you are trying to solve and be able to adapt.


Leadership is an art rather than a science, but you still need skills to be able to lead properly. Aeneas recommends focusing on the problem rather than the solution. Understand the problem in its entirety and then work on finding the best solution rather than trying too many solutions too quickly. Leaders need to have a perspective of the different members of their team and also be aware of different parts of the organization.

Leading Through Levels

Product people need to be aware of their circles of influence and their stakeholders so that they can lead across the organization. The key takeaways from this talk are that influence and not authority is the key to success as a leader. You need to find the right people to help you as a product person and you need to embrace the journey.