In this interactive and highly personal talk from #mtpengage Hamburg, product leader Dominique Jost looks at ways in which product leaders can take care of their mental health.
His key points include:
- Product people need to be able to protect who they are in a way that lets them create value for the business.
- Stress signals come in three different types, external triggers or stressors that you can’t control, personal stress amplifiers, and your mental and physical reactions.
- We can take product management frameworks and methods and apply them successfully to improve stress management.
Dominique starts by explaining how he poured everything into his work, but his work didn’t always love him back, and how this led him to develop what he calls a “bulletproof soul”. Product people don’t just need tactical skills, but they also need to be able to protect who they are in a way that lets them create value for the business, he says.
Dominique says product people are high achievers who always feel there’s more to be achieved and are therefore prone to burn out. How do you counteract this? “You need to have some way of resting… to be able to keep climbing and satisfy that inner drive. If you cannot take care of yourself then you can’t take care of others,” he says.
Research among product leaders
Prior to his keynote Dominique talked to 50 product leaders and 10 Slack communities and asked them:
How do you know when your stress levels are critical?
How do you know when you’re going from a green state, through to orange and red?
How do you manage stress and take care of yourself?
How do you put yourself into a green state?
We know we should look after ourselves, take breaks when we need them and have a solid support network, but product leaders still burn out. With this in mind, Dominique then asks the Hamburg audience to:-
- Rate their stress management skills
- Think about what it would take to improve them
- Think of 5 people they trust
Stress triggers and signals
Dominique then runs through basic theories of stress management, splitting stress signals into three different types, external triggers or stressors that you can’t control, personal stress amplifiers, and your mental and physical reactions.
You need to apply different kinds of tactics to the three different triggers, he says. We need to eliminate the external stressors, reflect on the personal amplifiers and find a way to relax and recharge when we react to stress. “I spent a lot of time in therapy and reading books before I understood this,”he says.
Next, Dominique looks at creating a “bulletproof soul playbook”. He outlines his own career story and is candid about the problems he’s faced throughout his career. He remembers that, after having led a reorganisation of product at his company, he told his boss he was having an identity crisis, “my self-worth was tied to who I am as a professional, to the company and my identity as a product person, I was lost”. Eventually it became too much and he went on a period of sick leave and went into therapy.
Dominique eventually returned to work, but no longer as CPO. “That hurt me because I had to admit that what is being demanded of the role and what I am willing to give just didn’t match up,” he says. In the end he decided the best thing would be to quit.
Most common stressors for product leaders
Dominique then returns to his product leader interviews. Workload, dealing with emotional topics, and having no purpose are the main stressors. To prevent or eliminate their exposure to these stressors, product leaders most commonly turn to their support networks, they prioritise high-leverage work, have self check-ins, and manage their energy so that it matches the work they’re trying to do.
The most common personal amplifiers, he found, were self doubt, a high work ethic and a drive to prove themselves. To deal with these, Dominique found that product leaders think about what they want, have self check-ins, and try to change their perspective of work.
Common reactions to pressure are being short with people, aches and pains, lack of clarity of thought and the quality and quantity of their work goes down. These issues are most commonly treated through exercise, meditation, taking breaks and nurturing activities.
Frameworks to manage stress
Dominique then asks why, when we know about this stuff, does it keep happening? He says there are frameworks and methods we use in product that can be applied to stress to manage it better. “We have all the tools we need to solve these problems ourselves, we just need to do it,” he says.
He recommends several books that might be helpful, including Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath
, Nir Eyal’s Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
, Atomic Habits by James Clear
and Deep Work by Cal Newport
Finally Dominique asks the audience to design a pragmatic check-in routine - a routine that would make the changes they need to make stick. He also asks them create a recurring weekly task on their calendars called BPS (bulletproof soul) check-in, and to create a monthly task to share it with one of the five people they said they would trust.
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