Leadership Taboos

Are You Guilty of These Career-Killing Moves?

The old adage ‘lead by example’ could not be truer than in cementing your position as a leader within a product-led organisation. Product management requires not only the wearing of so many hats but also a high level of understanding, stakeholder and crisis management. Do you really want to take on such a challenge? If so then there are some sure-fire ways to mess up – I’ve outlined a few below.

  1. Micromanagement Madness: It’s easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging, especially when you’re passionate about a project or under pressure to deliver results. However, micromanagement stifles creativity, demotivates team members, and ultimately undermines trust. Instead, focus on setting clear expectations, providing support, and empowering your team to make decisions.
  2. Avoidance of Feedback: When people told me ‘Feedback is a gift’ I would usually retch, yet many leaders shy away from giving or receiving it. Avoiding feedback can lead to stagnation and missed opportunities for growth. Embrace feedback as a tool for continuous improvement, both for yourself and your team. Create a culture where feedback is encouraged, constructive, and delivered with empathy. How on earth can you progress as an individual or a team without being able to communicate properly? Feedback is just one area which helps!
  3. Blame Game: When things go wrong, it can be tempting to point fingers and assign blame. However, playing the blame game erodes trust and accountability within your team. Instead of focusing on who’s at fault, focus on problem-solving and learning from mistakes as a team. Foster a culture of transparency and ownership, where everyone feels safe to admit their failures and work together towards solutions. You’ll get better at this as time progresses – it is a facet of what I refer to as relentless optimism. If things keep fucking up then just keep moving forward – use a positive mindset to embrace the solution, the challenge or whatever it is you need to move beyond. Blaming is childlike – avoid!
  4. Lack of Vision: As a product leader, you’re responsible for setting the vision and direction for your team. Without a clear vision, your team may flounder, unsure of their purpose or how their work contributes to the bigger picture. Take the time to articulate a compelling vision that inspires and motivates your team. Communicate this vision regularly and ensure alignment across all levels of the organisation. I see many product managers unable to move to more strategic or senior leadership roles as they have become so used to delivery machines that their enthusiasm has waned. You don’t have to be a visionary but at least try to grasp some tenets of what the future could look like – you never know, you might even become inspired! Remember, if you’ve been in the game a long time it is easy to become jaded but think about the effect your leadership will have on the team.
  5. Tunnel Vision: While focus is important, tunnel vision can blind you to new ideas, perspectives, and opportunities. As a leader, it’s crucial to remain open-minded and adaptable in the face of change. Encourage diversity of thought and seek out feedback from diverse stakeholders. Embrace experimentation and iteration, knowing that failure is often a stepping stone to success. Some of the best leaders are able to seamlessly pivot between hands on and high level strategy.
  6. Lack of Empathy: Empathy is the cornerstone of effective leadership. Without it, you risk alienating your team and creating a toxic work environment. Take the time to understand the perspectives and experiences of your team members. Show empathy by actively listening, providing support, and acknowledging the unique challenges they face. 1-2-1’s should be about listening, not necessarily rattling on and on about today’s work. Since COVID it is more important than ever to really be an empathetic and KIND leader – at least in my book that is what I’d prioritise. Toxic hierarchal leaders should be shown the door! I have always found that being kind and understanding trumps relentless goal pursuits in the long term but you’ll have to find what works for you.
  7. Failure to Delegate: Delegation is a key skill for any leader, yet many struggle to let go of control. Failing to delegate not only leads to burnout but also limits the growth and development of your team. Trust your team members to take ownership of their work and empower them to make decisions. Provide guidance and support as needed, but resist the urge to micromanage every detail. Delegation is an artform but it is supported and facilitated by many of the tenets here. If your team understand you, if they respect your leadership then you’ll be able to delegate seamlessly. Your team will be proactive, they too will delegate tasks and you’ll hopefully function like a well oiled machine.

Leadership is more often than not honing your previous pitfalls and mistakes, learning from them and course correcting yourself before imparting all of that to your team. By being mindful of these leadership taboos and working constantly on your self development you’ll undoubtedly become a better leader. An important lesson here is to remain curious, be humble, inspired and kind. And have fun!