Hint: I'm trying to make it not so secret.
As product managers, we’re constantly communicating. Furthermore, we’re communicating to drive action. Whether that action is getting your team on board with a new vision, getting stakeholder buy-in for a shift in product strategy, or finally getting around to writing that Medium post that’s been in your head, it takes a lot of brainpower. When your job is to “influence without authority” it can be emotionally and intellectually exhausting thinking about what you’re going to say, and how to say it, especially when there is a lot on the line professionally and personally.
I decided to write this post after doing a lot of self-reflection on the type of communicator that I want to be as a product manager. I’m getting clear on how to tell my stories to influence my audience. This post comes in the form of a journal entry to myself to serve as a reminder of what my core values are; something that I can revisit when I feel the need for grounding, or whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. I hope this inspires you to do the same (especially if you’re a BIPOC queer woman in tech).
I know for a fact that there are other product managers out there who share the same sentiment and motivations that I do, so I wanted to share some of my thoughts with the product community.
There are a few foundational themes in the “do” and “don’t” categories that I want to reflect on that I feel passionate about, not just within the scope of product management, but also in terms of how I’d like to live my life. I feel brave and excited to share these thoughts with you. I hope some of these themes resonate and you can weave them into your work! (Spoiler alert: these themes all tie into one another.)
Perfectionism (don’t think perfection is attainable)
This is one of the biggest hurdles to navigating through our professional and personal spheres. It can literally lead to a “freeze” response, suppressing feelings of creativity, innovation, and self-assurance. Centering perfectionism in our daily work prevents us from putting ourselves out there to speak on our gut or weigh in with an unpopular opinion. It stops us from pushing the “send” button for fear of being wrong, looking uncollaborative, or whatever story we're are telling ourselves. Don’t let perfectionism hold you back from getting feedback and input to strengthen your story. Saying something is better than saying nothing at all. Just do it.
Vulnerability (do be vulnerable)
The definition of vulnerability that Brené Brown gives is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." She adds, "vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage…” Being a product manager requires vulnerability. We are constantly putting our thoughts, stories, visions, “out there” and are constantly faced with the uncertainty of how people will react and receive our message. But we have to have faith in the fact that vulnerability = bravery. And acts of bravery strengthen trust and relationships, and will help us grow beyond our greatest imaginations. We need more vulnerable product managers out there, and it is a true measure of leadership to make decisions even in uncertain climates.
- Brené Brown
Authenticity (do show your whole self)
For over a year now, I’ve been grappling with the question “what is authenticity?” Based on a few google searches, you’ll find something along the lines of:
Being compassionate with yourself and with others
Looking inward, and being comfortable to show who you really are
To me, in its simplest form, authenticity is not wearing a “mask” or “armor." It’s being brave enough to show your work self as your home self. You’re probably thinking “what if they don’t like home me?” or “I don’t sound smart.” Practicing authenticity is risky, it’s exposing, and it’s vulnerable. But this will truly invite others into who you are and the story you are telling, and will make your story and influence much more compelling. One principle that I’m especially passionate about is skipping the business jargon and ditching acronyms. Using them creates an unnecessary mental load for your audience and makes it more difficult for them to be receptive to what you're trying to say.
I truly believe that these themes are foundational to working and living wholeheartedly. Spending precious brainpower trying to attain external validation or praise can slowly and silently get in the way of the creativity and risk-taking that product managers dream of. The most important thing I want to leave behind is that if we’re able to ditch perfectionism, be vulnerable and authentic, the dividends of praise and career growth will organically follow. Just remember that it’s the long game, so the more you can practice, the easier and more natural these guideposts will feel in your day-to-day work as a PM.
Thanks for reading, and stay saucy.