“You’re right, Sophia,” I agreed with her. “You’ve got all the makings of a good product manager. But you’ve got much more than that, because the fire in your belly is that of a great product leader!”

She nodded slowly, as her face started to break into an enquiring smile.

I sensed she was waiting for me to expand on my response. But I deliberately held back from speaking, to let my words sink in and give her psyche time and space to decipher my message – which I knew she would.

We’d been having these mentoring conversations for a while, as part of my work helping the company’s product managers up their game.

Sophia was one of the cohort of product managers handpicked for leadership development. And we were exploring her self-awareness and personal potential relative to her career aspirations. It was a key aspect of helping her unleash her mojo, so she could excel and blossom into the great product leader I knew she could be.

Great product leaders share an attribute with great product managers, great engineers, great marketers, great developers, great saleswomen and great hunters of the sky, like the majestic eagle.

Know yourself, just like the eagle

Watching an eagle soar or swoop down is a magical experience, like tasting a wine that dances in the glass. The eagle always seems so at ease with itself. Perhaps because it doesn’t have to worry about a mortgage, utility bills or money for grocery shopping.

Or maybe it’s because it doesn’t have to contend with an inept boss, hostile stakeholders or a toxic organisational culture that will stifle its flight.

Or it could just be because it’s able to use its wings to soar above the clouds to the heights of Olympus and drink with the gods.

After all, if you habitually hang out with gods rather than mere mortals or plebs, that’s likely to put some swagger in your step; it must instil an unshakable sense of confidence in your psyche – a confidence without arrogance, that comes from feeling comfortable in your own skin, knowing the gods will continue to endow you with more wisdom for your perpetual growth and success.

That’s what the eagle shares with great product managers.

Few product managers are fortunate enough to drink with the gods at Olympus routinely. But those who do know that to taste the sweet nectar of success you’ve got to walk the walk by adopting a progressive disposition and effective leadership behaviours.

Many of us instinctively think that “leadership” is solely about managing others. Yet our ability to manage ourselves as individuals is just as impactful on our product team, our ultimate product outcomes, and the performance and success of our Product Management function.

Individuals and their harnessed capabilities are the lifeblood of any Product Management organisation. So product managers must embody exceptional standards of self-leadership – the ability to exercise effective leadership over one’s self. It starts with knowing yourself.

Be aware of who you are, what you stand for, how you think and act, and why you think and act the way you do. This self-insight will help propel you towards the best in you, your personal mojo.

This isn’t just about augmenting your contribution to your organisation’s achievements. It’s also about crafting a destiny of success for yourself and polishing your personal brand.

Evangelist, ambassador, maestro

Product managers with strong self-leadership tend to have a deep-seated sense of inner confidence. They’re in tune with their inner compass and believe in the magic of themselves; but also appreciate that we’re all magicians in our own ways, even though some of us are yet to embrace the power of our personal magic. They routinely leverage the magic of their self-leadership at work, to achieve outstanding levels of performance success and elevate their careers to stellar heights.

When we lack self-leadership, it creates suboptimal work outcomes.

Thus, we deny ourselves the opportunity of discovering and revealing our true capabilities. And we deny our organisation the opportunity of harnessing the best we can give. Unsurprisingly, our careers suffer.

People with poor self-leadership rarely ever achieve outstanding performance. And work success often seems like drinking at an oasis that is actually a mirage.

Whereas people at the top of their game, who’ve delivered extraordinary performance and felt their spirit soar to the heights of Olympus, know that the taste of success caresses the palate with a sensation of fulfilment – fulfilment that comes from leading yourself to a veritable oasis.

It’s only at the oasis that you can attest that self-leadership is essential to your work success.

After all, if you can’t manage yourself effectively, how can you possibly manage any product or product team successfully?

If you struggle to get this, you’ll also struggle to hit your stride.

Those who get it understand how their self-leadership aids their contribution to organisational success, and to the successful development of their own careers. They know that everything they think, say and do impacts their workplace performance, their personal brand and their product’s success. They are peerless product evangelists and ambassadors, maestros at the “management” in “product management”.

Whereas those who don’t see the light tend to hamper their own effectiveness and tarnish the Product Management brand through their suboptimal dispositions and regressive behaviours. They’ll always be prevented from drinking with the gods by their inadequate self-leadership.

If you are dedicated to strengthening your self-leadership and unleashing your best self, one day the roar of the fire in your belly and the tempo of the song in your heart will compel you to spread your wings and fly – on a flight path destined for the sweet nectar awaiting you at Olympus.

Practise unfurling your wings

But baby birds don’t learn to fly in an instant. It takes repeated and relentless practice. Just as strengthening your self-leadership will. Start with a few things, like these tips abridged from Career Dreams to Career Success:

  • That unrelenting determination to fly. Taking ownership of your workplace development and career growth – rather than leaving your destiny at the mercy of your organisation or your boss – and staying persistent in the face of challenges are fundamental.
  • This requires heightened personal effectiveness. Which in turn demands clarity of your goals. If your work goals are unclear, then your performance will also be uncertain. And if you have no career goals, that’s like being on a journey without a destination. Your goals are the North Star of your career journey. They give you focus on your aspirations, your dreams and the career destiny you desire.
  • Maintain a results orientation and hold yourself accountable. Make sure you’re delivering results that support the objectives of your Product Management function, the success of your wider organisation and your own growth and development – growing and learning from your performance attainments is the reason your goals should be a bit stretching.
  • Be crystal-clear on what you’re responsible for and who you’re answerable to, directly or indirectly. And channel your energies at fulfilling your work obligations to a personal standard that is above average. Average standards yield mediocre performance. Outstanding performance comes from unwavering focus, doing the right things for optimal outcomes, and staying aware of the impact of your actions on others and vice versa.
  • Challenge your perspectives by validating that you are going about your work obligations with effectiveness. This includes how you relate to yourself, your boss and your stakeholders. With your boss, you must consider how well you “manage your manager”, especially on the communication front. With your colleagues and stakeholders, you must be conscious of the powerful and often hidden influence of emotions in human interactions. And with yourself, you must never doubt the immeasurable capabilities within you.
  • Take action; with integrity. Intentional action is key to self-leadership. And it’s closely correlated to how we use our time. But “time management” is a myth. You cannot “manage” time; what you can manage is yourself – what you do with your time. So spend your time on activities that propel you towards your goals in impactful ways. And go about things assertively. (Remember, assertiveness does not mean aggressiveness!)

Architect of your destiny

Using your initiative and taking timely and deliberate actions to get what you want is an indispensable habit that will unfurl your wings and help you soar. It’s one of the hallmarks of self-leadership.

And as your self-leadership expands, so will your wisdom. And more and more, you’ll appreciate that you’re the architect of your destiny, so you must channel your attention and energy at doing stuff that truly matters – to your product outcomes, the success of your Product Management function and your own career success.

Like every one of us, you can always lead yourself to drink with the gods at Olympus, the same gods who ordain your personal success and that of your product – because you were born with that capacity in you.

Have faith in yourself. And don’t let anyone stop you; not even yourself. Your sweet nectar awaits you!

Adapted excerpt from Career Dreams to Career Success by Sigi Osagie © EPG Solutions Limited 2023

Published as “Self-Leadership for Your Product and Career Success” on MindtheProduct.com, 26 January 2023