The simple way to lead, once more – A product leader in the making

“Gullu, you shall be talking!”

It all began when I was tasked with talking about a product that I had been driving as a product manager (popularly known as Gullu within the company). The product, at that point of time, had been going through tough times. Yet, I was supposed to be delivering a talk about it to the entire company.

Dumping myself into a chair, I zoomed into the history of my transactions with the various stakeholders I had had over the last multiple months. As I grappled with the question of what to talk about, it struck me that on one hand, I was supposed to be introducing and talking about the what and why of the software. On the other hand, since the product was already live, most other employees were already biased with opinions about it (some of them fiercely negative). None the less, I went ahead and delivered the talk.

A day post my talk, I proceeded to understand what various other employees thought about the same. An insight that came out as the hidden surprise within the patterns was about a simple introductory line that I had utilized –

“I, Nitish Gulati, the product manager of xxx, on behalf of our company xxx…..”.

A weekly talk had been a regular affair at the company. In effect, the neurons in employees’ brains had been wired to get and plant their derriere on the chairs, simply to accommodate the session and speaker respectively. Yet, despite the unwelcome thoughts, I was able to take it a step ahead with the above introduction line.

All I did was to play around the above bias, making all feel that it was actually me who was obliged to have them listening to my voice. In addition, it drove home my credibility of standing in front of them. The new links in their brains created signals that the individual standing and communicating meant serious business, and was not presenting simply because he was supposed to.

A side effect of the talk was that people who were vocal about the flaws of the product went on a restructuring of their thoughts. Instead of further criticism, they began talking to me about the same faults, putting it forth as a suggestion, rather than a complaint. Those 20 minutes reinforced the fact that the product, despite its flaws, was meant to be heard out. That the team deserved to be respected for all the hard word put in. That the product will come back strong, no matter what.

In the Masters of Scale podcast, Sheryl Sandberg crisply mentioned the example of how valuable it can be, when a meeting is begun with the what and why. “What are we doing” and “why are we doing it”. A simple approach of repetition work to influence the thought process of the team in the direction of the product, rather than authoritatively pushing them towards a predefined expectation.

As I take inspiration from the wonderful podcast series, I look forward to increasing the number of rating stars on my influential index as a leader, while still being the nuts and bolts guy who can relentlessly execute.