Ronke Majekodunmi, Director of Product at Promevo, gave this talk at the Chief Product Officer Summit.

I've worked in FinTech for most of my career. I've helped to build B2B, B2C, and B2D platforms. Right now, I’m working at Promevo, where I get to help large, medium, and small enterprise merchants manage and grow their businesses. 

The true value of a product leader is building people

I think every product leader should have the PM superpower, the thing that helps you get through the really hard days. For me, it's watching Mary Tyler Moore, eating my feelings in chocolate, and drinking wine. That's how I get through the really bad days. 

Then I get up the next morning and I remind myself that this is what my PM superpower is; I'm always going to find a way. I'm going to find insight to be on the side of others, and a way to get my product out of the door. 

John Quincy Adams says:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” 

I love that quote. That’s my job. Our job is to help our organizations grow, to help them become more. If it means somebody leaves my team for another team, fine. So be it. But at least I'm helping them grow. 

I need them to know that I’m there for them. Not just for their professional ambitions, but for their personal ambitions as well. It's that simple. I see my job there. That's why I don't worry about promotions as much. I'm the rare PM. 

Most of my colleagues are like, “Something's wrong with you.” 

My promotions will come. But at the end of my day, when I go home at night, I want to know that I helped my team today, and I helped them grow.

The true value of my job as a product leader is that I want to build people. If I build people, not just my colleagues, but if I build my direct reports, if I build my engineering team, if I build my leadership around me, guess what? I'm going to build the best product because they're motivated, they want to build the best product, and they’re galvanized. 

So, how do I do that? 

Well, I believe that the core of leadership is people. Building a coalition and a framework for engaging individuals. And it's easy to accomplish your objective when you have a group of empowered people. 

Debates are going to happen. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “I'm going to destroy my organization today.” Nobody does that. We just have differences. I personally believe that those differences polish each one of us. 

It’s our job to get into the room to figure out where you're coming from and meet halfway. But I firmly believe whenever I have a cross-functional leader or a partner who disagrees with me, I’m ready to go and have coffee with them to understand what it is that I'm not getting and meet them halfway. I take it from the approach that our disagreements or debates are just debates, but they make us better, they polish us. 

The main takeaways from my talk today are 

Embracing diversity and inclusion in product management

Everybody agrees that the world continues to change. There are over 8 billion people in the world, and they’re more diverse than ever. They're not going to tell us what they need. We’re going to meet them where they are. 

So, how do we meet them where they are? 

We need people in our organization who look like them. We need people with diverse genders, diverse thoughts, diverse backgrounds, and diverse circumstances. We need people who look like our customers. 

I personally believe that as product leaders, we can help chart the way. 

The great thing about product management is that no one comes from one particular place. We’re all just so diverse, and we need that on our teams. 

It doesn't matter if it's a B2B, B2C, or B2D, we need people in our organizations who look like our customers.

I'm going to give you one example. 

We did a customer interview, and my researcher was so great because she got diverse people for this interview. 

We get into this interview with a woman of color, and we always ask, “How was your day? What do you love about your job? What do you not like about your job?” 

Are you ready for what she said? What she didn't like about her job? She said, “I don't like my coworker.” Think about that. Most people would have bypassed it because it's so uncomfortable. They don't want to deal with that. 

Guess what? My researcher doubled down. She said, “Tell me why.” 

We discovered that she has to pull a report every single morning for her coworker because her coworker doesn't have access to that report, and because of our system, she has to wait until the report is done, so she can't do her job. 

So, she actually provided us with some new requirements. But imagine if we hadn’t got her. Imagine if we’d just ignored her because she said, “I don't like my coworker.” Diversity matters.

That's just an example. The other is embracing neurodiversity. We all have people in our organizations and on our teams who are very quiet and don’t speak much. Guess what? That's the person I'm going to go and sit next to because they're just as brilliant and I want their ideas on the table. 

I once had a software engineer who was a recent college grad. She was 21/22, she was shy, she was afraid, she’d never bring anything up or say anything. 

What I started to do was sit next to her. And while the rest of the engineering team, which were all men, were all going on and on about a particular topic, I’d say to her, “What do you think?” 

She'd say to me, “Well, I think this, this, and this.” 

So I raised my hand and said, “Guys, timeout. College grad thinks we should do this, this, and this.” And guess what? A year later, that same woman now speaks and presents. 

Embrace neurodiversity. 

Finally, I want to mention inverse mentoring. I love inverse mentoring. It means that I get to be partnered with somebody from another demographic so that I can learn about their life. It's not me parting my wisdom on them, they’re telling me how they’re adjusting to our organization, which means that I can help make life even better and they feel like they belong. 

I always say that diversity is a fact. It's going to happen. But inclusion doesn't act. Belonging is the outcome of those things. Therefore, inverse mentoring is a big deal. If I care about you, and when you think about our culture and organization, I can help you grow, and then you'll feel like you belong in our organization. 

Transforming, persuading, and motivating through storytelling

I believe that my experiences should drive the conversation with a customer or a leader. I also don't show up without a prototype, and the reason is if I have a prototype in front of you as a customer and I'm doing an interview, I've already changed you. I've transformed you from the world you have to the world that you could have. 

The next thing is to align. You're going to tell me why this experience isn’t going to work for you or why you would never click on this button. And I get to understand more about your end-to-end journey. 

And then guess what? You're motivated because you're not going to leave to go to my competitor now; you see what I'm trying to do. Even if that north star isn’t going to be everything, you're still going to work with me to build. And that's just on the customer side.

Internally, within my own organization, I use experience to drive the conversation, not just with my cross-functional partners, but with my own leaders as well. I know that if I show them what the current world is and what it could be for the customer, how that customer is going to become the hero in their organization by using our product, I’ve transformed them as well. 

Then I align with them because I explain to them that, “This is the Northstar, but this is what I see as the MVP.”

And they’re probably going to help me by adding more resources. 

And then finally, motivation. I can galvanize not just my leadership, but my entire organization to rally around this prototype, this product feature, and how this customer is going to be the hero in their organization by using our product. 

That’s how storytelling works.