The essence of leadership is creating a space that enables your cross-functional partners to dream big, imagine, and bring what was once unthinkable to life. They bring solutions to your customers' never communicated needs, significantly impacting humanity. With a culture of innovation, this can easily happen.
What makes a great product? It solves a problem and/or enhances an existing feature.
That product is made great by the utility and delight that it brings to its customers. If it's an online product, it needs to be scalable, secure, and fast so that customers can complete their tasks quickly. Likewise, it has to be delightful so that it’s able to tap into the emotions of its customers so that when they feel good or excited about the product, they share their experience with their friends/colleagues.
Any great product starts with an innovative product leader with an extensive background in their industry, development, customers, and personas. Product leaders see themselves as problem managers who can contribute unique value, solve problems, and provide solutions through collaboration with their cross-functional teams.
Their insights are of extreme importance and often lead to innovative discoveries. To be able to meet customers where they are and solve their future problems, as well as their current ones, requires innovative leadership.
What is innovative leadership?
Innovation can be purported as something different, something novel - a brand-new unfamiliar thing. It can also be a modification to a pre-existing product.
Innovative leadership can be characterized as a model of leadership that seeks to employ innovation, creativity, and unconventionality to lead cross-functional partners and projects. Innovative product leaders not only motivate but also create a culture and an environment where diversity, neurodiversity, and thinking outside-in are embraced, systematized, and nurtured. The propensity to exert innovation is particularly noteworthy when vagueness and uncertainty exist.
Why is innovative leadership consequential in product management?
The world's population is anticipated to continue to expand. The demographics are changing, and their needs will affect, transform, and impact the growth rate of economies worldwide. To fulfill the needs of these ever-changing demographics, we need innovation, advancement, and in some cases, modernization.
To meet the demands of these emerging global markets and their demographics, we must employ outside-the-box and unconventional thinking because innovation will not only bring something different to the market but also require and necessitate adding a unique value proposition, demonstration of empathy and human-centered approach.
Product leaders can put into practice the following innovative leadership skills and attributes. Let’s dive into what this means for product management.
#1 – Embracing diversity and neurodiversity
Product leaders who cultivate, encourage, strengthen, and nurture innovation in multi-disciplinary teams end up with individuals from diverse backgrounds, circumstances, gender, lived experiences, thoughts, and perspectives. Thoughtful fortitude and an environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and imaginativeness can help them meet their customers where they are. These customers represent an ever-changing demographic with constantly changing needs. To understand their needs, even those they have not verbalized or know they need, we need diverse individuals on our teams representing them.
#2 – Organizational storytelling
Innovative product leaders recognize that they, along with their multi-functional partners, understand and align with their organizational mission, vision, and objectives. To cultivate innovation, everyone must be symmetrical with their “Why.” Why are they working on innovative projects, and what is their story? What does their company represent, and who are they at the core?
To innovate and bring their partners along in the journey, product leaders must start with the core values of their organizations. Ensuring everyone understands the values and what they mean is integral because partner teams must be comfortable taking chances, not succeeding.
Most importantly, they need that connective tissue that brings them together to want to work in their organization and solve the customer’s problems. These questions and understanding of the organizational core values are crucial as they create the foundation for the innovation story, in essence, the concerted love of the product.
#3 – Encapsulate alternative solutions
Innovative product leaders understand that innovation must always be encapsulated in their work. Because innovation is imagination, and bringing it to fruition to solve a problem or a need means creating opportunities.
Innovative leaders and their multi-disciplinary teams should be open to possibilities to harness the power of creativity, creative thought, and the adventure or excitement of turning the unthinkable into reality.
Sometimes this means other people in their company might see problems, whereas the PMs are the only ones to see possibilities. When partner teams are worried about specifics, product leaders focus on the big picture because they know what is on the other side. Therefore, it is of great consequence that innovative product leaders keep their partners motivated and inspired even when it looks like progress is not being made.
To put into practice their powers of invention, imagination, and vision, PMs and their multi-functional partners must always try to bring alternative solutions to customer problems or needs. They should constantly have multiple different ways to solve the issue at hand. This is all-important because they must always allow themselves and their teams to shift.
#4 – Challenge presuppositions
Studies have demonstrated that an unengaged brain prefers shortcuts to save time and energy. This knowledge is essential because, for PMs and their partners to imagine or create alternative solutions, they must also be aware of their thoughts' hypotheses, theories and philosophies. To bring about best-in-class products, PMs and their partners must challenge their presuppositions before their competitors do it and beat them to the market.
Innovative product leaders and their cross-functional partners must confront and call out their industry and profession suppositions to remove conjectures. This is because they need a creative mindset, putting into practice the “How Might We (HMW)” framework that enables PMs and their teams to reformulate, rethink, and realign their perceptions into new possibilities which will allow them to innovate.
It is imperative not to let our brains take a shortcut. Instead, we must continually push ourselves and our partners to invent new ways, experiment, and test new ideas. Challenging hypotheses and inferences are one of the best ways to bring about a new vision, fresh thinking, and further ideas.
#5 – Lead with empathy
Customer empathy is to discern the nitty-gritty requirements and emotions of our customers. It’s not just identifying and delivering on their strategic and tactical needs but observing things from their point of view. As such, diversity plays a significant role in customer empathy. When organizations are inclusive and diversified internally, they can provide innovative solutions to customers' problems, eliminating previous blind spots.
Understanding their drivers while empathizing with our customers and team members is the foundation of developing products that make a difference. We can do this by safeguarding that we are listening to all our customers, not just the ‘loudest’ ones. We must disregard the approach of building products for people like us. Instead, we design and build products for a more comprehensive range of customers by allowing diversity to reflect the different types of product users.
#6 – Keep pace with trends
Innovative product leaders recognize that to find new creative opportunities, they must seek out and research trends, demographics impacted by the trends, and how they might influence domestic and, in some cases, global economies. This is significant and vital for product leaders because they can begin to prepare for the effect the trend or trends might have on their customers, organization, and industry. In addition, keeping pace with trends can also yield being first to market on solutions.
Our customers do not purchase what we are selling; instead, they buy what solves a problem or fulfills a need in their lives. Therefore, it is up to innovative product leaders to help figure out what those problems and needs are. Only then can they harness innovation to bring about groundbreaking solutions.
To yield innovative solutions, we need innovative leadership - which has never been more paramount. More and more businesses need innovative product leaders that can inspire, motivate, and bring their cross-functional partners and their leadership together by first aligning on the core values of their organization that binds all of them together.
Innovative leaders also encompass diversity and neurodiversity; they seek alternative solutions to problems and needs, safeguard that they and their partners are not solely relying on assumptions and conjectures, practice empathetic leadership, and keep abreast of trends.