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What does it take for an experienced Product Manager to move up to the next level?

By Yoav Yechiam

· productMBA,Product Leadership,Career

You’re definitely past ‘junior’. You’ve been a PM for a few years now and you have it under control. But what’s next?

How do you move to the next level, both in terms of career and contribution to your current role and company?

If you really are good, dedicated and passionate about product management, chances are you’ve read quite a few articles on how to become a better PM - why you should learn this method or master that tactic. Would you be surprised if I said that most of these are probably true? 9 times out of 10 having knowledge and being informed is better than not. But is that enough? Is that the way forward? Is it really an information barrier that’s holding you back?

For some PMs this status quo is perfectly fine. And you know what? If you’re a ‘good worker’ doing ‘good work’, that could easily take you well into your 40s, making a ‘good’ and stable living.

But some of us a more ambitious and need something more. It could be an aspiration to build something truly significant, to become VP Product or maybe to start a company of your own. But it’s not that easy. There’s a barrier you must cross to reach that goal. What you need is to become a Product Leader.

There are no corners to cut here… You obviously need to be a good PM to start with. Those articles and courses you took will bring you part of the way. Hands-on experience takes this even further. But from there on, it’s the product leadership part that needs to take the lead. And that, as ironic as it might sound, has very little to do with product management skills.

Leadership is not just about leading people. It is about leading change using influence and empathy. Equally important, it is about leading yourself using essentialism and intent; making the right decisions that are not judged by the direct outcome; and applying strategic planning focused on acquiring assets. Leadership is about understanding the meaning of emotional labor, showing up and pushing beyond the barriers of what make us feel uncomfortable. It is about facing fear. Leadership, most of all, is a state of a high-level awareness, reflected in the way we view things and situations, and in the way we guide ourselves. The hardest, yet most important person for you to lead is yourself. And this makes all the difference between ‘good’ and ‘great’, between a manager and a leader.

The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there - James Buchanon

The good news is that leadership can be learned. The bad news is that it is not easily taught. Leadership skills are the kind that are very difficult to ‘absorb’ by reading, listening or seeing, even from the greatest teachers. Leadership soft skills require practice, processing and reflection. The theoretical part is easy - making what you’ve learned into habit is the challenge.

The great Seth Godin who has created the altMBA (4 week, super intensive online, heterogenic leadership course) says “people like us do things like this”. We’ve built the productMBA, a product leadership course, for people like us: experienced PMs who strive to make a dent in the world. It is a 12 week course built for working people with real-life constraints. People who seek change.

Ask yourself where you see yourself in 5 years. Which skills brought you there and which made you great and respected for what you do? If your answers revolve around leadership skills (and if you are ambitious and growth-minded, they probably should), then maybe it’s time to invest in yourself - your future self. The productMBA could be the first stepping stone on your journey...

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