Navigating Diverse Product Leadership Styles

Embracing Flexibility: How Adapting Various Management Styles Can Shape Exceptional Product Leaders

Co.Lab Team
November 17, 2023

The path towards Product Management is often winding. The role is constantly evolving, reminiscent of the lifecycle of a product itself – from its raw, unrefined MVP state to a polished, finished product.

Along this journey, a product manager's leadership style is not one-size-fits-all. Depending on the team, the challenge, and the stakeholder demands, a product manager might don multiple hats.

Let’s journey into the heart of these distinct leadership styles, unraveling the situations where each thrives and understanding the art of blending them for optimal results.

Join an Upcoming Cohort!

Get real-world experience to land your dream role in tech. Join us as a Product Manager, Designer or Developer, and put your skills into practice by shipping a real MVP! 🚀

The Different Product Leadership Styles

Choose your PM leadership style: directive, authoritative, participative, affiliative, pace setting, coaching

Just like a company's journey from a small, nimble team crafting a minimal viable product (MVP) to a well-coordinated unit refining a fully operational product, a product manager's role is ever-evolving.

So with these varying needs, a growing team, and different demands from different stakeholders, six distinct manager profiles emerge, each showcasing a unique style.

1. Directive (Coercive):

This is like the authoritative figure who takes charge during a crisis. A directive product management style involves a top-down approach. The PM would dictate actions, making sure things get done without room for errors. It's like a sprint to the finish line. However, it's not the best fit for inexperienced team members who need space to learn or for skilled team members who feel stifled by micromanagement.

Ideal scenario:

In the face of a critical software bug affecting a key feature, a directive product manager takes charge by outlining specific steps for the development team to address the issue within a tight timeframe. They closely monitor progress and ensure that the team strictly follows the prescribed guidelines to resolve the bug promptly.

2. Authoritative (Visionary):

The authoritative product management style combines strong leadership with a visionary approach. This type of PM would provide clear direction while motivating their team through persuasion and feedback. This style shines when a team needs clear direction, and the PM has the credibility (or some type of reasoning!) to back it up.

Ideal scenario:

A tech startup is entering a new market segment, and the authoritative product manager rallies the team around a compelling vision of becoming the industry leader. They inspire team members by outlining a roadmap for innovative features and regularly communicate the broader impact of their work, driving enthusiasm and commitment.

3. Participatory (Democratic):

The participative product management style emphasizes collaboration and inclusivity. The PM here encourages team input in decision-making and values contributions from all members. This approach thrives when experienced and competent employees work together harmoniously.Ideal scenario:

A product manager in a software development company adopts a participative style during a brainstorming session for a new feature. They facilitate an open dialogue, inviting developers, designers, and marketers to share ideas. By involving diverse perspectives, the manager ensures the final feature incorporates the strengths of each team member, that every person has also bought in on.

4. Relationship-focused:

This style values relationships above all else. It nurtures positive connections and motivates by promoting happiness. It excels in conflict management and building a positive atmosphere but might not be the best choice when urgency and strict direction are needed.

Ideal scenario:

During a period of increased workload and pressure to meet a project deadline, an affiliative product manager organizes team-building activities and acknowledges the hard work of individual team members. By creating a supportive atmosphere, they help the team navigate challenges with a positive outlook and collaborative spirit.

5. Pacesetting:

A hands-on and initiative-taking PM who expects self-directed action from skilled team members. They essentially "set the pace" and expect their team members to keep up. This approach works well when dealing with motivated experts but can stumble in situations requiring collaboration and constant coordination.

Ideal scenario:

A seasoned product manager with extensive technical knowledge takes on a pacesetting role when working on a complex software optimization project. They actively contribute to coding, debugging, and testing, demonstrating a commitment to excellence that inspires the development team to match their level of dedication.

6. Coach-oriented:

This type of product manager focuses on developing strengths through guidance and opportunities. It's a great fit for skill development and growth, but may struggle when the manager lacks expertise or during crises.

Ideal scenario:

A coaching-oriented product manager supports a junior designer by providing regular feedback and tailored learning resources. They encourage the designer to take the lead on a redesign project, offering guidance and constructive feedback throughout the process to help the designer enhance their skills and confidence.

Don't be afraid to mix it up!

Blending and utilizing different management styles in product management is essential for achieving optimal team performance and project success. Each style offers unique strengths that, when strategically applied, contribute to a well-rounded and adaptive leadership approach.

By blending these styles, you can tailor your leadership to match the demands of specific scenarios and the strengths of your team. Grow your own skills and be versatile!

Wrapping up our Learnings

Product leadership isn't static. The vast expanse of management styles offers a rich palette for product managers to paint their leadership narrative. The art lies not just in understanding these styles but in mastering the dexterity to switch, blend, or combine them as per the situation.

A seasoned product leader knows that there's no singular path to success. Sometimes it demands a sprint, while at other times, a coach's patience or a collaborator's spirit is the key.

As product leaders, it’s pivotal to be adaptive, versatile, and willing to dance along the spectrum of leadership styles, ensuring that every challenge is met with the perfect harmony of direction and collaboration. Embrace this fluidity, and watch both your product and team flourish.

Are you an aspiring Product Manager? The Co.Lab program is the perfect place to gain real-world, cross-functional experience that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

If you want to shift to tech, especially from a non-tech background, you need to either have good domain knowledge, lots of transferrable skills, or have something to bridge the skillset you have currently and the requirements of the roles that you are looking for.

One of the programs that provide those is Co.Lab's 8-week Product Management Bootcamp, where you can get real-life work experience by building a live product of your own with a cross-functional team in an agile environment. Learn how to build your tech skills with a supportive community and pre-vetted industry mentors to carefully guide you along your tech journey.

Want to test out the waters first? Dip your toes into Product by joining the 4-week Product Management Sprint instead.

It may be difficult to make the shift into tech, but that’s precisely why you don’t have to do it alone. Be part of the community! Follow us on on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for the latest updates.

Stay up to date with Co.Lab

We'll be sure to keep you in the loop

Get more information

Have questions? Our team will get back to you as soon as possible.