Good PMs are Good Diplomats by fmr Zappos Head of Product, Andrew Nguyen

What do the CEOs of Google and Microsoft have in common?

They were both PMs.

With a reputation of being good diplomats.

A diplomat is a person who can deal with people in an empathetic and effective way.

Product managers are the driving force behind results. This is the way to do it with good diplomacy.

In what ways can good diplomacy be applied?

  1. Ask for help. This cannot be overestimated. This can help infiltrate product management. Understanding what questions to ask, to whom to ask them, is actually a request for help. You will be collaborating with many people to improve the quality of the product you will be working on. This requires the help of a whole group of other people, whom you will have to rally and unite for the sake of a common mission and goal. So asking for help can't be an understatement. This is one of the best ways to be a good PM. “I`ve never found anybody that didn`t want to help me if I asked them for help.” - Steve Jobs.

  2. Lead with influence. "If you want to go fast? go alone. If you want to go far, go together." - African Proverb. Product managers think long term and think about ways to achieve the best results. Influential leadership should be in a way that brings people together on your team, across multiple product development teams, among third party partners, so that they understand why they do what they do and their purpose. To help them do their job better, to help them move towards a common goal. Being a product manager asking for help is about asking great questions, understanding the truth about your product, about your customer, and being able to communicate well to your team to help them work with you, co-create and come up with solutions that much better than what you could do alone. From any individual person, this influence is transmitted to other people.
    Great product managers do this, and great diplomats have this skill set.

  3. Listen and communicate well. "When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But of you listen, you may learn something new." - Dalai Lama. The ability to collect as many points of view as possible, especially through your stakeholders, executive team, lawyers, information security, customer service, data science, etc. As you grow in your product career, you create better products and services for your customers. You delve into the issues and understand how you can create the best product. Listen carefully and be the last to speak. It works really well when you are able to synthesize all points of view.
    This is a very important skill set as you move from product manager to product leader.

  4. Drive a win win culture. "Above all else, align with customers. Win only when they win." - Jeff Bezos. Think like every member of your team, think of them like customers, treat them like customers. Find a way to improve their experience in terms of working with you, help them work toward their goals. They will help you implement ideas on behalf of the client. This has a number of advantages and is combined with the good qualities of a product manager and a good diplomat. Think beyond the end customer, treat everyone you work with as a customer and maybe they will do the same for you.

  5. Elevate others. Raise others as you become a project leader. This refocuses attention and takes it to another level. When you help other people achieve their goals, they move forward. And you increase your influence, and the further you can advance in your career and take on more responsibility. “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” - Benjamin Franklin

"People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said but they always remember how you made them feel, that`s what matters the most." - Tony Hsieh

Product managers focus on the things that matter the most. It means to be human-oriented, to be customer-oriented, to understand how to make them feel better about your product, your service. This leads to better business results. And treat your colleagues, the people with whom you cooperate, as customers, do the same so that they are glad to see you, talk to you and work with you. This is a fantastic trait of a good PM and it's natural to just be a good diplomat.

Want to be a good PM?

Be a good Diplomat.

Andrew Nguyen, fmr Zappos Head of Product