Doing the Hard Work of Influence

Posts, Building Your Product Career

Recently, Caf and Fingercheck partnered together to bring a stellar line-up of women who have done the hard work of founding, leading, and running companies in a variety of industries (along with highlighting a few up-and-comers). You can read more about the Punching Through initiative here, but I thought it’d be helpful to reflect on the learnings of these interviews and apply them to life in product management. 

One of the potent questions we asked was, “Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that shaped your leadership style or approach?” It was fascinating to hear the various perspectives on this inquiry, but there were several women who talked about one common theme in their careers: when they held a product management role and weren’t formally leading people. They told stories about how there was no hierarchy to lean on, so they had to double down on being incredibly clear and ensuring their confidence was undeniable in conversations up, across, and down the organization. 

In the dynamic landscape of product management, success isn’t solely determined by technical prowess or managerial acumen. Rather, I would argue that it hinges on the ability to lead with influence – to inspire people who don’t report to you, sway stakeholders, and drive impactful decisions that propel products forward.

Understanding Influence in Product Management

At its core, influence in product management (and any discipline for that matter) is about persuading others to adopt a particular course of action or viewpoint. Whether it’s aligning a go-to-market team, securing buy-in from a leader across the table, or advocating for user-centric decisions, influence underpins every facet of a product manager’s role. 

Here are a few key tips for cultivating influential leadership and putting it into practice: 

1. Two-Fold Trust

Trust serves as the bedrock of influence. We hear the word trust and all have our definitions. I personally believe there are two components of trust: character and competence. Let me give you an example of what I mean:

Sometimes, you’ll hear people say something like, “They are so smart, but it’s tough to get a word in edgewise.” The but should give you pause. In this case, it should make you ask yourself whether there is a character issue (i.e., the “smart jerk”). Likewise, you may hear, “I really like her, but I had to go back multiple times and get more details on the user stories.” This should give you pause and make you ask yourself whether there is a competence issue (i.e., a likable person without enough domain expertise). 

Establishing credibility through the 3 C’s: competency, consistency, and character are essential for your own development in product management. When we practice these three truths (competency, consistency, and character), we foster trust among team members and stakeholders, laying the groundwork for effective influence.

2. Practice Active Listening

We all suck at listening. I don’t care how awesome you think you are at it, you suck. I suck, too. Being present and actively hearing what’s said (and what’s not being said) is a lost skill. I text on my phone while maintaining eye contact on Google Meet, Slack someone while on a call, and listen to music while writing blogs (okay, maybe the last one isn’t as bad). My point is, we are only cheating ourselves by not practicing being fully present (phone tucked away, DND on, allowing for fully present conversation). The more you create this type of environment and people experience it consistently when they are around you, the more influence you will have. 

3. Get Your Words Right

Years ago, I was getting ready to present to a Board of a publicly-traded company (aka: don’t look stupid or show up unprepared). The CEO said to me a few days beforehand, “Remember your audience.” That was nice advice, but frankly, I didn’t know who the heck these people were or their background. Most of your communication efforts need to take place before you speak. You have to “work the room” before you ever get in the room. Part of articulating with extreme clarity is knowing what the listener thinks is clarity, and that takes work. Solicit feedback from people who know people in the room (or from a trusted advisor who will be in the room with you) and get your words right first. Practice, practice, practice. 

4. Lead From Wholeness

Cliché time: Actions speak louder than words. I know, we’re so tired of hearing this. So, let’s try this instead: lead out of the wholeness of who you are. Embody the values and principles you espouse. People can see when there’s a mismatch or where a “shadow self” is at work (i.e., someone you’re projecting to be, but clearly aren’t). Whether it’s embracing agility, embracing failure as a learning opportunity, or championing user advocacy, your actions set the tone for those around you and this is just as true in product management where influence is the currency of effectiveness. 

Do The Hard Work

Influence is at the soul of effective product management. By cultivating two-fold trust, practicing active listening, getting our words right, and leading out of wholeness, product managers can navigate complexities, create momentum, and drive meaningful work. It’s hard work, but never forget that it’s worthy work!

About the author

Tiffany Haynes headshot

Tiffany Haynes

Tiffany Haynes is the Chief Operating Officer for Fingercheck (FC), an established start-up based in Brooklyn, NY that helps small business owners manage their people in a modern way, including earned wage access.

Prior to FC, Tiffany was with Jack Henry (NASDAQ: JKHY) for nearly 20 years; much of that time was devoted to fintech operations, program management, people operations, and leading consumer-facing experiences. She served in various roles, including Chief People Officer (6500+ employees) and as General Manager | Vice President of Consumer-Facing Experiences with full P&L responsibilities.