3 min read

Why Covid is the perfect test for every Product Manager

Covid made it clear that I’m a wartime leader.
Why Covid is the perfect test for every Product Manager
Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash

Covid is wartime. The future is suddenly extremely uncertain, and the entire organization is looking for direction. Wartime requires a wartime leader. Here’s what makes a wartime leader tick.

  • Wartime leaders find that Chaos creates clarity.
  • Wartime leaders view Resets as opportunities.
  • Wartime leaders Prioritize ruthlessly.
  • Wartime leaders thrive on Dates and Deadlines.
  • Wartime leaders focus on Winning the War, not the battle.

If you’re a Product Manager during Covid, you either lost your job or got 2x busier. All your roadmaps are suddenly obsolete, and you’re back to the drawing board, prioritizing ruthlessly. That might suck, but for many PMs I know, they see this as their moment to shine. They see this as a moment when the entire organization is suddenly rallied behind a central cause. And for those who lost their jobs, they see this as an opportunity to re-tool, re-set and find their next opportunity. Since the pandemic started, I have not talked to a single career PM who became a deer in the headlights. Everyone single one I talked to because intensely focused. PMs are people of action, and they see a way forward through the chaos. Career PMs are strong storytellers who paint visions of the future. Those are traits of a wartime leader. And that’s why Covid was the perfect test.

Rise to the challenge or quit being a PM

Covid is wartime. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a peacetime organization. Every PM is impacted, because the future is suddenly extremely uncertain, and the entire organization is looking to you to provide direction. If you thrive on being a PM, then you are probably loving it. You might not like the reason for the chaos, but you’re loving the chaos itself. Because it doesn’t matter if a PM is in a chaotic startup, or the PM is in a large organization like Google or Amazon. What makes them tick is eerily similar the list of wartime leader traits above.

  • PMs like Dates and Deadlines.
  • PMs Prioritize ruthlessly.
  • PMs focus on Winning the War, not the battle.

That’s 3 of 5 in the list that are indisputable because they are literally in the job description. But let’s examine the other two on the list.

  • PMs think Chaos creates clarity
  • PMs view Resets as opportunities

When I was working at larger companies, the biggest challenge by far was galvanizing the team to action. There were many ways to do this. Deadlines was one of them. Sometimes these were driven by external factors such as industry events.

But none of these levers of motivation were as effective as a good defeat.

A good defeat causes resets. If a competitor wins a major account from us or we see a drastic fall in daily active users, these factors cause resets because they challenge our previous worldview. This reset causes some chaos because the future was suddenly uncertain. And a great PM would know to do the right storytelling in these moments to galvanize the team and push initiatives forward. PMs in peacetime organizations are the ones trying to light a fire so they can move their team. Which means,

Every PM is a wartime leader looking for a good war. Some are just stuck in peacetime organizations trying to create a war.

And that’s why Covid was the perfect test. If you are a PM who thrived on the Reset, then you probably love your job. If it threw you into chaos as well, then PM might not be the right path.

Why are Resets so great for PMs?

A PM leads through storytelling, and Resets create blank canvases upon which new stories can be told and a new vision for the future can be painted. Resets create new realities that suddenly make previously crazy ideas seem possible, even relevant. Everyone works from home? That’s a crazy idea, until we are all suddenly forced to do it. Taking a manufacturing line that produces window shades and turning it into one that produces face shields? Impossible, until Halcyon Shades did it in 3 weeks. With our minds open to new, crazy ideas, what else could be possible? If you’re a PM, then you’d have 10 stories ready for this question. Because if you’re a PM, then you’re a wartime leader ready to leverage the next reset by telling the right story.

Connie Kwan teaches Storytelling for Product Leaders. She has crafted and delivered thousands of stories in her 16 years in Product Leadership. Whether it’s rallying executives, motivating teams, or convincing candidates to join a company, storytelling is at the heart of her work. She is a co-creator of the Storyteller Type system that turns the art of storytelling into a science. Find out your Storyteller Type here.