Meet Wayne, The World's Most Rotten VP of Product
June 30, 2015

Meet Wayne, The World's Most Rotten VP of Product

by Brian de Haaff

It’s hard to escape FIFA these days. The arrests of several officials on corruption charges have made global headlines for the past few months now. Clearly this is bigger than soccer. The “bad boss” narrative has mass appeal, whether you care about the World Cup or not.

Perhaps it’s because we all know leaders who have allowed their egos to lead them astray — they do whatever it takes to win. And that includes cheating.

Watching FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s resignation reminded me of a VP of Product Management that I worked with at a prior software company. Let’s call him Wayne.

This guy did whatever it took to hold power, grow his influence, and expand his wealth. But when the application crashed or customers complained that they were deceived, he was quick to blame everyone else and throw the Engineering team under the bus.

Everything bad was always someone else’s fault — until it was time for him to steal the glory again.

He should have known better. Instead he ended up making several enemies at the company, including the CTO and most of the Engineering team.

Technology has fundamentally changed the way we view leaders, like my old colleague the Product VP. Collaboration tools have brought a greater level of transparency, especially in larger organizations. There is nowhere to hide when you slip up.

This is especially true for product leaders. They converse with every tribe, including Engineering, Customers, Marketing, Sales, Support, and every other stakeholder group that the product depends on to win in market. They have the incredible privilege of being the president of product and the responsibility to act with integrity.

So, how do you know if you have a rotten VP of Product who is headed for destruction? Their own resignation or firing is coming if they regularly do the following:

Ignore goals If your VP of Product does not know where the product is going, they cannot expect it or the team to be successful. Onus is on the product leader to write down their product strategy and share it with everyone on their team. And they need to listen to the feedback. Those who are unwilling or unqualified to do so will eventually be exposed.

Take credit Product leaders need help from lots of different folks to build great product, and it is disingenuous to hog all the glory after a great launch — yet that is precisely what bad product leaders do. This is a common complaint from engineers; although they build the product’s features, product teams sometimes use their visibility to puff themselves up to senior leadership — and leave the engineers behind.

VPs of Product must motivate diverse teams to build new products — and give them credit for their contributions. Sales often knows which features users want. Engineering knows the best way to build new features. Support knows which problems users struggle with the most. Each team has unique insight that contributes to the product’s success. Their knowledge should never be taken for granted.

Throw blame My boss blamed others during times of trouble. In his eyes, when the product failed, it was because Engineering built the wrong features. Or because Sales did not close enough prospects. He loudly absolved himself of blame, even though the success of the product was his responsibility.

Many consider these types of behaviors normal for powerful leaders. But they are self-destructive tactics that will leave product leaders without allies when they need them most.

We all make mistakes and act bigger than we are at times. But there is a difference between honest accidents and habitual manipulation. A VP of Product Management who is too focused on the glory of their role cannot lead their team to build a great product. Their job is to lead with conviction and put their product and engineer teams in a position to shine.

Have you ever worked with an ego-driven product leader? Tell us about it. Join the discussion now on Hacker News.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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