How to Mentor a Product Manager – if you’re in product management for more than a couple of years, it’s likely somewhere soon in your journey you will be asked to mentor a newcomer. In this article blogger Tom Comeford does a great job at explaining this “growth” exercise for both the mentor and mentee.
Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece about the influx of prospective and newly anointed product managers. In it, I challenged would-be product managers to ask themselves a very simple question: why do you want to be a product manager? With my own new perspectives on the incoming classes of product managers, I thought I would revisit my prior blog post and in turn, ask a question of existing product managers: how do you mentor a product manager?
If you are a frequent reader of my blog or if you have worked with me, you know that I have a strong view about raising the barrier of entry for product managers. My opinion is not based on protecting my own livelihood, but rather to set a standard for what product managers must be. Today, most new product managers enter the role having done some measure of research, skill acquisition, and indentured servitude in order to qualify for the position. The moment these sorts of preparations begin is the exact point in time when mentorship also needs to begin.
I alluded to the role of mentorship in another piece, while referring more generally to the importance of self-awareness in any career. For product managers in particular, mentorship is a vital part of growth. The role fosters a sort of imposter syndrome, brought on by the fact that all product managers start out as “imposters” of some skill or another. A humble but ambitious product manager probably spends half of their time walking on clouds, imagining the perfect product, and the other half of their time sleepless, full of self-doubt and fear. A product management mentor will hopefully ground this individual in reality: things are never as good or bad as they really seem.
Part of the reason I seek out would-be mentees is my desire to fill a gap in my own career development. As a young product manager, my mentors were few and far between. I had plenty of questions and found very few answers, aside from in the numerous ego-maniacal product management books I picked up. In the absence of experiential data or someone to simply speak to, I was forced to endure moments of supreme self-doubt and failure, alone. As I grew through these experiences, I developed a parental, protective mindset towards more junior product managers. This is where my hunger to mentor comes from.
Not all of us are natural mentors, nor do we all seek out the opportunities to act in this capacity. Personally I take great joy in mentorship, not only because I get to witness the outputs of my colleagues, but also because through mentorship I often unlock insights or remind myself of certain product management principles. The experience of being a mentor can be just as rewarding as it is to have an resource who wants to invest in you. For those who are people managers, mentorship may already be a part of your current responsibilities. However, influencing those outside of your purview is what will ultimately turn you into a leader rather than simply a boss.