A conversation with Kate Leto, Product Management Leadership Coach, Advisor, Speaker, & Author @ Kate Leto Consulting

“I think that’s where the leadership development side of the work that I’ve been doing really comes in. Because to be a leader within an organization that encourages autonomous teams with missions and encourages cross-functional work and a more decentralized structure, they need to feel comfortable and confident themselves. A lot of organizations I’ve seen will have that command and control kind of traditional hierarchy, and a lot of that is because that’s what the leader has experience in and that’s what the leader is most comfortable with. So to have this blend of something that’s more, maybe not quite self-managed, not to that level but to a level where we do have teams that can do their homework, they can build a hypothesis, they can do some experimentation, they can share back on that, they can learn from it and they can pivot, it takes a leader who I think is comfortable with that.” –Kate Letote

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Kate Leto about her experience in Product Management, Organizational Development, and Personal Development industries that has taken her around the world.  She shares how self-awareness can help make you a better leader, develop confidence, and battle imposter syndrome.  Later, Kate explains why changing Organizations must first start with changing individuals and teams.  We then discuss different types of leadership skills and how to develop them.   Listen in for more interesting thoughts on how to build higher-performing teams.

Show Highlights

[1:30] How Kate Got Her Start In Product Management.

[17:35] How To Use Self Awareness To Combat Imposter Syndrom.

[22:10] Strategies To Better Relate To Your Team.

[32:02] Why Organizational Development Starts With Individuals First.  

Kate Leto on Linkedin

Kate Leto on Twitter

Kate’s Website

About the Guest

Kate Leto’s product management, org design, and personal development experience span more than 25 years. She has had a front-row seat to the evolving ways products are discovered, defined, built, and delivered and now takes her hands-on experience into organizations of all shapes and sizes as a leadership coach and advisor; helping to create authentic, high-performing cultures, teams, and products. Her consulting experience has taken her around the world, guiding clients that range from disruptive startups to Fortune 500 companies. Kate’s first book, Hiring Product Managers: Using Product EQ to go beyond culture and skills, is now available at Amazon sites globally and other digital bookstores. 

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

Subscribe to Podcast

Engage Control The Room

Voltage Control on the Web
Contact Voltage Control

Full Transcript

Douglas: Welcome to the Control the Room Podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of the meeting culture and uncovering cures to the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.

Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control the Room Facilitation Lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques, so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real-time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings Quick Start Guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at magicalmeetings.com. Today I’m with Kate Leto at Blacksmith House Coaching & Consulting, where she provides product management leadership coaching. She is also the author of Hiring Product Managers: Using Product EQ to Go Beyond Culture and Skills. Welcome to the show, Kate.

Kate: Thanks very much. Happy to be here.

Douglas: Yeah, great to have you. So as usual, we always start with, how did you get your start? How did you get into this work of helping leaders become better leaders?

Kate: Well, like many of your guests, I’m sure, it has not been a straightforward journey. It’s something that started out way over 20 years ago. I have a product management background and I’ve been focused on products since, gosh, the early 2000s. So yeah, around 20 years with a little marketing experience before that. Anyway, so I started out really at Yahoo in Sunnyvale and before that, I was working in marketing and product marketing at a startup in Chicago. So I actually go back so far as to survive the very first internet boom and bust back in the early, the early 2000s. From there going to Yahoo was wonderful, it kind of gave me a great structure and vocabulary and way of thinking and introduced to Agile and all of that in Sunnyvale. And from that, they actually brought me out to London to do some work launching local search back in the day that we had local search.

That was a very interesting experience. It brought me to the UK, it brought me across the pond for the very first time in my life. I was supposed to stay three months and I stayed 18 months initially and then went back again, and have been in the UK for about 16 years. Along the way, I went from working at Yahoo to smaller startups again and starting product functions of product practices within those organizations, and then decided to kind of leave and go do my own thing. Doing my own thing as a product consultant for over a decade now has meant seeing products from probably every perspective and going through all sorts of different initiatives and programs that went from helping startups figure out how to hire product people, how to build products into their organizations from the get-go to working with really big enterprise-size organizations on how to try to adapt and Agile and build things like a startup does.

Along the way, I really noticed that a lot of my clients, well, we always start out on this great product topic like how to get buy-in on a roadmap or how to actually create a roadmap with interesting themes and KPIs and all this great stuff, but like five minutes into the conversation, it turned very personal usually. We wanted to talk about things like, “Why doesn’t my boss like me? Or why can’t I get a promotion? Or I don’t know if I really like my job, I don’t know if I want to be here.” And I didn’t really feel comfortable having those conversations.

I didn’t feel like I was equipped, and so I went to a coaching program probably about five or six years ago, and that really changed the way that I saw product management and starting to think about leadership as a space within product management and got more and more interested in working with individuals and organizations on really trying to figure out what our leadership skills and how can you develop them? Because you can develop them, it’s not just something you’re born with. And why does that makes a big difference in the way products are built, the way cultures are cultivated and created? So that’s really been kind of my path for the last few years and bringing this idea of product management, leadership skills and leadership development and personal development all together.

Douglas: Such an amazing journey, and I have so many questions. Maybe for starters, I’m really curious having worked at Yahoo, one of the biggest certainly in the dot coms and also startups, I’m really curious, what was that like? Some of those early memories of the difference between small startups and the big Yahoo specifically around product?

Kate: Specifically around the product. Well, it was really interesting because Yahoo at the time was very much, well of course, trying to figure itself out as many organizations do, but shifting back and forth constantly between being like a centralized product organization or a decentralized. We went from being extremely matrixed to trying to be less matrixed, so we tried all these different structures. And what I spent a lot of time with was within like business units within the organization that were kind of trying to act like they were a small startup, right? So they had their own product person or marketing person and their own set of engineers. Those early days within Yahoo and working on some of the different properties that I worked on, it kind of felt like you had your own little small startup team, but you were really well invested in and had the resources. You had the people, you had the money, you could hire who you wanted to, you could do a lot of research. We did tons of user research. It was great.

And that was my first exposure to Agile. We had Agile training and coaching very early on, so it was interesting. That actually I think made it a bit easier for me to move over into startups afterward because I had a good idea of what Agile was and how to bring that into an organization and help them kind of start from the beginning and then what products role would that could be. It was very different from the startups that I worked at before Yahoo, which it was just really like the Wild Wild West. It was crazy. It was trying to do waterfall in a startup situation. It was just a bit mad. And in the meantime, we had a lot of parties and went on some private planes. It was that kind of time. But after, after Yahoo going into some kind of well-structured startups, people had kind of lived and seen that dot-com bust, along with me, we were ready to kind of like really just put it to practice and it worked well.

Douglas: Some of the differences in structure that you mentioned, whether it’s matrixed or more horizontal, are there mechanisms that y’all are experimenting with? Curious if you had any lasting insights from that and if it shows up in any of the leadership work you’re doing now?

Kate: Yeah, I think the structure that I mentioned to you where it was we were operating as mini-business units, almost like your own mini-startup. I think that definitely stuck with me and that felt like I… At the time I think I was one of two product people within a team, so I could do a lot of stuff, right? And I had one-on-one relationships with the engineers. We really did have all the makings of a cross-functional mission-based team from the early days. We didn’t call it that at the time. We didn’t have that vocabulary, but that structure was there and that resourcing was there and people with all the different diverse opinions could come together very easily. So I think that just even talking about it now, looking back now, that was really the seed that I still have with me now, in terms of, we did a lot of talking about experimentation and how could we test something out. We didn’t use words like let’s write a hypothesis and all of this kind of terms that we use now, but we were doing the same thing then, and it was wonderful practice. It was great.

Douglas: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I’m curious in situations where you’ve seen that work versus ones you haven’t seen work, is there any clear, I guess, ingredients to what makes it work? Because I imagine that it takes some insight from leadership to be able to be comfortable with carving out the vision for each team and giving them the autonomy, and how do leaders support that?

Kate: Yeah. Well, I think that’s where the leadership development side of the work that I’ve been doing really comes in. Because to be a leader within an organization that encourages autonomous teams with missions and encourages cross-functional work and more decentralized structure, they need to feel comfortable and confident themselves. A lot of organizations I’ve seen will have that command and control kind of traditional hierarchy, and a lot of that is because that’s what the leader has experience in and that’s what the leader is more most comfortable with. So to have this blend of something that’s more, maybe not quite self-managed, not to that level but to a level where we do have teams that can do their homework, they can build a hypothesis, they can do some experimentation, they can share back on that, they can learn from it and they can pivot, it takes a leader who I think is comfortable with that.

They’re comfortable in maybe taking some risks, even, putting things out there and letting teams try it on their own. They have confidence and good relationships with the people around them, so I think that’s where things like communication skills and their own levels of influence and even their own core beliefs around strong self-awareness and self-belief come into play and helping to create a kind of organization where people can do the same thing. People can build their own kind of self-awareness, their own self belief. I don’t know if that came out very well, Douglas.

Douglas: No, no, that does. It does. So we talked a little bit about self-awareness emotional intelligence in the pre-show chat. I want to come back to that momentarily because before we do, I want to hear a little bit more about your coaching practice, because you mentioned having this epiphany that developing the leaders are so critical.

Kate: Yeah.

Douglas: And then saying to yourself, “I need to get these skills.” So what was it about the coaching program? Were there insights or were there things that going through that program that really stood out to you as like, “Hey, this is what it takes to really shape these leaders and what I can bring to the table around the confidence of coaching leaders”?

Kate: Yeah, I think it’s been a journey. The program that I did about five or so years ago was a good start. It was definitely, as we say in the UK, it was a starter for 10 and it got me more curious and wanting to learn more. And I’ll never forget they gave us this 10 page reading list, which we didn’t really touch in the course itself but I worked my way through and a lot of it was focused on leadership development. So it opened my eyes to the fact that really within product management… I’ll never forget this; after the coaching program, I went and kind of looked at all these different product management blogs and was reading up on things and everything I was reading was about things like OKRs and MVPs and Lean and Agile and a lot of our methodology and making and building up roadmaps.

We weren’t talking about anything that had to do with leadership development. We didn’t talk about anything around self-awareness, on how to deal with conflict, on giving good feedback, on resilience, empathy, there wasn’t out there. From that, I started writing and talking more about a concept that I initially called Product EQ, which is in the title of the book and it brought something together for me and the importance of emotional intelligence in the work that we do. And we can associate it with leadership skills, I think that totally cool, but I think we also have to remember that it’s not just a leadership skill, right? Leadership itself within products and any other domain really isn’t tied to specific levels, it’s not tied to specific areas of a career path, it’s something that anyone from a junior product person up to the CPO can own and work on and improve.

So that initial coaching course that I took really kind of set me on this journey to look at the things I was working on as a consultant in a very different way, and to see some massive gaps and what we were talking about as a community, and really trying to focus on those in my work since then. So I’ve gone on and taken other coaching programs and tried to really learn as much as I can and how as a coach I can help people be the best that they can be. Be the best version of who they believe they are, who they want to be, and that’s really what I’m focused on. Bringing that into a product management space where we’re working with all these different personalities and with all these different flavors of folks around us, I think is a really interesting space to play in. And talking about leadership and what that means within that space, I think is something that we still have a lot of room as a community to really figure out.

Douglas: Coming back to that emotional intelligence piece specifically, it sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of work there and just helping the individual kind of reflect and connect on how they’re showing up, even just being aware of how people see them. I’m just kind of curious if you have any advice on where people struggle with that or how people can take some first steps and unraveling that?

Kate: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because emotionally intelligence means a lot of different things to people, right? It doesn’t feel like there’s one set of words that really define it. And there’s so many different frameworks out there and there’s a lot of research that’s been done around emotional intelligence. I guess the way I think about it, emotional intelligence really is understanding yourself and your own emotions and the impact that they have on others. That sounds really simplistic, but at the end of the day, I think that’s what it all boils down to. So to help people really take that first step and learning about themselves and their own levels of emotional intelligence and maybe where they’re really strong and maybe areas they want to focus on, I think it’s good to start by getting an understanding of what self-awareness is as like a foundational element of emotional intelligence, because that really opens up so many other things.

With self-awareness, you can learn about yourself by asking for feedback from other folks, helping you to kind of identify any blind spots that you may not be aware of in your own work. There’s a lot of work you can do on just keeping track of kind of your own emotions and how you’re reacting to different situations. One of the things that I work on with clients quite a bit is building up self-awareness as a way to manage imposter syndrome, because imposter syndrome is something that really lives within the vast majority of the population. I was reading something the other day where it said that 70% of the population says they’ve experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their life, and I’m really curious about that other 30%, like what’s up with that other 30%? What are they not admitting to?

But with self awareness, I think it’s such a great… in a way it’s a great tool to help you combat imposter syndrome. It’s never going to go away, but you can manage it and understand it better. With self awareness you can start learning to ask yourself things like is what’s happening true? Where is this story that I’m telling myself, my imposter, my saboteur, where is that coming from? And what evidence do I have to really show that this is true or not true? And how is it impacting the way that I’m living now? How I’m working now? How I’m getting along with my colleagues now?

So I think self-awareness in terms of emotional intelligence is like it’s the meta skill. And if you can start working towards that by doing some simple things like catching yourself when maybe you’re having those moments of imposter syndrome. Writing it down, keeping track of things, journaling is amazingly helpful. In my book, I talk a lot about how self-awareness can be a huge benefit in the hiring process and hiring people because you need to be able to kind of sit down after you meet with somebody and say like, “Okay, what am I really taking from this interview? How can I start to practice self awareness? And how can that really help me better understand what type of role I’m trying to hire for and if this person’s a great fit for that role or not?” So it has like all of these different… I almost think of it as like all these different tentacles that get into the different areas of our work, but self-awareness is a great place to start.

Douglas: Yeah, it makes me also think about how sometimes it makes sense to sleep on it or let’s have that conversation tomorrow. Just being able to maybe diagnose, or at least recognize that I’m in a certain state of mind, or in a certain mood, or feeling emotional about something so I’m maybe not being logical, that’s a form of self-awareness and there’s layers to it, right? I have to know that I’m capable of being in that state and then being able to recognize when I’m actually currently in that state.

Kate: Yeah, absolutely. It’s an amazing first step to be able to catch yourself, right? Be it starting to feel imposter syndrome coming on, that saboteur is stepping to your line of thinking, or just that before I say anything and respond to somebody who maybe has just really pissed me off, I need to take a step back. Maybe I’m going to go have a conversation with a friend or my partner or whomever, and just get a different perspective. That is totally a huge step in building self awareness because you could see the trigger points, right? And you can learn to take a breath to take a break before reacting.

Douglas: That also reminds me, too, leaders not only have to deal with their own internal on state, but they had to deal with the emotions and the state of those that report to them that they support. Sometimes there’s scenarios where someone might come to you in an agitated state or upset about someone else, and jumping in and trying to address that or getting in the middle of it is often the wrong thing to do. Yeah.

Kate: Absolutely. It’s tough. And a lot of the clients that I work with are in a place where they’re moving into perhaps their first leadership role, right? Moving into a head of product or a director of product role, and they’re facing situations like that for the first time. How do I relate to my team in perhaps a different way than I did before? Because before I was a member of the team and maybe I’d get involved in those conversations and try to sort out, but now as the leader of the team or the leader of a few teams, what’s my role? How do I want to kind of build a foundational or a different level of leadership in working with the folks on my teams and have kind of a different voice, a different style? What is that and how do we bring it together?

A lot of times I’ve worked with a lot of leaders who, because there’s a lot of empathy and we talk a lot about empathy these days and that it’s a positive thing and it’s a benefit and it truly is. But learning how to have a balanced level of empathy as a leader, because jumping into situations like that all the time and trying to be kind of the hero, is that the best use of your energy and your time? What’s a different way that you could go about that situation? So that’s something that I work with a lot of people on and trying to kind of understand this new role as a leader, because it’s very different than being an individual contributor or just a member of the team as they might have been before.

Douglas: You also mentioned behaviors and the important role they play and how all of this unfolds in the role of a leader. And it makes me think that a lot of this work is just modeling good behavior. And also if a leader is behaving in a certain way, the team might come to expect that behavior or to assume it, and it can be really hard to undo those things.

Kate: Yeah. As a leader, it’s tough, right? You are often held up as a role model and that could be something that people thrive off of as leaders. It can also be something that’s kind of a burden because perhaps you’ve become a leader because you’re really good at doing something at the technical side of the work that you do, be it in product management or something else. So you are often put into a role of role model associated with all these other new responsibilities, and I feel like that’s kind of a heavy weight for a lot of people to take on. Some people thrive with it, like I said, and some people it becomes something they’re less interested in. So they tend to maybe decide “leadership” defined as a people management leadership role isn’t for them and maybe try a different career path.

So I think that’s another thing you and I have talked about offline before as well, as the idea of leadership, we often associated as somebody that is managing people. But I think the leadership skills that we’re talking about are definitely not just isolated to people managers, we also have this great world of individual contributors who are leaders within organizations be it product or others. So I think it’s almost more important in my mind to kind of strip away the title and strip away the career path and just focus on the skills. Right? So if that’s self awareness or if it’s resilience or creativity or curiosity, like all of these are amazing leadership skills that I think we can focus more on instead of kind of the title or the role itself.

Douglas: Yeah, that also reminds me have the three circles that you were describing in the pre-show chat around change, whether it’s leadership development or any other change that an organization might be facing has to happen at the individual level, or the team level, or the org level. And to your point, if it’s only the “people with the leadership titles” then that leaves a lot out of individuals out.

Kate: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I think it’s interesting to even identify what are the leadership titles. I think within product we started to kind of really build a hierarchy of leadership, right? And that is, as I mentioned before, like head of product, director of product, and again, those are all people management roles. But on the individual contributor side, principal product manager, even distinguished product manager, all of these, they’re so essential. What I’m finding in the conversations I’m having with clients is that people are really pulled towards them because it does give them that space to be more at the individual, to have their own style, to have their own way of working, to make the contributions they feel really good about. Whereas sometimes in people management, it’s not everyone’s calling. So when we think about those three different circles that you mentioned, individual and team and organization, I think it really does start with individual. Individual is in the center and that’s also respecting the different directions that the individual might want to go in and giving them space to play with that.

Douglas: It’s interesting because I think I look at scenarios that have failed or struggled in the past, and I’ve seen some that are grassroots and never seem to take hold. I’ve seen many where… And I think you even mentioned, love to hear more elaboration on this, but a big client that wanted to do something and it was all top down but there was just literally no understanding of what it was.

Kate: Yeah. I mean, that happens quite often in larger change initiatives, which is one of the main reasons I don’t do larger change initiatives anymore. I work with individuals on individual level change. There’s a big market around org-wide change. There’s a lot of money in that space. For some really good reason, organizations want to become more adaptive, they want to become more agile. And I don’t mean just kind of working an agile way, but they want to be able to be more responsive to change in markets and to change with competitors and all of these other things that I think are hugely important for organizations to be able to do. However, the way that they’re often approached is this very top down kind of methodology where it’s almost like I’ve seen consultancy set up almost roadmaps, “In the first three months we’re going to do this and we’re going to achieve X, Y, and Z in terms of change and then we’ll move on to the next step. And we’ll do you know A, B and C to produce outcomes for change.”

And what I’ve learned about larger… well, larger change initiatives, or even at an individual level is that you can’t predict what’s going to happen, because humans aren’t that easy. And whether we realize it or not, organizations are made of humans. We’re people powered, so if there’s a way to apply change to organization where it’s more open to outcome, if it’s more open to seeing what comes from different bright spots and change within an organization, then I think it can happen. There needs to be a lot of commitment and there needs to be a lot of investment and the leaders themselves need to be really into it. So when we think of top down and org change, I think the leaders do need to be bought in, but just having the leaders say that, “Yes, this is what we’re doing,” doesn’t mean the organization’s going to react to such. We need to have a different type of support, and we need to have a more open and progressive approach to seeing what change will take place and then how to magnify it.

Douglas: Yeah, I really agree with that. I think that the bottom up change is effective at the very least for the individual because you’re working with individuals that might even go off and change careers. So you’re definitely impacting them in a positive way and it’s meaningful and it’s going to have a ripple effect in industry and just more broadly. I don’t think you can have org change without the individual change, so if orgs want big change, they have to set vision and the narrative that individual can connect to and then work very closely with the individuals to make the real change happen.

Kate: Yeah, absolutely. I had a call with an organization a few weeks ago who have been going through a product transformation for a few years now. That’s not uncommon because transformation takes time and it’s really interest. It’s a very large global corporation and their leadership team has said, “Yes, we want to become a product organization. We want to work in a much more adaptive way. We’re going to invest in product.” So like all the good key buzzwords, right? The leadership team is behind them. However, in saying this, they didn’t actually think through what that would mean to the organization, what that would mean to the day to day interactions between business units and the new product people they’re bringing in and the people that have been there before are perhaps doing similar things, but in different ways. That creates a one to one tension that is getting amplified across the organization that the leaders themselves don’t see because in their minds they think they’re saying all the right things and the change will just happen.

So it’s not unique to any one organization, I think it’s kind of, from what I’ve seen, a very universal infliction and that’s also why I think that the individual change is really the place to start. Because if the leaders could, from a more kind of one on one basis, understand what it is that they’re thinking of and wanting to create, then you can develop a vision based on that, based off of an individual reflection versus what a lot of people are doing across markets and just kind of picking out some buzzwords.

Douglas: So I’m curious, when you’re working with clients, do you typically… Do the individuals reach out to you or do you get approached by the company and then start to identify the individuals within the company that you’ll kind of focus on first?

Kate: A little bit of both actually. I often work with companies that are going through a transformation of one sort or another, or introducing new ways of working and they’d like help with a group of leaders, so that often happens. And that I really enjoy because that allows me to kind of get a wide sampling of what’s happening in an organization, because I’ll work with 10 or 15 people within the organization over a number of months and you can kind of get a good picture of the patterns and the trends and what’s working and what’s not working and that can be fed back into the coaching sessions. But then I also work… I’m also contacted just one on one or just individually by people within the product world, the design world and the tech world who are looking for some coaching help. They’ve heard about coaching, they’re interested. Many of them aren’t as familiar with it so they aren’t quite sure what they’re getting into, but they contact me on their own.

Douglas: So when you’re working with organizations, how are you determining which leaders to focus on first?

Kate: A lot of them are identified by the organization initially, and it’s people that… In some organizations it’s people that have recently become leaders of product teams who have never done product before perhaps, and need some help not just understanding what product is, but adapting to all the new needs of the people on their team. It’s a different style of work, it’s a different type of leadership. You know, we’ve talked about moving from command to control to something that’s more hopefully autonomous and mission focus. So working with leaders to make that shift, that brings up a lot of stuff in an individual. It brings up questions of power and influence and just basic style of communication, so that’s really interesting. Other times it’s leaders who have just started to really… They have gone up a level and they’re a bit uncomfortable with what that next level is and how to actually build the foundations in new leadership, in a new leadership role.

So sometimes organizations will bring me in to work with kind of almost a new cohort of new leaders as they’re kind of taking the step up. Other times, it’s leadership teams. So cross functional leadership teams or leadership teams within a specific domain. So product leadership teams, design teams, I’ve worked with a couple of medium size organizations where it’s just a cross-functional leadership team itself. So the VP of brand, the VP of marketing, the VP of product, the CEO, the COO, the CFO, all coming together and doing team coaching as well. So it really varies, but I’m often not the one identifying who to coach, it’s usually out of a kind of a consultation period and a conversation about what kind of help they think they need and what I can do to help.

Douglas: Yeah, it is really fascinating to me that there’s a trend toward, oh, this is a new product manager, or there’s just getting into product leadership. It seems like the need would focus more around like the tools and tactics such as road mapping and things, whereas like there may be folks that are very familiar with those things, but have very low EQ, a very poor leadership skills.

Kate: Yeah, that’s my sweet spot really, because as you know, a lot of people become… Get promoted to a management position or a leadership position because they’re really good at what they do. They’re great at learning all the technical skills of product management. They know their OKRs, they know how to build an MVP, they know what a design sprint is and how to run that. You know, they’ve got the road mapping down, but that’s a very different skill set to what I believe leadership skills really are and that’s where we don’t give people a lot of support. Or we haven’t historically. There’s not training for leadership development that goes back very far. So this is where the coaching, one-on-one coaching I think really helps out because I get to work with an individual understanding kind of where their strengths are, where they’d like to focus, how we can kind of work together through regular day to day events that they’re experiencing and figure out what leadership means to them and how they can really improve those skills. So, yeah that’s where I really differentiate myself. I don’t focus on discovery really, I don’t focus on MVPs or OKRs or any of that, I really focus on helping people understand and build leadership skills.

Douglas: You know, it’s really fascinating to me how people get started, because some folks are maybe self-aware enough to know they need to work on it and maybe can’t get a coach yet. So they’re not going to get a formal 360 or any of these other tools that might come from a coach. And my advice is always just sit down with people and tell the story of what you’re dealing with. You know, is there a near peer or mentors that you can just, even if they don’t have advice for you just saying it out loud can often help just with the processing and acknowledgment of like, “Oh this is what’s happening.” Because when you’re in it and it’s happening, it’s easy to be reactionary, but when you’re explaining it to someone else it’s so much easier to examine it almost like as an anthropologist or something. So I’m just curious either to hear your thoughts on that or if you have other better advice for folks that are like, maybe you can’t afford a coach yet or their companies not paying for it, how might they get started and begin on this journey?

Kate: Yeah. No, I think what you said, having a conversation with somebody is an awesome start. I think finding somebody be a friend at work, a friend outside of work who kind of gets where you’re coming from, just being able to say it out loud is a huge help. Especially over the last couple years, where we’ve all been, for the most part, working from home and working on our own, when I would have times of just getting like so frustrated or just upset about whatever was going on, I would go for a walk. Luckily I lived in the area where I could just go outside and I was surrounded by amazing nature and lots of like greenery and I’d call a friend and phone a friend, right? I couldn’t see the friend, we couldn’t have a coffee like I used to probably do before or a beer after work, but I could call them and talk to them when I was going for even a five, 10 minute walk just about what was going on in my head and what I was upset about and what I was thinking, and maybe what that internal saboteur was actually saying to me.

Because it helps you break the pattern, right? You say it out loud; as you said, you can digest it in a very different way and start to break the pattern. The other thing that I highly recommend is just writing it down. When I used to work in an office back in the day, we all have sticky notes lying around and I still do now. I’m looking around, I’ve got like five different pads of sticky notes. When something would upset me or just kind of grab my attention, I’d just write down a few words on a sticky note. At one point I remember the CTO and I were just at a bit of logger heads and I would write down CTO on my post-it note, and this is years ago. I’d put it down on my desk and I’m like, “All right, I’m going to come back to that later.”

But I’ve written it out, got a little bit out of my head and on paper. By doing that, the brain starts to kind of process it a bit, right? You can leave it for a minute because it’s out of your head, it’s through your hand, it’s on a piece of paper, get some space from it and come back later. It was always really interesting when I would do this. Nine times out of 10 if I come back to those sticky notes at the end of the day, and this is part of my practice, I try to wrap up the sticky notes or at least take a look at them before I leave my desk at the end of the day and still do this. If I’d come back and see that CTO note written down, I would just be like, “Okay.”

It didn’t feel as fueled, right? It didn’t feel as dangerous, challenging. It felt like something I can deal with. So I think doing simple things like that, phone a friend, write it down on a sticky note, just kind of do little things that show that you’re starting to understand when the triggers are hitting. That’s an amazing for a step. I have a lot of clients now that are starting their own kind of mastermind groups with colleagues as well, just getting small groups of people together who are maybe going through the same thing. I have one client who started one for colleagues and they’ve all just gotten promoted, right? They’re all within the same organization, it’s a large organization, they’re all getting promoted.

I’m working with some of them, but not all of them and it’s just their way to come together every few weeks or once a month and talk about something that’s really bugging them. So there are definitely things that you can do on your own without a coach, and it’s just taking the initiative and being committed to it because you can make these changes in your kind of the way you manage your emotions and your behaviors. It just is going to take some time and some dedication.

Douglas: Okay, I just had this epiphany that it’s sort of like radioactive substances. You know, not all radioactive substances are uranium, right? The problem with uranium is it has a really long halflife and it’s very intense, right? Most radiation’s pretty intense, but the halflife really is what gets you. So in your exercise of writing it down and coming back to it later is a great check to see what’s the halflife of that emotion. Did it totally decay since when I wrote it down or is it still there? Is it worth me burning like a relationship points with the CTO to bring this up? Or is it not a big deal? Was I just like reacting and everything’s fine?

Kate: Yeah.

Douglas: I love that. Just letting it run its course, but then assessing later.

Kate: Yeah, coming back to it. Because I think one of the things we have to realize as well is like in that moment where I felt compelled to grab my sticky note and write it down, there are probably a lot of things going on and the CTO could have just been one piece of that puzzle. So by starting to do that for myself, I started to kind of understand that it’s probably not all about him, right? There’s probably all these other things going on and it just helps you build awareness of different things happening within me, different things happening in the environment around me and the culture I was working in that are also coming to play. And it’s such a simple thing to do. You know, pad a paper pen, write it down, take a look at it later in the day. You still may feel compelled that like I got to have a chat with the CTO, that’s cool. Grab a friend, talk about what you’re thinking what you’d like to say. A lot of times it almost it’s getting it out there, but it’s also kind of practicing, right? It’s figuring out what words are important to you, what words do you want to avoid and having like a really thoughtful, mindful conversation around it.

Douglas: The last point I’ll make there, because this is really great stuff is just the epiphany I just had was not only are there potentially a lot of things happening, but we don’t know what the CTO doesn’t know. We don’t know what the CTO knows that we don’t know, and so writing it down gives us time to realize some of those things so that situational awareness might bubble up for the CTO. They might come to you and apologize in an hour like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize this or that.” Or you might realize that, “Oh wow. They got a lot on their plate or there’s these technical limitations I didn’t even realize.” Whatever it is, it gives you some time to become more situationally aware.

Kate: Yeah, absolutely. It kind of goes back to how we were talking about emotional intelligence before. It’s not just understanding your own emotions, it’s understanding the impact they have on others, which I think it’s a key part of it. Because a lot of times when we think of self-awareness, and I mentioned that’s like a meta emotional intelligence skill, we think of internally what’s going on with me? How do I get to know me? But really that second aspect is key. How can I learn more about how I’m impacting others? And how what I say and what I do and how I behave is going to impact the CTO or whomever it is? So I think that’s kind of that second piece of the definition around emotional intelligence as something we don’t think about as much. We think about ourselves and knowing ourselves, but really building emotional awareness means getting to a better understanding and grips of how that’s going to impact somebody else.

Douglas: So it’s such good stuff and unfortunately we’re getting to the end of our time and I want to leave you with an opportunity to leave our listeners with a final thought.

Kate: Oh goodness. You know, I would say the final thought is to not be afraid about learning about things like self-awareness and emotional intelligence and what I call Product EQ. Go check out my website, it’s Kateleto.com. There’s a lot of articles that really dig into some of these foundational elements of emotional intelligence like self-awareness, like dealing with conflict, like empathy, like imposter syndrome. Within each of those, I really try to offer that you can do without a coach, you can do on your own with a peer or just from self-reflection. So yeah, I’d like to leave you with, don’t be afraid of it, it’s something you can learn about, it’s something you can grow and it has amazing impacts on your life and the lives around you. I hope you’ll go learn more from me or elsewhere.

Douglas: Excellent. Kate, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you today and I hope people do go check out the book. It’s part of a series that are really, I would say, tight concise to the point effective books. And I think yours is not an outlier there so not a lot of fluff, it’s just great, actionable advice and so I recommend people check it out. And again, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for joining us.

Kate: Thank you very much. It’s been a lot of fun.

Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want to know more, head over to our blog where I post weekly articles and resources about radical inclusion, team health and working better. Voltagecontrol.com.