Sharon Anne Kean: The Ultimate Roadtrip: from Product Manager to Product Leader — Leading The Product

Oct 17, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

Sharon is a global product & technology leader. As Product Director at SEEK, Hong Kong, she headed up the candidate product across Asia markets. With a strong background in high growth disruptive start-ups, Sharon has worked in a diverse range of sectors including fintech, e-commerce and most recently recruitment. She believes in empowering teams by hiring great people and creating an environment where they are able to put the customer at the heart of the product. At Leading the Product 2019, Sharon spoke to the audience about finding your way from product manager to product leader.

As Sharon explains, product managers are a busy bunch! They’re the point of connection between the business, user experience and the technical side of the product.

With people and options everywhere, it can be hard to think about moving into a leadership role. Sharon has seen great product managers who are so busy, they forget to think about elevating their careers.

But what do product managers actually do, and what’s the difference between a product manager and a leader? “I wasn’t even sure when I started. I saw leaders as people who had meetings I wasn’t invited to. One thing product leaders need to do is inspire others and tell them what you’re doing,” says Sharon Anne.

According to Sharon Anne, a lot of what product leaders do comes down to metrics. When you’re in a more senior role, the metrics you’re focused on become company-wide, rather than product-specific.

As a product manager, you will work with developers, analysts, stakeholders and the people you need to help you deliver results.

Product leaders work a bit more on strategy and vision rather than delivery. You’ll interact with people higher up in the business and the numbers you track will change quite a lot.

To share an example about metrics, a Product Manager may want to increase the number of people who successfully register and create an account on the SEEK website, to help more people find jobs. This PM will know they’ve done a good job if they increase the number of candidate registrations by 20 per cent.

A Senior PM may want to ensure that SEEK is the most popular way for candidates to discover jobs in Australia, so that SEEK can help more people grow their career and maintain market share as a business. They will know they have done a good job if they increase the number of candidates visiting SEEK by 20%.

At a Product Leader level, the aim is to ensure SEEK continues to be responsible for the majority of job placements in Australia, so the business is healthy and set up for long term success. A Product Leader will know they have done a good job if our company NPS increases and the number of placements increases by 20%.

Being a more senior leader means people and organisations are your product. You’re responsible for hiring, organisational structure and culture, rather than things like online forms, features and sprint planning. “As a leader, your responsibility is to provide your team with an environment where you can get stuff done,” says Sharon Anne.

Sketch by Rebecca Jackson

Becoming a Product Leader

How do you get through the fog and find out what good product leadership looks like?

Sharon Anne’s advice to future and aspiring product leaders is to hit the road with a good strategy.

Your ‘car’ is your personal brand and visibility. This vehicle has to be easy to spot and be memorable. Consider what you want to be known for, and what your organisation looks for in its leaders.

When you start your leadership journey, consider whether you look the part. While there is no prescriptive formula, there will be evolution as you become the right fit for the role you want to take on.

As an aspiring leader, you also need to think about the company you want to be part of. Do you fit the type of description they would be looking for?

Now you’re on the road, be part of company-wide initiatives and join cross-functional task forces. Attend internal talks, mentor junior team members, blog and make sure you have a ‘seat at the table’.

As a product leader, you need to be visible within your product management ecosystem. You need to be on people’s radar so they will give you opportunities. If you’re not visible, it is less likely opportunities will open for you.

This means asking for feedback, growing your reach and your network, getting advice from your manager and talking to other leaders. Your career is something you have to continually breathe life into, and it is a team effort so ask for feedback and support.

“There are people who have done things before you, and you can learn from them, so ask for help,” recommends Sharon Anne. “If you don’t know how to take the next step in your career, ask your manager. This doesn’t have to be a sign of weakness.”

Also, make sure you’re enjoying the journey. Otherwise there is no point aiming for your final destination.

On the road to leadership

You also have to choose a good route. It can be short, medium or long, depending on your approach and strategy. As a leader, your team will be asking you which route to take so think about this on your journey to becoming a leader as well.

When climbing the ladder, consciously look for opportunities to add extra value in your role, including:

  • Mentor and guide team members
  • Cement great teams by glueing them together
  • Flex vulnerability and confidence
  • Practice leadership informally (unofficially)
  • Nurture the product culture

Sharon Anne adds that you have to be careful with your time:

Focus 80% of your time on the highest leverage (value-adding) areas — vision > strategy > planning > delivery. As you move into a leadership role, you’ll shift from planning and delivery to vision and strategy.

Building great teams is also very important as you progress as a leader. Effort must be taken when hiring as it has the potential to make or break your product.

Sharon Anne shares the example of TransferWise, which offers “Money without borders: Instant, convenient and nearly free.”

Recently launched in Australia, TransferWise challenges the model of banks charging people a lot to move money overseas. At this business, the product teams are all in charge of solving problems in alignment with their vision. They are largely autonomous, so long as they help fulfil the ultimate purpose.

As a leader, on behalf of your team, you need to:

  • Create great delivery systems
  • Build strong teams
  • Help set a direction
  • Maintain that direction

There isn’t a right or wrong route to product leadership but Sharon Anne encourages people to consider leadership roles. “The world needs more great product leaders and you will bring something unique to a leadership team.”

Originally published at on October 17, 2019.

SEEK blog

At SEEK we’ve created a community of valued, talented, diverse individuals that really know their stuff. Enjoy our Product & Technical insights…


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Digital Content Manager at SEEK — editing everything in perpetuum

SEEK blog

SEEK blog

At SEEK we’ve created a community of valued, talented, diverse individuals that really know their stuff. Enjoy our Product & Technical insights…

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