The Kate Leto Hypothesis: Human Skills Are Teachable

Kate Leto’s product management, org design, and marketing background spans 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 consultant, 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 all digital storefronts.

In this episode of the Product Science Podcast, we cover Kate’s journey through product, and the value of 1 on 1 communication and emotional intelligence in product. We cover how organizations handle large scale transformations, and how to coach individuals on what solutions work best for them.

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Resources

Questions We Explore in This Episode

How did Kate start her career in product? How did Kate’s experience in PR position her towards product? How can marketing help position you for a career in product? What was it like working at Yahoo in the early years of their battle with Google? How did Yahoo approach product? How did Yahoo approach an agile transformation? How clear and focused was Yahoo’s mission in the early 2000’s? How did Yahoo manage teams and their org chart?

How did Kate become the head of product at Moo? How did Kate become an interim VP at Moo? How did Moo’s customer focus drive its success? How did Moo better understand their clients through their customer journey? How much did Moo invest into customer feedback? How did Moo’s approach to company culture help focus the team on their shared strategy? How did Kate build relationships as a new interim VP when returning to Moo? How much value does 1 on 1 communication offer? How do product managers create lasting changes at a company?

What did Kate specialize in when she enter consulting? How did Kate help large companies handle product transformations? How much can company culture affect product? How does an organization’s transformation start with individuals? How much patience does an org wide transformation need? How long can it take to transform an organization? Why does an organization transformation require changes from both individuals but also from leadership?

How does consulting individuals differ from coaching an organization? How do you find a client’s real needs during 1 on 1 interviews? Why is coaching similar to therapy? How does understanding a client’s past help inform their coaching journey? How does asking the right questions help clients find the best solutions for them? How does a person figure out if they are a good fit for coaching? How do you know if a coach is a good fit for you? How do you know when a coaching client is ready to change?

How important is emotional intelligence in product management? How does professional coaching involve confronting personal biases? How do you build a emotional intelligence into the process of product? How do you balance between hiring for technical skills versus human skills? How much of product is trying to change human habits? How wide spread is imposter syndrome? How can you use coaching to combat imposter syndrome? How can you apply product principles to aid in personal growth?

How do you know when a client is resistant to change? What options do you have with clients who refuse to change? How can you set clear expectations on a subjective discipline like coaching? Why is it hard to predict outcomes in coaching? How is leadership more decentralized across an organization? How do empowered teams transform everyone in an organization into a leader?

Human skills are teachable. You can build your self awareness, resilience, and leadership skills, but it is much more disciplined and longer term than a technical skill might be. You just have to be committed to it.

 

Quotes from this episode

You don't become a product leader when you reach a certain level. You could be a leader at any level. Click To Tweet Human skills are teachable. You can build your self awareness, resilience, and leadership skills, but it is much more disciplined and longer term than a technical skill might be. You just have to be committed to it. Click To Tweet People start out with very grand ideas of what can be achieved when companies are going through a transformation and the best advice I have is to start really small. Click To Tweet

Transcription

Holly:
This week on the Product Science Podcast, my guest is Kate Leto from Kate Leto consulting. Kate Leto’s, product management, org design and marketing background spans 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 consultant, 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 Products Managers Using Products EQ To Go Beyond Culture And Skills is now available at all digital storefronts. Welcome Kate.

Kate Leto:
Hi, so great to be here.

Holly:
I’m excited to have you on the podcast.

Kate Leto:
Yay.

Holly:
All right. I always like to start by hearing a little bit about people’s journey into product. How did you get into product?

Kate Leto:
Probably just like every other guest you’ve had that’s answered this question, it’s never a straight line story, not a linear experience. I started in product a long time ago. I actually started out initially out of university. I went to school in Northern California and started out doing PR for what was then called a high tech advertising firm so this was back in that day. Learning a lot about this world of advertising and marketing and technology and writing and communicating and all of that cool stuff. After a while, it actually took me to Chicago where I was working with a really big PR firm called Edelman and did that for a little bit before I started to move into a startup phase. I worked for my very first startup before the first bubble, just to age myself even more.
As it goes with any startup, you go in with a certain role, I went in with more of a marketing and communications role and it just grows, right? And you start to experience all these different sides of things. So I say with that startup through the bubble, believe it or not, we survived and then continued on working in more of a marketing roles and went back to school. I went to school at Northwestern and got a master’s there. From that, immediately went out to Yahoo in Sunnyvale and started out in a product marketing role that quickly led into product.
It was a twisty turn route. But when I first really got involved with that startup back in Chicago, I started to learn much more about what product was and how there was a lot of similarities in our focus on the customer from the marketing side as well. It was a pretty basic transition for me at that point. So when I got to Yahoo and there was more of a formalized product role, it was a pretty easy transition then. I stayed with Yahoo in Sunnyvale for a few years and then that took me to London where I was focusing on launching local search which, again aging myself, back in the day of when we had local search and it’s just gone from there.

Holly:
Wow. What was it like being at Yahoo in those days?

Kate Leto:
It was pretty cool. I mean, this was when Google was just getting going and I actually worked in search and marketplace for a little bit at Yahoo. There was a battle with Google at the time and trying to figure out the positioning and trying to figure out the functionality. There was a lot of hush hush meetings over new types of search that were going to be launched. It was a really interesting time. Yahoo was great because it had good structure around product and marketing at the time and it had really smart people that made it a good place to grow up learning about what product’s all about and to give you some foundations. Yahoo, so this would’ve been early 2000’s, that was my very first introduction to agile and starting to work in an agile way and starting to be involved in sprints and all of that great stuff and learning the role of the product person within a team that was working in an agile way.
I remember that fondly. I remember spending lots of meeting time together with the teams trying to figure out, “What are we doing? How do we do this?” It was very different than a waterfall method that we’d all experienced quite a bit previously. There are a lot of cool things about Yahoo and also the fact that it gave me the opportunity to go to different places and take on different roles to travel, ended up moving to London, which I never would’ve expected so I loved that. There were also frustrations of course, because at that time, Yahoo was trying to be everything to everyone and you could feel that there wasn’t really a good center focus. Like Google had search, that was their thing. Yahoo, we had cars and autos and we had different celebrity gossips, and we had this and we had that and we were all over the place. Working there, you kind of felt that frustration of like, “Can’t we just be something? What are we? How do we describe ourselves? Are we overextending?” so that conversation was going on even back then.

Holly:
Interesting. You mentioned that there was a good amount of structure around product there at the time. What did that look like?

Kate Leto:
It changed quite a bit. I mean, as you can imagine, working in a larger organization, you’re constantly going from being… Well, I felt we were constantly going from being really centralized in product to being very decentralized because Yahoo did have all these different divisions, I guess, you could call them. And so, sometimes we were decentralized within our teams, we’re reporting directly into a general manager and having that kind of structure around it was more team based or even business unit based. Other times, we were very centralized through a product or a marketing function that kind of went up and down the organization and all across.
But also, there were some really cool, really smart people there that were trying to take on some big challenges. It was really cool to be around. Everyone I worked with at Yahoo, there wasn’t one person where I was like, “What are they doing here?” They were all pretty good, they all knew what was going on, and they had an interesting contribution to the conversation. Actually, it was a good place to grow up, I think.

Holly:
Isn’t that so fun when you get to have coworkers that are all really on their game?

Kate Leto:
Yeah. Yeah. Luckily, in the work that I’ve done and it’s been quite diverse. I don’t know if I’ve ever really found myself in a place where it’s like… Well, maybe one or two times. Where you’re like, “Mmm, what is this person doing here? Why am I here?” It does happen, of course. But for the most part, after Yahoo, I went to Moo and that was another great example of really smart people, really passionate people, really cool product.

Holly:
Is that the little cards?

Kate Leto:
Yeah. It started out as the mini cards. Yeah. Back the day, there was integration with Flickr and had a great social community around it. Luckily, thankfully, happily, Moo is still around as well and I’ve had a chance over my career… I was their first head of product and product manager at the same time, it was one of those roles. Stayed with them for a few years and it was a really cool, at times, challenging position just like any other.
But after I left, started doing consulting and just working with all sorts of different types of clients. A few years back, probably in 2017 or 2016, I went back to Moo to help out in an interim VP role and do some coaching along with that. It was so cool to see Moo, probably five times bigger than when I left it previously. But it was the same DNA, the same type of people were there, very smart and very creative and very open. I think that’s one of the reasons it survived all of the crazy times over the past decade or so. It’s got this amazing DNA within the culture that the people just lived day to day.

Holly:
And were there ways that manifested in how the product org functioned?

Kate Leto:
Yeah, I’m sure it still does today even. When I was there, it was a long time ago, we were very focused on customer which I think was part of the DNA that I took from Yahoo because Yahoo is very focused on customer. Moo is very focused on customer, building a product that worked for the customers, and a bit obsessive about it. One of my regular meetings every week as head of product was with the head of customer service, to understand what people are saying and what’s going on and where are there problems with the product.
My role in Moo as head of product, there is a digital product, of course, which was the e-commerce side but then there was also the physical product which was the cards or the accessories. And so, I got to work with an amazing product designer to develop that as well and learned a whole bunch of things. But all of that came down to what the customer need and how can we best meet that and if we’re flubbing up somehow, how can we find out more and make a change? I think that came through on the product. I remember when we hired enough people to actually create teams within Moo, our cross-functional teams, their remits are all customer focused and how can we serve the customers in a different way, in a better way? Product was pretty cool.

Holly:
Yeah. At the time, what were the techniques that you used to understand what customers needed?

Kate Leto:
Gosh, I’m trying to remember. I’ve got to be honest, it was over a decade ago. We did some extensive ethnographic research projects. At the time, when I first joined Moo, it was a UK only site and we wanted to expand to offer services as well in the US and across Europe. I spent some time in the US with our UX designer and our head of design and going around doing lots of interviews, trying to understand new business people or small business people who are really interested in business cards because it can really help publicize their company and their brand and communicate who they are. We spent days, days and days, going around doing a lot of interviews in the US, the same practice in the UK, all over, up and down the country.
I think that was really cool. That was one of my favorite highlights because you get to hear these stories and it’s not just about a business card, it’s a person who’s trying to start a business or has a small business and they’re really working very hard to make it and succeed and how can something seems like nothing big, like a business card, actually feel aspirational to them and help them communicate who they are and what they do and become even better at it. That was one of the main things we did. We also did interviews quite frequently with users. Moo was really cool in that it had a great social community, right? A great customer community. People would tell us all the time that things were going well or not well and we could respond to that. We’d actually bring in groups of customers frequently, to tell us about what’s going well and what’s not going well.
And if we were developing a new product at the time, definitely would have people come in or go to a pub and buy some pizza and say like, “What do you think of this new product that we’re trying out? Would it work for you? Would it not work for you?” We were doing a lot of that because it was, again, it was a physical product as well as an online product. So you wanted people to touch it and feel it and you could only get that by bringing folks together. Now that I think back, we were in a really lucky position because we had a really dedicated, devoted customer base, and I remember having really high NPS scores and we were all celebrating that and judging that back in the day. So yeah, it was a very cool customer focused experience.

Holly:
Yeah. One of the things you said that I’m interested in is that you came back later as an interim VP. What is it like to step in as an interim VP where there’s probably products people under you who’ve been working at the company for a while and how do you build those relationships with them?

Kate Leto:
Well, slowly. But I’d say one thing, it wasn’t too difficult because people had heard of me before and that I used to work there. The CPO that I came in to work with and help his team out was a great guy and made it very comfortable for everyone. Also, I’d say that the people that I was working with on the product team had that Moo DNA in which they’re very open and really very friendly and very focused but easy to build a relationship with. Well, all of them, I did one on one coaching sessions as well as helping with different areas of the product community there at Moo. Through the one-on-one sessions, you really get to build a relationship. That made it a lot easier as well. It was a really cool experience. It was a little freaky at first, going back in. A much bigger office, a much bigger company, many more people there but it felt really good.

Holly:
Yeah. That must have been exciting to go into something that you’d helped build and see it, it’s a little more grown up.

Kate Leto:
Yeah. Yeah. It was. It was so interesting because some of the decisions we’d made when I had been there seven, eight years before, were still there. Something’s definitely changed but some of the words that we created back in the day, the internal lingo, still being used. I’m like, “Oh, I know that one.”

Holly:
Do you have any examples of those systems that were still being used?

Kate Leto:
With Moo, at the time, when you were building your cards, you could do it in various different ways and I’m pretty sure it’s still the same today. You could upload your own design or you could pick a Moo design, a variety of different ways. One of the things that I did research for back in that ethnographic trip to the US and across the UK was to figure out the best way to do that and how to communicate it to customers.
Some of the technology behind it had evolved but the philosophy behind that was still there. The messaging that was shared with customers… Well, some of the words had changed. It was still the same kind of thinking and how we want to offer these products even down to the acronym that we created internally to communicate about what we call the pre-designed pack, something that was already designed and you just put your data into it. I used to call them PDPs and they were still being called PDPs seven, eight years later and I just thought that was hysterical. I’m like, “I did that. That was me.”

Holly:
That’s cool. After this journey has spanned a lot, so we haven’t gotten into all of it, but as you moved more into consulting, what areas did you decide to focus on?

Kate Leto:
Yeah. Well, when I left Moo, I left back in 2011 the first time and I was going to do my own startup. Because in London at the time, that’s what everybody did and I didn’t quite know… I had an idea. I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know how to get there. So I needed something to help pay the bills while I was figuring things out so I started working with a VC firm helping their portfolio companies on product. Helping them understand what is product, how to get it going from the beginning, how to hire for product, how to think about it in every aspect of brand new company.
I did that for a while and that was really… I quickly realized I really liked doing it because it was working with a variety of companies and they were startups which I was still really familiar with and I liked the culture and the attitudes so I just kept doing that for a little bit. And then, the next thing you know, we begin the era of the transformation, the big org transformation, and big companies wanted to learn how startups were building products. So I started to do the same kind of stuff but on a much larger scale which took me into a different space and the work that I was doing. It was really cool and exciting but it was going from startup phase to scale really quickly. Yeah.

Holly:
What was it like going into the big companies that are trying to transform? I know, transformation is a buzzword but a difficult thing to achieve.

Kate Leto:
Yeah. Yeah, it is. It’s really difficult. I’ll be honest, I’ve worked with a lot of companies trying to transform. It could be a digital transformation where they’re trying to go to update their technology to better meet customer market needs or it could be a product transformation where they’re reorganizing how their product org really works and what’s behind it. It could be a million in one different things. A culture transformation that goes way beyond product. All of them are really big. People start out with very grand ideas on what can be achieved and I think throughout all of it, the best advice I have is to start really small. Almost start like I did with the startups, right? You start with a couple of people, maybe you start with a team and you start to create change there even individually.
That’s where the coaching work that I do really comes into play because any change within an organization, isn’t going to happen, for the most part, without some individual change as well and personal change. You start small and it takes a lot of time and it often doesn’t work and you often have to change tact again and again and again. It takes a lot of commitment and discipline which is where I think a lot of leadership teams just get frustrated because there are no instant change results. It does take a lot of time and commitment to create, especially an org-wide change. It’s feasible but it’s definitely a challenge.
What I’ve also learned is it’s really difficult to do that kind of change as an individual contributor, right? I need a team of people to do that with. Luckily, I have other colleagues that I can bring in to big change engagements like that. But more and more I’ve found the place to start is you start with the individual and then you start with the team and you create change there and you create some excitement around that, that others in the organization see and you grow more organically. But of course, to even do that, you definitely have to have leadership buy in. It’s not awkward but it’s something that it’s a bit bottoms up and a bit top down at the same time.

Holly:
Yeah. You have to be working at it from both angles and have some people working hard on both sides.

Kate Leto:
Yeah. And wanting to change and being open to that because a lot of people will talk the talk and say, “We want to change the way we’re working. Perhaps we want to give product people more responsibility or we want to introduce a new competency,” but when it comes down to it, sometimes that change is more difficult than people realize or expect.

Holly:
How does that play out when you’re working with individual coachees? How do you help an individual achieve their internal change?

Kate Leto:
Yeah. It’s different for everyone, really. Because individual coachees are bringing in a different kind of background, a different experience, perhaps some baggage from a role that they’ve had in the past or that they have now. One of the first things we try to do is just identify what’s the change they want to create, what are they really working towards, and talking through things like what have they done so far to try to create some change and what are the blockers they’re experiencing and what are the things that are really pushing them and helping them move forward?
We go through some basic conversations, really, and exercises to help get to that point and really better identify also what’s the person’s values and what do they want to be doing? Because a lot of times, especially over the last couple years, we’ve all had the world change a million times over and may realize that the work we’re doing may not be the thing that really lights our fire and that we want to be doing every day. It’s getting back to some of those challenges and conversations as well. What gets you going in the morning? What doesn’t get you going in the morning? What are the values behind that? That may come from your childhood even or growing up or past work experiences and talking through those and seeing how does that compare to where you are now? Is this a place that can offer that? If so, that’s great. Let’s go figure out how to do it and how you can be the leader in making that change for yourself. And if not, how can we figure out what’s next?
The thing with coaching is that, and this is often kind of a misperception I think, at least with the type of coaching I do, I can’t give them the answers. I may really want to say like, “I think you should just do this,” but that’s not my job. My job is to help them figure it out and to create a safe space and to ask some questions to help along the way. It’s just using a variety of tools and frameworks and just really conversations, open and honest conversations, to help them figure it out for themselves.

Holly:
So how do coachees find you?

Kate Leto:
A lot of coachees, a lot of it’s word of mouth, to be honest. I get a lot of contacts through LinkedIn or Twitter. Socials are always good. I do a lot of virtual talk these days so a lot of people will find me through those. Back in the day, it used to be more through events and stuff but not so much right now. So yeah, but a lot of it really, for me, it’s a lot of word of mouth which is great. People I’ve worked with in the past will refer me to someone else and we’ll just see if we’re a good fit and go from there.

Holly:
Yeah. How does a person figure out if they’re a good fit for coaching?

Kate Leto:
A good fit for coaching? I think it’s important to talk to a lot of different coaches, to be honest, and to have what I call chemistry conversations or chemistry calls to get to know each other, to hear what’s the coach’s approach, what are their beliefs, what kind of program or engagement do they usually offer. But also, I think the best way to figure it out is by doing some coaching in that initial call. I’ll ask some questions, I’ll try to trigger some thinking that will help the person either realize this is a good fit or not. And really, the same for me because it’s really important for me and my motivation to really believe that the person that I’d be working with wants to change and can change and is really motivated by that. If not, then I’ll also say it’s not a great fit but maybe I know somebody else who is.

Holly:
How do you assess if the person seems like they want to change and can change?

Kate Leto:
It’s responses to questions, I suppose. It’s the conversation that we have. Ideally, before somebody says I’d like to do coaching they think about why. Maybe they do a little journaling about it or at least take some time to reflect on it. Why am I interested in coaching? I think coaching right now within our product space is really popular, which is cool. But I think because of that, everyone’s looking for a coach but don’t always take the time to think about why do I really want to do it. Perhaps it’s not just to get a promotion or get the next leg up, but what’s behind it? What’s behind that? What’s the why? I look for the why and what they want to get out of it then we go from there.

Holly:
I see. I know we had chatted a little bit about how important EQ is and of course, your book has to do with EQ. Tell me a little bit about that.

Kate Leto:
I think it was early 2016 or 2017, I’ve lost track of years. But I did a coaching program in London and it was mostly because in my consulting, my clients would often start out having a conversation about some strategy we’re working on or some kind of delivery or execution side of things. We’d start out talking about a roadmap and five minutes into the conversation, the client would be asking something about like, “I don’t think this is going to get done because my manager doesn’t like me anyway. Why doesn’t my manager like me?” or, “I can’t get along with my teammates. There’s something going on there,” or “I don’t know if I want to be working here.” It quickly turns to more of a personal conversation and I wasn’t quite sure I was comfortable having those conversations so I went and did this coaching program to help learn some different techniques and tools that I could bring back into coaching.
After I finished that program, I remember sitting in my front room on my flat in London and I was looking through a bunch of product blogs and content, just getting caught up on things and realized there wasn’t anything that was talking about the how we do our work, the behaviors, and the importance of things like emotional intelligence in product management. Everything was talking about a tool or a technique, what I call technical skills. And so, I just started blogging about it. Initially, it was under this phrase, Product EQ so let’s build product EQ and let’s talk about that. The blogs turned into talks and the talks turned into some work and it’s just gone from there. In the book, Hiring Product Managers Using Product EQ To Go Beyond Culture And Skills, it’s mouthful. But the idea was to, in a way, try to operationalize how you could bring emotional intelligence and thinking about emotional intelligence into something that we do pretty regularly as product people and that’s hiring.
It doesn’t really give you a five step process of like… Or framework like, “Here’s how you hire people.” It’s much more about how can you change how you think about hiring and hire for things like self-awareness and leadership and creativity and resilience versus just hiring for your pedigree, where you went to school or where they worked at previously or maybe a certain kind of technology or a customer segment. To try to hire for more of a well rounded person that you’d be working with so that’s where it all came from.

Holly:
It reminds me of the debate between technical skills and characteristics of a person which I think are harder to teach. Some of them can be taught but I think they’re harder to teach. What has your experience with that been?

Kate Leto:
Yeah, it is harder to teach. I call them technical skills like you and then I call them human skills. Human skills are teachable. You can build your self awareness, you really can. You can build resilience, you can build leadership skills, all of these things, but it is much more disciplined and longer term skill than a technical skill might be.
Our brains work in such a way that we can more easily learn a new tool or framework to help with our roadmaps or building an MVP or doing A/B testing or whatever it might be to actually make changes in your human skills. It means kind of reprogramming, taking a look at the behaviors you might have currently, what you’d like to do instead, and how to take baby steps to get there. It’s completely feasible. Lots of science and research out there shows that you can build your human skills but it does take a little more time and energy. But you can build your self-awareness, you can build your ability to have emotional self-control, you can do all of these things. You just got to be committed to it.

Holly:
Absolutely. Do you have any success stories of any clients that you’ve helped build those skills?

Kate Leto:
Oh yeah, lots. I’ve worked with a woman in the past who wasn’t quite sure about her job but what was really behind it was a lot of imposter syndrome and a lot of issues with self-confidence and self doubt that were not unique to her. This is kind of a common… We all have these moments. I wrote an article last year about imposter syndrome and the research that I’d found said that 70% of people say that they have experienced imposter syndrome at some point. I kind of wonder about the other 30% because I’m not quite sure they’re telling the truth because I think it’s just such a universal thing. It’s kind of part of being human. Anyway, so we did a lot of work about breaking down what are those limiting beliefs that might have been holding her back and thinking about what’s the story that she’s telling herself.
So it could be something like, “I’m no good at my job because…” The story I’m telling myself is, “I’m no good at my job because my boss didn’t praise me in a meeting today but praised somebody else and I’m going to lose my job.” One of the first steps you take is, what is that story you’re telling yourself? Is it true? Do you have any evidence behind that? To try to break down something that seems ambiguous into something that’s more real and then reframe it and start to think about what would you like it to be, what would you like this belief to be, and what are small steps or experiments that we could take to have you move into this more positive space with this limiting belief.

Holly:
That’s really interesting. I’d love to hear more about how you use the small step or an experiment to move a person past that limiting belief.

Kate Leto:
Yeah. I mean, a lot of times… It’s the same with organizations, right? It’s the same with products. This is where I think I really enjoy the personal development space and coaching around these things. It’s because there’s a lot of things in common that we can relate to.
When thinking about breaking down a limiting belief, it’s something you hold true. You have a hypothesis that X and Y is true and it’s creating a little experiment even once to see if it is true or not. And then also, if we are ready to move into a more positive belief, how can you get there? I often call them micro risks. What small thing can you do to test this, to try to move into a more positive space? It could be as simple as talking… And this could be a big risk for somebody, but talking to somebody else on the team to try to get a better perspective on relationships with the manager or something like that. But something small, often in coaching sessions we’ll talk about, can you start to keep track of or journal whenever something happens that you feel is supporting this hypothesis?
It’s almost like creating a journal and tracking things and tracking when things go, “Wow,” so we could look at it together and see what’s happened over the past week. It’s small changes in behavior that feel really big but it’s just breaking it down because we’re not ready to do something huge. If you were, you probably wouldn’t be talking to me. But we are ready to make some small changes and then build on that and build on that continue to test and iterate, it’s something we can borrow from products.

Holly:
Yeah, that’s awesome. It made me think of a lab notebook like journaling, “The subject has displayed.”

Kate Leto:
Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. It’s totally true. I’ve been thinking for the longest time, I need to create a templated notebook to share with the people I work with and just be like, “Okay, so start a new page. It’s a new way to track.”

Holly:
I love it. This person that you were telling me about, she was able to get past the imposter syndrome?

Kate Leto:
Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t happen overnight and it’s something she’s still working on because I don’t think through even 6 or 12 coaching sessions, you’re going to get over it entirely. But through coaching, you could learn the tools on how to break it down and how to become more aware of it when it is popping up to be like, “Okay, so is this something that I should take into my four steps and… Or my four questions and ask myself these things before I jump to some really negative conclusion?” I don’t know if anybody’s ever cured but hopefully, you’re at a point where you can identify it and know some basic tools to help get past it.

Holly:
Yeah. I feel like that’s true. I feel like we could be talking about regular therapy at this point like, “Yes. That’s also the case.”

Kate Leto:
Absolutely. And it probably comes from… I’ve done therapy for a long time so it’s a lot of the same methodology that you can bring into these different conversations.

Holly:
Yeah, yeah. Me too. A lot of reframing-

Kate Leto:
Yes.

Holly:
And-

Kate Leto:
Exactly,

Holly:
Just testing, seeing what you actually have evidence for, and talking it through.

Kate Leto:
Yeah.

Holly:
Have you encountered situations where you went in to help either an individual or an organization and you just sort of realized this isn’t going to work, they’re not going to change. What has that been like?

Kate Leto:
Some organizations you can kind of tell sooner than later and sometimes, I’ll have that conversation upfront and maybe decide not to take the engagement. Other times, again, have the conversation upfront but be very measured as we go into it. I think a lot of it, just like with any job I suppose, is being really clear about what areas you think you can help and influence and grow and change and what areas are going to be really difficult to do that in and maybe work with, if you have a really great client sponsor on the inside, they can help smooth the ground in ways that I wouldn’t know about. Because the other thing to keep in mind is I’m on the outside and sometimes that’s a pro and sometimes that’s a con, I can come in with fresh eyes but it’s not my organization, it’s not my job.
So having a really good client partner on the inside can make all the difference as well. Because a lot of times, they’ll have the leverage to help in ways that I just wouldn’t be able to understand it at first blush. A lot of times, I’ll be really honest, it will be a year into a transformation and you’ve made some progress but it’s not what you wanted. But I think that’s also… It’s taught me to not make big promises going into that kind of work and to not make big plans because the minute you write down something on paper, the chance of it becoming true is really pretty slim.
It’s made me learn to become a bit more open to whatever outcome might evolve or might come out of the work and then try to iterate and grow from there. So instead of working with clients and having a six month or a year plan, I take much more of an iterative approach now and work with clients that are accepting of that and have the same perspective. Because when you start working with people about human behavior and change, you really don’t know what you’re going to get into until you get into it and it’s very difficult to promise certain outcomes and changes. You can always make your best guess and best try but humans are complicated.

Holly:
Yes. Yes, they are, very complicated. I love how much of this conversation has really been about humans and how we interact with others and what we think of ourselves. Because so much of doing product management well is understanding humans and so, that’s wonderful. What kind of advice would you give to a mid to senior career product person who’s trying to become a better product leader?

Kate Leto:
I think it’s really important to understand what is product leadership these days. And for that, I was thinking about this earlier today, in my mind, you don’t become a product leader when you reach a certain level. You could be a leader at any level. I think leadership is really democratized these days. The people I work with often are on the more senior level or executive level. But when I talk about leadership coaching, it doesn’t mean you have to be a director or above because a lot of us at any level are just working to build these leadership skills.
Back to your question, I think I would ask them what is their picture of leadership? What are they really trying to achieve? And in the conversations I have, a first session or a chemistry call, it’s often breaking that down. I often hear things like, “I want to get better at stakeholder management. I want to help my team deal with tension and conflict a bit better. I want to…” This comes up quite a bit these days, “How to take care of myself because that’ll help me take care of my team?”
As people are thinking about and wanting to focus on becoming a better leader, I think my first question is what is leadership to you and where are you now and where would you really like to get to on that definition or on that spectrum? It’s self-reflection, really, and answering some of those questions before you really get on a call with the coach or start to take action around, “How do I become a better leader?” Where do you want to start? Where do you want to get to?

Holly:
Yeah. All good progress comes with self-reflection.

Kate Leto:
For sure.

Holly:
How can our listeners find you if they would like to learn more about Kate Leto?

Kate Leto:
Well, I have a website aptly named, kateleto.com. I have Twitter, my Twitter handles @kleto, just the letter K and my last name is L-E-T-O. I’m on LinkedIn and you can find me there. All the basics.

Holly:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you, Kate.

Kate Leto:
It’s been great. Thanks very much, Holly.