Suiting Up

It’s been a while. I’ve spent a few years learning a lot – about myself, about product management, about Germany, about managing and leading people. It’s required a lot of armour work.

Man doing up the buttons on his suit jacket.

I mean this in the sense of pulling down a lot of my defenses, looking around, working on my defense mechanisms, learning a lot about what pulls them up, when they’re useful, how they’re blocking me, how I can work on stopping them blocking me. Weirdly, although at times it made me feel extremely weak, I’ve walked out a lot more confident in myself, what I can contribute and where I’m willing to contribute.

We tend to talk about defense mechanisms as if they are always bad. The truth – as a therapist I saw during this period would tell me – is that they are built up for a reason, in response to a situation or series of situations that we face, to help us get through those situations. The ones that tend to work, we tend to keep.

So, defense mechanisms can be super useful. They can help us get through really difficult situations, and even can drive us forward at times when we don’t feel 100% psychologically safe.

Defense mechanisms can sometimes be physical. Like a knight’s armour, the right outfit can sometimes help out. I have a set of suits specifically for this purpose: if I’m going to give a talk in public (at a conference, or say at a client event), I’ll often pull them on. They fit well and give me a little confidence boost that I would otherwise need. Since I became more aware of the way I use these , I have also noticed other colleagues who use makeup, clothing or accessories in a similar way.

Woman putting on lipstick in the side mirror of her car.

Side note: I’ve been thinking a bit about this post that I put up a few years back, and realised that perhaps the artist I critiqued for her lipstick may have been doing the exact same thing.

Then there are the not-so-useful ones. Like the suit that used to fit, or is only appropriate in certain situations, these are the ones worth casting off or considering very carefully when to activate them. Rather than helping resolve or improve a situation, or to help achieve a goal, they tend to make it worse.

This is not rocket science. But sometimes, going back to these sorts of basics helps to think through what could be better in the future.

Of course, anyone who has worked as a manager or a leader has hit upon moments where their approach has improved or ruined a precarious scenario. A key goal for contemporary managers is to provide the sort of psychological safety that allows their team to shine, or at least it should be in my opinion.

For Product Managers and Product Leaders, it’s a bigger game that doesn’t just involve their company’s, their team’s or even their own psychological safety. What sort of features or approaches don’t fit any more? Which ones could be used in bigger contexts? Which ones are our customers and users currently using that don’t fit and could actually be destructive in the (medium-)long term? How do we encourage better behaviour through our product?

I think these are some choice questions to suit up and ask.

Suit photo by Javier Reyes on Unsplash, Lipstick photo by Gustavo Spindula on Unsplash   

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