The Manager’s Guide To Leading With A Light Touch

Author

KC Ifeanyi

September 12, 2014

It may be difficult to think of any part of well-established colossus Adobe as a startup, but that’s exactly how Ashley Still, senior director of product management at Adobe, sees her Primetime team.

Primetime, Adobe’s Internet television platform for operators and programmers, launched in 2013 and has already been adopted by media giants including Comcast, NBC Sports, and Turner Broadcasting. Still, who has been at Adobe for 10 years and currently heads up Primetime, says that the new platform presents a unique challenge, not only in having a different business model and customers than other parts of Adobe, but figuring out how to manage a team dealing with a new, and rapidly expanding, product.

Ashley Still

“I push product managers to think differently based on where they’re at,” Still says. “Certain groups need to be focused more on adoption and being really scrappy and not worrying about whether or not something is perfect. Other parts of Primetime, even in its short period of time, are more established and they have different sets of problems. They have more customers and need to think about scalability, quality, and automation.”

Because her team is somewhat fragmented in this way, Still believes in taking a hands-off approach to leadership–or as she puts it “empowerment and individual ownership.” Here are the three mantras she lives by:

Work Yourself Out of a Job

“My measure of success is anyone on my team can step in my job tomorrow and knock it out of the park. One manager I had awhile ago said something that I believe to be true, that great managers work themselves out of a job.

they own the problem and I’m here to guide them and tell them whether or not the solution they have is the best one or what holes I see.

What that means is that we’re able to move really fast because my team isn’t waiting for me to come solve a problem for them. That certainly doesn’t mean I don’t communicate with my team–I communicate with my team probably more that other managers. But it’s communicating around what they think, so they bounce ideas off me or get feedback on specific areas. But they very much know they own the problem and I’m here to guide them and tell them whether or not the solution they have is the best one or what holes I see. I’m not here to handhold them in figuring out how to solve the problem.”

Push, But Don’t Direct

“One of the things I try to do more and more is be explicit in feedback about why I’m asking certain questions. First of all because I want help get to the best product and solution but also because I’m making sure people have thought through everything from different angles. Particularly if someone is newer to the team or hasn’t worked with me as much, I think a lot of times they can take my questions as me asking them to shift the direction. But they’re taking a question as a directive. So I try to be explicit in saying, this is not a directive–I’m asking questions.”

Know When to Bend

“My style has gotten more nuanced over the last 10 years. I’ve always been very direct but there’s an evolution in understanding how different people receive information and engage in dialogue in different ways. I’m more aware of other people’s styles and how to communicate with them versus expecting people to adapt to my style.”

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