Diana Stepner is the VP for Product Management of Innovative Learning Solutions at Pearson. She enjoys building product experiences that customers love as well as weaving innovation, experimentation, and technology into actionable product visions and roadmaps that accelerate growth. Barry O’Reilly welcomes Diana to this week’s show as they discuss finding her voice and why a product management approach to leadership is valuable in these times.

Finding Her Voice

Barry comments, “We often figure out what we want to do as we do things and learn our way through them.” Diana explains that she had to unlearn the notion that a leader must be the loudest person in the room and know all the answers. A point from an article she read – that great leaders spend more time listening and asking questions than talking and giving answers – helped her realize that her natural leadership style was indeed valid. Encouraging others to contribute, bringing people into the conversation who might not have felt comfortable to speak before, was the right way for her. [Listen from 1:30]

The Power of Pausing

Pausing to think, to process and analyze information before responding, helps you make better decisions. Diana says that she had to unlearn making snap decisions and jumping to conclusions. “What I’ve had to do,” she says, “is take a step back when I’ve got a lot of information that I need to synthesize; to open up more towards other ways of addressing an approach; think about a more broad perspective; and then evaluate a couple of different opportunities initially, test them out and then be able to determine what’s the right way to proceed.” Pauses are ok, Barry emphasizes, and we should make more space for them in communication. [Listen from 10:05]

finding your leadership voice


A Period of Unlearning

Many companies are going through a sense of unlearning, Diana says. She and Barry discuss the changes that are happening in companies currently: they are realizing the power of having diverse representation so they are listening more. Diana remarks that those companies that make the effort to have these changes stick will benefit in the long run. “If you don’t define the outcome, if you don’t make the data available, if you don’t look at the reality of what’s happening and make changes to move towards the direction you want, nothing is going to change,” Barry adds. While change may be difficult and uncomfortable, good can come from it. [Listen from 14:35]

Advice for Leaders

Barry asks Diana to share advice for leaders who want to adopt her leadership approach. She gives several tips including:

  • Expect change.
  • Learn from those around you.
  • Find ways to empower those you work with.

“I think it’s by the creation of a space where people feel comfortable to speak up and to share their voice, where you can truly have a tremendous amount of impact,” she says. [Listen from 19:40]

Looking Ahead

Diana says that she tries to find the good in everything that is happening right now. She is excited to see the acceleration of trends: things that we thought would happen in the future are happening today. More companies are encouraging a culture of experimentation now to get an insight into the future, she says. Barry comments that he is glad that more people are realizing that no one person has all the answers, and that our best bet moving forward is to learn our way through together. Diana hopes that we continue to normalize remote working as the pandemic has proven that we can be productive outside of the workplace. [Listen from 23:45]


Diana Stepner on LinkedIn