[HOPE GURION, FEARLESS PRODUCT]
Product leaders are known for having to wear many hats. They’re the chameleon of the leadership team, having to flex their skills style and approach to complement not only the strengths and weaknesses of the other members of the leadership team but also so that they can effectively evolve their product strategy to changes in the competitive environment, evolving customer needs as well as evolving company strategy. In this episode of Fearless Product Leadership we're going to hear from five experienced product leaders in B2B and B2C companies describing what they rely on as their number one superpower that has enabled them to be successful in many many different product leadership roles. If you know your product leadership superpower be sure to share it in the comments below
These are the products leaders that we're going to be speaking with today. You can get more information on their background by watching their bio videos using the links below.
[TROY ANDERSON, CHIEF PRODUCT & TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, SPINS]
I understand that most people spend their entire day and this is someone's life and I take that life extremely seriously I want people to have fun I want people to be a success and I want it to not be some boring corporate bureaucratic environment that sucks because that's what new jobs are that people are going into an environment and the job sucks there that you know the bureaucracy sucks or something like that so one new job is to make people's lives actually happy for this time that they're here working so I don't hear that a lot right it's like oh I dried this fuel around no I got this kick-ass tea box I'm trying to take people most of people's lives they're like you know I am trying to make their lives as good as possible so they can be the best they can be and you know it's kind of like the Jerry Maguire you know at the end of movie where Jerry finally gets you saying it takes that long to really do it well and the Bob sugars are the words who are trying to hug the guy at the end you know that that's a move like oh we're gonna have like pee today and that's the air culture like men and it's none of that you my my secret weapon tends to be caring for the long haul for my employees and making sure that their lives don't suck.
[STEFAN RADULLIAN, HEAD OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT, BRAINLOOP, A DILIGENT COMPANY]
So here's my superpower. Actually I have three superpowers or three weapons and I like to describe them with the analogy of the oil business so the point is that in the oil business there are three types of people the the ones that smell oil the ones that know how to drill and the third type of people is they the people who know how to pump and and there these are three different states of minds a product leader needs to understand and differentiate when he is doing products its he needs a kind of sixth sense to smell the opportunity of a business without going too deep just scratching at the surface then he needs to switch the state of mind to drilling mode but drilling is extremely difficult because it requires two things at the same time focus and openness so to change direction learn accept that you were drilling on the world on the wrong spot and just start all over again that requires that's the drilling type of people and then people who know once they reach the product market feet know how to grow it how to scale it and I think it's it's extremely important for product leaders to understand when they are operating in what state of mind and when it's important to switch and often it's it happens at the same time because products if you're managing multiple products one product is still enough surface and you still need to smell the opportunity while the other one is to grow so yeah that's I think that's a that's a superpower and and learning and trying to master and master it but it's it's important for product leaders.
[LUCINDA NEWCOMB, VP OF PERSONALIZATION AND DISCOVERY, WALMART.COM]
I do have a few let me give you a couple and you can pick and choose um you know the first is for me I believe the first and most important role that product management has is to pick from among what could we do to figure out what should we do and the way you figure out what should we do is by having a well-informed point-of-view and well-informed point-of-view does not mean that you sat in a corner and cooked it up on your own a well-informed point-of-view means that you have spoken to all of the various stakeholders you've talked to your design partners your business partners your engineering partners your you know voice of the customer everybody who has a different perspective so you understand all of the different aspects because our job is to really be able to balance among all of those different perspectives to take what could we do to figure out what should we do in a way that effectively balances the time the scope the impact so for me the most important thing what I actually think is my hero power and all of that is I believe in what I like to call the reasonableness rule when you are having a conversation with somebody and they appear to be unreasonable or they think that you're being unreasonable chances are they know something you don't or you know something that they don't and so when you find yourself and you feel like you have a strong point of view that is well informed and you hate yourself up against this resistance the most important thing is to take a moment and stop and ask yourself what is it that they know and ask them what it is they know that leads them to think that what you're proposing is unreasonable and take the time to actually listen and understand and vise versa so you can figure out what is it that is actually the barrier because a great idea and a great strategy and figuring out all the right things you should be doing doesn't matter at all if you can't communicate it effectively and can't align all the constituents and then go execute it you'll never get a chance to do that if you can't figure out a way to make sure that your point of view is in fact a well-informed point of view.
[AL MING, VP OF PRODUCT & DESIGN, CNBC]
I think about what my product superpower might be I think the the first thing that comes to mind or maybe the strongest thing that comes to mind for me about being a product leader is about empathy it's about listening and not assuming that I know what's right or what to do or how to do it and I think that goes in terms of thinking about the right products - both with our customers I think that goes in terms of how to engage with stakeholders I think it's relevant in terms of how to manage product teams there's a there's a healthy tension between product managers having a strong point of view having a clear vision having a drive and a certainty about themselves with a respect and empathy for our customer for our colleagues for our others and and an openness to continue to grow and learn and absorb from from those around you so I think for me that has been a huge superpower in my ability to grow as a product leader and my ability to deliver great products is I genuinely want to be proven wrong in some cases I want to be pleasantly surprised I want to find new opportunities I want to challenge my own beliefs and I believe others can give me that like even if you know the the first reaction is like what are they talking about that is crazy like taking that moment taking that step back it you know a lot of it comes out of that kind of customer development models around being able to do customer discovery and engage and interview and talk and listen it the the real goal there is to be able to be pleasantly surprised to to have a conversation rather than a lecture when you're engaging with someone and that that has helped phenomenally in terms of my ability to to make things happen.
[PRASAD GUNE, SVP PRODUCT, SIGNIFYD]
So okay so the question is about what's your one superpower to being successful is a product leader and I'm like wow so hope just put me on the spot here folks nobody just wanna you know can we honestly not I guys I don't know that I'm claiming these superpowers to say and it's it's interesting because your question are we thinking also about we're all the product leaders that work with if you have different styles and different skills so I you know whatever I'd say it's probably works for me and different things may work for different folks at least for me my superpower if you can call it hack is building deep domain knowledge in the space you know I think that matters a lot for me in my first few months in the role I will absorb information like a sponge you know I will read up on the space of read analyst reports I'll talk to internal folks everyone from obviously the product team but also the exact team marketing sales customer support everyone who is has has an opinion out talk to them and what I'm basically doing is the credit builder work of a worldview of this space how does this space work and as new inputs come in I keep refining that mental model now behaving ad when I say deep domain knowledge I am NOT saying that I'm trying to be as specific or deep as on specific features as my PMS will be you know that another micromanage here I'm more interested in really what matters in the space and what really moves needle and how is this that the thing that people are working on help to move the needle like what are the three or five metrics that really matter what are the things which are less important and the reason I do this is because when I think about it in terms of the conversations have a p.m. that can provide them guidance promotes always hearing things for them so every thing they tell me helps me build my you know mental model even more so but that can also ask them questions about okay how exactly did you do this what you know to your point about you know you transfer verifying some sets right you said that this feature will cause this metric to shift by this much why do you think so what have we done before that gives us confidence to do it so we're going to be investing some of our most expensive resources in terms of you know people on working on this feature why should we do that and you know obviously they'll have a perspective but the more I know about the space the more I can have an informed response to that perspective and we can have a guide conversation and also want to say you know in the deep domain knowledge is not purely internal or what I've read or what I've learnt internally I would also add to that walking a mile in your users shoes right and I've used open table with my example for that one of the things I did after reaching there was you know the products used there are used by people at hosts and of a restaurant and through our connections and of course the fact that open ticket has you know many many you know restaurants as customers I was able to go to a restaurant in my first few months in the role and actually serve as the host and person for the whole evening and it was not make shadows just sharing the bus I did a lot chattering where I'm sitting standing behind the host 10-person but in this particular case you know from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. I was the host at first and I'm using our own software you know like as they say like you know eating as your own restaurant is the apt metaphor here or dogfooding or drinking your own champagne and was amazing for me and it's obviously you know they shouldn't have been a surprise but when you do it yourself I mean you put in the in the shoes of having to do it for 3 hours straight you know gaps in the product or opportunities to improve it are become more you know transparent and apparent and you know that one evening you know showed me a lot about you know things we're doing well and things we could do better and I don't think you know like basically 5 informal interviews would not have yielded that much input or 10 internal interviews might not have yielded as much input as you know doing it myself and so I think for me at least it's that deep domain from understanding the space and spending that time in my users shoes that's that's what gives me the ability to be an effective product leader.
[HOPE GURION, FEARLESS PRODUCT]
Did you spot the pattern in the superpowers that our product leaders shared? Almost every single one of them talked about how they found the right combination between understanding what people need, whether it be their stakeholders, their customers and their teams, and the market opportunity. That is the powerful combination that products leaders focus on. That's where the magic happens. So what I try to do when I'm working with product leaders is really try to figure out what it is that they're naturally skilled and competent in and then try to bring up their confidence and skills in other areas that will help them really bring great products to market, have great relationships with all of their partners in the company and make sure that they're growing their teams to be very skilled and capable so that they've really got a really strong product creation engine going in their companies. I would love to hear what you consider to be strong and impactful superpowers for a product leader. I know for me the one that I always really tried to continue to hone was being incredibly evidence-based and very objective so that we could really reconcile how to make good decisions with imperfect information and still continue to make progress that would create value for the company and for our customers. This is the type of work that I love to do with product teams and product leaders. Specifically to help them develop their their strengths their superpower that will help them have great success in their current role and have great careers as a product leader. If that sounds like the type of consulting and coaching that you would benefit from or if you know somebody who is new to product and would benefit from this type of advice, it would be great if you shared the video and of course you can always reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter to talk about any sort of product leadership issue.