Ep. 6: What is your Product Leader Superpower?

[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 

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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.

 

[Music]  

Hope Gurion