Ep. 6: What is your Product Leader Superpower?

Ep. 6: “What is Your Product Leader Superpower?”

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Hope Gurion: 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 different product leadership roles. 

Let’s get right into it.  In this episode we hear from

  • Troy Anderson, Chief Product and Technology Officer, Spins

  • Stefan Radullian, Head of Product Management, Brainloop, A Diligent Company

  • Lucinda Newcomb, VP Of Personalization and Discovery, Walmart.com

  • Al Ming, VP Of Product & Design, CNBC

  • Prasad Gune, Svp Product, Signifyd

Hope Gurion: First up we’ll hear that Troy Anderson’s superpower is his enduring ability to care for his team.

Troy Anderson: 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 and because that's what new jobs are that people are going into an environment and the job sucks. There's that you know the bureaucracy sucks or something like that so one new job is to make people's lives actually happy for the time that they're here working. So, I don't hear that a lot, right? It's like “oh, I drive these people to the ground” or “I got this kick-ass team 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. 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 going to have like a ‘pizza’ day and that's the air culture like men and it's  none of that you my secret weapon  tends to be caring for the long haul for my employees and making sure that their lives don't suck. 

Hope Gurion: Next, we learn how Stefan Radullian describes his product leader superpower using an analogy of the oil industry. 

Stefan Radullian: 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 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. These are three different states of minds a product leader needs to understand and differentiate when he is doing products. It's that 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 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 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 superpower and learning and trying to master and master it but it's important for product leaders. 

Hope Gurion: Next up Lucinda Newcomb shares that her superpower is her ability to navigate relationships and tough choices by using the “Reasonableness Rule”.

Lucinda Newcomb: I do have a few, let me give you a couple and you can pick and choose. 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 we could 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 build a 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 true power and all of that is that 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 that 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 vice versa so that 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.

Hope Gurion: Next, Al Ming shares that his superpower is the deep empathy he has for customers, stakeholders and his teams.

Al Ming: When I think about what my product superpower might be. I think 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 to build 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 an openness to continue to grow and learn and absorb 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 first reaction is like what are they talking about! That is crazy, like taking that moment, taking that step back, 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. The real goal there, is to be able to be pleasantly surprised 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 make things happen.

Hope Gurion: Finally, Prasad Gune shares his superpower is how quickly he can acquire deep domain knowledge to successfully lead product in a new industry.

Prasad Gune: 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, I hope just to put me on the spot here folks. Nobody just wants. you know, to be honest you know, I don't know that I'm claiming these superpowers to say and 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, 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 an opinion out. You know, talk to them and what I'm basically doing is trying to build 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 I’m not trying to 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. The reason I do this is because when I think about it in terms of the conversations have a PM, I’m not only trying to provide them guidance but also hearing things for them. So, everything 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 you did this, what you know to your point about you know you transfer verifying some sets, 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, I 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 table has you know 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 like shadows just shadowing 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, it 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 shoes of having to do it for three 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 five 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 what gives me the ability to be an effective product leader.

Hope Gurion: 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. And So, what I try to do when I'm working with product leaders is really trying 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 and management engine going in their companies. I would love to hear what you consider to be strong and impactful superpowers for 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 strength, 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, consulting and coaching that you would benefit from or you know somebody who is new to product and would benefit from this type of advice, it would be great if you share the video and of course you can always reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter to talk about any sort of product leadership issues that you’re struggling with.

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You can find me, Hope Gurion, on Linkedin and Twitter or subscribe to “Fearless Product Leadership” on your favorite podcast platform to be notified of new episodes.  You will find transcripts, videos versions of each episode as well as more information on my Fearless Product coaching and consulting services by visiting my website, Fearless-Product.com.