CareerJimLeadershipProduct ManagementProduct MarketingSeth GodinStrategy

It’s not Madness, It’s Product Leadership

It’s that time of year for college basketball junkies in the US. Affectionately known as March Madness, basketball fans of all types jump into office pools, bracketology and find time to see their favorite teams play. For someone who grew up in North Carolina (Chapel Hill), basketball is not a sport, it’s almost a religion, or at least an obsession.

Each year, experts and former coaches gather to breakdown, analyze and predict winners, losers and upsets with a single team crowned as the best.

Over the years, I’ve noticed the teams winning any NCAA Basketball Tournament (both men’s and women’s) possess several attributes that product leaders should possess. Without using any basketball jargon, let’s look at a few attributes and what they mean to product management and product marketing.

VISION – At the beginning of each season, players and coaches create a vision. The vision may be personal or team oriented, it may be to achieve offensive or defensive improvements, or win a conference or national championship. Whatever the goal, a vision starts the process.

Product leaders talk a lot about vision, roadmap and strategy. We spend an inordinate amount of time focused on business, products and technology, but often overlook personal vision.

Personal vision starts with an understanding of your distinctive competence. So, what’s a personal distinctive competence and how do I create or get one? In his article, “Distinctive Competence or Nothing, ” Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing, describes a distinctive competence as, “Your company’s unique ability to deliver value to a customer.” Applying this to you, “What’s your unique ability to deliver value?” What sets you apart and makes you unique as a contributor or leader?

A personal distinctive competence provides clarity to your personal vision. How do you discover a distinctive competence?

In his post, “49 Personal Branding Questions to Ask Yourself,” Chad Levitt provides a great list of questions to assist in discovering or uncovering your unique value.

It’s been my experience that once you identify your distinctive competence, creating that vision will naturally follow.

What are some of the distinctive competences I’ve heard recently? Jennifer Doctor author of the OutsideIn View describes hers as “bringing the voice of the market inside to enable sales.” Michael Hopkin of Lead on Purpose says his unique value is “bringing people together to help them see issues/problems from a single point of view, and then motivate them to work to achieve it.” And finally, Saeed Khan, of OnPM shared, “my unique value is I listen, absorb and ask Why often.”

It’s interesting that all product leaders have a unique value if they’ve spent time surfacing what drives them to succeed. For those who guide teams, you need to know and understand each team members distinctive competence before building or organizing a team. When was the last time you asked a prospective candidate, “Describe your unique value and how it applies to product management or product marketing?” If asked that question, how would you respond?

TENACITY – Is an attribute of any good team and leader. Merriman-Webster’s describes tenacity as, “Persistent in maintaining or adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired.” Whether it’s winning a national championship or leading products or teams, tenacity has to be a valued component. In his post, “The Virtue of Tenacity,” Rob Tucker ask, “How do normal people accomplish amazing things? They are remarkably, unusually, exceptionally tenacious.”

How can a product leader practice tenacity? Rob shares three practices including:

  1. Decide upon a goal.
  2. Move toward your goal consistently.
  3. Be patient.

Each of these three suggestions provides leaders with more decisiveness, moves your vision towards accomplish-able goals and adds maturity to leadership.

You may have noticed the image entitled FRUSTRATION. The basketball player is caught in a tight situation and there’s a look of frustration on his face. The quote states, “Being surrounded by more talent than you can possibly handle and knowing there’s no way out.”

What can product leaders do to bring more wins and lessen frustration? Here’s a few suggestions:

  1. If you haven’t created a personal distinctive competence or can’t communicate your unique value, take time to do it. Find a quiet place to sit down by yourself and reflect on your capabilities, personality and attributes. Then list single words that describe your value and uniqueness. Review this with a mentor or peer that knows you.
  2. While your working on a vision for your product portfolio or product, have you created a personal vision for yourself? While you’re contemplating your unique value, write down some thoughts and ideas on where you are now, where you want to be before 2012, in two years, then five. What will it take to get there? Do you need more experience, education or a mentor to take you where you want to go? Do you need a change that challenges you?
  3. Review the past six months and what tenacity you’ve shown or practiced in your role as product leader. Seth Godin has a great post on “Are you doing a good job?” I’d recommend it. Seth shares, “You might very well be doing a good job. But that doesn’t mean you’re a linchpin, the one we’ll miss.” Are you languishing or stalled in your role? Do you need an infusion of tenacity?

When product leadership understands and can communicate their unique value, their vision and how to enable tenacious practices, you can handle more, and recognize new ways of moving toward achievable personal and team goals.

If you like the post, please comment or tweet this: New post @onpm  “It’s not Madness, it’s Product Leadership” http://bit.ly/fvyyyW #prodmktg #prodmgmt #leadership