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Being a product leader is one of the hardest jobs out there. And one of the most diverse, impactful and amazing jobs too. To do it well, you have to master so many skills – professional, business, people skills. You depend mostly on others to be able to succeed (even more than in other leadership roles). You live in constant uncertainty, but you are also expected to move forward as fast as possible and deliver immediate results.

Sounds familiar?

When I moved from R&D management into the product world back in 2008, people told me it is not a role for everyone. Some people find it too hard, they said, and can’t do it for long. I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me “only a few people can truly succeed in something” it boosts my motivation sky high. I have to be one of the few who made it.

And so I started my product leadership journey. The people from the previous paragraph were right. It was a hard job. I worked 24/7. I had to challenge many of the assumptions the company management had. I needed to convince very opinionated and powerful people that I was right and they were wrong. And I needed to keep working with them the next day. I learned how to listen to my customers and build the right product for them, but also how to lead them gently to want and like the product we already had for them.

During my product leadership journey, I had to deal with a variety of challenges. From early-stage startup struggling to find its first customers, through the growing pains of a mature company going to IPO, and all the way into large corporate politics. I worked on B2B, B2C and B2B2C products, in a variety of domains and technology areas. From cyber-security to eCommerce, from network protocols to big data and AI. Each with each own set of unique challenges.

You can see the details of my journey in my LinkedIn profile.

Some of these challenges were easier for me to succeed in, and others were extremely hard. To succeed, I had to constantly make sure I am learning and improving. For 10+ years, I read every book or article I could find and went to any training available. I expanded my network to include the most experienced product and business leaders around me and made sure I learned from them.

But theory only helps you to some extent. It is only on the battlefield itself that you make the actual learning. So eventually I was alone in making this work. There were times I failed miserably and forced myself to rise. When I made mistakes I made sure I learn from each of them. All of these experiences - good and bad ones alike - make me the best product leader I can be, and I always continue learning.

My journey was hard. Very impactful, very successful eventually and very satisfying, but really hard.

As product management evolved to be the driving force of most hi-tech companies, I made it my mission to grow the next generation of world-class product leaders, and make their journey to the top easier than mine.

My worst mistakes happened when I lost perspective. Specifically, when I lost the product perspective

It is a perspective which is very easy to lose as the top product leader. Here's why:

You are surrounded by very powerful people who are not product professionals (although very professional in their own domains). They could be your managers, your colleagues, members of the board, or the company management team - and they all see the product from their own perspective. Some of them could be very vocal about it.

If you are like me, you listen to them and try to understand their perspective since it's a valid one. But what happened to me is that I eventually bought into their perspective, sometimes neglecting my responsibility for the product view. 

As there is no "product management bible" telling you exactly how to do product management well, I allowed myself to find a middle ground between what my product instincts told me and what made sense in the other person's point of view. In retrospective, it wasn't always a middle ground, but more of a compromise of my product view in favor of the other view.

Realizing that I have this tendency, I came up with this one thing which helped me a lot (and gave me an opportunity to help others, which eventually turned into my business). It's simple, and you can do it easily too:

Find someone who is unbiased and knows product management to consult with. I’m sure you have friends or past colleagues who are in positions similar to yours. Don’t worry, they don’t need to be very familiar with your specific product (it's even better this way), but they need to be great product leaders. Create a group, meet for coffee occasionally or simply pick up the phone when you feel something is not right. Share with them your thoughts, and hear their honest feedback. Use them to get your product perspective back, or to get an unbiased perspective in general.

You see, perspective goes a long way. You will need it both for sound decision making and for keeping your sanity in this crazy and amazing position.

Let me know how it works for you.

Until next time,


P.S. if you want my help in keeping your product perspective intact, send me an email and let’s talk.
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