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It is that time of year for millions of loyal fans to fill out their brackets for what has become a marketing machine for three weeks every year–“March Madness”.

1414029Oh, The Madness

If your favorite hoops program happens to make it into the field of 64, you lose all sense of reality and pick your team to take the National Championship for the NCAA men or women’s basketball. You do it. I’ve seen your brackets and read your rants on Facebook.

This time of year in basketball anything possible–except maybe if your team is one of the four 16th seeds in the tournament.

Look at the programs over the years that have risen to prominence because these once “Cinderella” teams like Gonzaga or the Butler Bulldogs (who just happen to reside in my backyard–almost literally) have made deep runs in the tournament and garnered national attention for their program.

If you are a product leader, you can learn a great deal from these once small programs on what it takes to become a great product leader.

It is the gritty competitiveness of these underdogs that makes them champions whether they win or lose.

1414049 Iron Sharpens Iron

Look at the Butler Bulldogs program. Their former coach Brad Stevens is now the coach of the Boston Celtics. Thad Matta was snatched away before Brad to coach The Ohio State University. Ohio State! That is a significant program with even bigger aspirations.

Those Bulldogs moved on from their small conference, the Horizon League, that usually had to win their tournament to get a seat at the table of 64, to the Big East that has several schools that have won National Championships in men’s basketball in my lifetime alone.

Not only are they now competing against larger programs, but they also have a better chance of making post-season tournaments and competing with potentially better talent–those are great recruiting tools which build on the early success before they gained prominence in a field of 64.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

1308872 Gut it Out

Not every product you manage is a leader out of the gate. In fact, I would say almost all products are not even on any radar when they are launched–unless your name is Apple, Google, or Microsoft. You have to usually beg someone to notice you and your launch. Beg. Literally. Rock star product leader or not. Anticipation is absent from the tournament of your launch–speaking from experience.

If you happen to be a product manager at one of those elite product companies, you did not get there by accident. The same can be said for the kids that made it to the premier basketball programs like Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, UConn, or UCLA.

You likely had to gut it out in other roles and compete against the best of the best, but you relished every minute of it. I know that I do.

1512942 Sparring Partner

Maybe it is because I grew up competing. Whether it was on the court in basketball, or on the diamond with baseball, or running until it hurt in cross country, or in just about any setting where the slightest bit of competition existed, I was competing. I vied for the crown every time out. I’m still in the hunt–maybe with a little more wisdom and a little less vigor when it comes to the clean plate club.

The great product managers learned from every swing-and-a-miss, shin-kick, misstep, and throat punch along the path. Experience with rivals who oppose you at every turn will make you better. The good product manager might have a war story or two. The great one will speak for epic struggles and how the outcomes shaped them.

15331392.fw Look for Scars

I love a consistent winner like the next guy. Even the best teams lose a game or two. Be suspicious of someone that has never grappled with defeat.

Albert Einstein once said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” If I look at my history, it is certainly clear to me that I am not afraid of anything new–the curious product leader looks for new in better, smarter, and quicker methods.

1236583 Lead by Example

My wife and I have five children between us. We are one shy of our own Brady Bunch. That means that we have five sets of eyes that are always watching us for clues. While competition is healthy, being obsessive about it and ignoring our other responsibilities is not a wise practice.

A great product manager or product marketer knows when to say, “Uncle!” when their focus is shifted too much to winning at all costs. Knowing and finding that balance comes from experience and good mentors. In the next post “In the Lead: Servant Leadership” I will expand on how great product leaders, well lead first.

Please share your war stories below with the group.

Have any interesting battle scars? Lessons learned?

1316588 What’s Next?

My intent has never been to write a book here–maybe someday. So, in case you missed the first post, this is #3 of 10 in my ten-piece nugget mini-series on great product leadership. Click here to move on or stay tuned (or subscribe) for the next installment Look on the Bright Side: Ludicrous Mode for Product Leaders on Optimism.  If you like what you have been reading so far, show some love and share.

Comment away below.

1278141Star Product Leader PSA

The team at Pragmatic Marketing created an incredible infographic that gets to the essence of what skills a “rock star” product manager or product marketer are likely to possess. You must check it out here. Print it. Make it your wallpaper. Pin it up on your wall. Frame it. It is that good.

I’ve been a tech product manager for many years now and lead some exceptional teams. I’ve seen these traits in the best product leaders (and humbled when others have seen them in me) and will share some stories and insights I have found on how you enrich these individuals and help make your teams even better.

I’m building on the nine traits as defined by Pragmatic Marketing of Rockstar Product Leaders
(Please give them some love and get certified–it’s worth the investment)
1. Curiosity (Turn Up Your Rock Star Product Leaders)
2. Charisma (Take Notice: The Charismatic are NOT Static)
3. Competitiveness (Better Than You: Competing for Product Leadership)
4. Optimism (Look on the Bright Side: Ludicrous Mode for Product Leaders)
5. Servant Leadership
6. Confidence
7. Integrity
8. Whole Person
9. Always Learning Expert
10. The Missing Trait

Also, you may want to check some additional resources I find helpful from the team there at Pragmatic.

Pragmatic Annual Survey

X-Factors for Product Leaders