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If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. I have murmured that phrase to myself on many occasions after a challenging meeting, discussion, or customer interaction. We all have those days as software product leaders when we are sideswiped by something unexpected.

The hallmark of a great product manager or product marketer is our ability to stay optimistic in the face of adversity. Others are watching. Especially on our team, our competitors, and our peers.

How we approach everything that we do is important.

I’ve seen good product leaders get mired in the negative events taking place in their markets and within their organizations. They never get off the starting line.

The Name Game

Several years ago I was leading a team of senior product marketing leaders. One of the products in the portfolio was our second most profitable in our portfolio. Years earlier the team had finally landed on what they believed would be the right branding for the product at the time. The branding had taken a few too many trips around the Ferris Wheel already if you know what I mean during the product’s life.

Then the unexpected happened. The Federal government put a new guideline in place, and our product’s naming no longer aligned with the definition–at least not without some investment on our part. The carpet did not match the drapes any longer. It was a multi-million dollar tidal wave that crashed the shores of our established beachhead–and our chief competitors loved every salty drop we would choke on over the next several months as we decided how to respond.

The product manager at the time was devastated. Decisions had to be made quickly. Do we improve the software’s functionality to meet the guidelines? Or do we re-brand our product and risk our competitor heralding our departure from this important market only because we changed our name to align better with our product’s core functionality.

We ultimately chose the latter because of cost reasons and not wanting to slug it out in a red ocean. We evaluated buying another vendor in the space, building out our functionality, or going back to a name that many customers might still remember from the previous rounds on the naming Ferris Wheel.

I looked at it as an opportunity to get outside of our organization and engage with customers and prospects over the rebrand. We are always looking for compelling events. Several on the team wanted to wallow in the mud and feel sorry for ourselves. That was not happening under my watch. We moved forward quickly and decisively.

Ludicrous Mode

I feel like being a product leader is a lot like being a race car driver. You have great skills that have earned you a place behind the steering wheel. On race day, you line up with the best and brightest. You are good enough to have won a spot because you have the talent, put in the practice, and have the potential to win each week.

The best drivers take what the field gives them to propel that race car to victory lane by looking for the gaps, others missteps, and being patient knowing you will get a shot to move up.

You have to stay optimistic that if you did not get your shot this race, that the next one you will be ready to take home the victory. The best product leaders are looking to fill the gaps in the marketplace. You better believe that my competitors were watching for us to make a poor decision and move up in the field.

I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. I live in the racing capital of the world that annually puts on the greatest spectacle in racing. This year we are celebrating the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Some of the world’s best drivers will be on that 2.5-mile oval for several hours vying for the chance to kiss the bricks and enter the winner’s circle. Each of those 33 drivers is optimistic that they have the right car, team, and talent to win. Only one racer will hoist the trophy at the end of the day.

The new Teslas have a mode called the “ludicrous” mode that makes even their crossoverTesla faster than a Ferrari (but not a Lamborghini Aventador). Indycars are fast, but Formula 1 cars are the fastest at 0-60 mph in 1.7 seconds, which trumps the 2.6 seconds of being crazy fast in a Tesla. As a product leader, you have to have the confidence in the face of overwhelming adversity that you have the right product, people, and processes to set you up to have ludicrous levels of success.

I know I do. I hope you do too.

What to learn from other product leaders who persevere with unwavering optimism?

You’ve found your tribe. Join our community now.

If you have a Tesla with ludicrous mode and you want to take me for a test drive for a special video for this post, I would welcome the chance. I’ll bring my GoPro and some Depends. 🙂


0-60 PM Takeaways

  1. Stay optimistic in the face of overwhelming adversity
  2. Be decisive
  3. Know your limits: never race a Lamborgini Aventador in a Tesla — even in ludicrous mode
  4. I really want to test drive a Tesla — or a Lambo 🙂
  5. Your exec mastermind tribe at PMrounds will help you get to where you, your product, and your organization want to be



What’s Next?

My intent is not to write a book here. So, in case you missed the first post, this is #2 of 10 in my nine-piece mini-series on great product leadership. Click here to move on or stay tuned (or subscribe) for the next installment on servant leadership if you like what you have been reading so far.

Comment away below.

How do you stay positive in the face of adversity?

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