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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.

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I’ve been a software 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 insights I have found on how you enrich these individuals and help make your teams even better.

I will be 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) and added the missing tenth trait in an upcoming post.

  1. Curiosity
  2. Charisma
  3. Competitiveness
  4. Optimism
  5. Servant Leadership
  6. Confidence
  7. Integrity
  8. Whole Person
  9. Always Learning Expert
  10. The Missing Trait

Curiosity is the Spark

Reading is a keystone habit for great software product leaders. Not familiar with that term? Please check out Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit in print or audio.

Do you keep track of how much you read each year? I do. I have not always done that, but I started to keep track a few years ago. It is eye opening. I first wondered if I would be considered an avid reader. Now, I want to ensure that I’m doing more and putting it into practice.

Curiosity is a staple for any great product leader–product marketer or product manager.

Einstien said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Be fervidly curious.

One of my challenges growing up was that I was not always the fastest reader. I enjoyed reading, but others seemed to be able to read at lightspeed compared to me. I’ve learned that we can’t “compare and dispair.” It is always an unfair comparison because we simply don’t have a complete picture of the other person(s) circumstances. So, if you are doing that now, please stop.

What I may lack in velocity, I more than compensate for in volume and persistence when it comes to reading. It takes discipline, but it can be learned. I have firsthand experience. The return on your time invested is off the charts.

A great product leader will apply what they are learning by sharing it with others and putting it into practice. Reading non-fiction is a spark that can eventually ignite the tinder, kindling, and logs of your career. I have another post where I talk about those habit building principles here.

Good to Great Product Leaders

A good product manager knows a lot about their product(s) and the market(s) they compete in. A great product manager knows the above and has a vision of where the market is headed. Usually, they know what obstacles must be overcome in order to get there and have already devised a strategy for attacking those obstacles.

Here is a simple test to see if you are talking with a good or a great product leader.

Get Perspective

You should be curious about their perspective, so ask them about the market for your product(s). Listen carefully.

Do they talk about today? What I mean when I say “today” is; who are the current customers, competitors, and capital flowing into the product category?

A great product leader will talk about today, the future, and how you might get there. Disagreeing with their vision is okay. They’re likely to have an optimistic view that they can get you there if you join them on the ride. I love working with these individuals.

New Ways

It is nice to have alignment with your vision, but as an executive, I must be open to different avenues to getting to the same destination. My curiosity should be engaged in exploring new ways of growing the business and moving it forward. Check your tunnel vision periodically.

Good product managers can get work done for you, but you have to drag them along into the future. That can be a challenge at times, but they are not the worst of the bunch.

Be leery of leaders who only talk vision and not execution. That lot may be worse than a good manager that can get stuff done. I have had to learn that lesson the hard way with a tarry visionary–their heads are in the clouds so much that you will never get them down no matter how hard you pull.

If you are an executive product leader, hopefully, you have some experience in looking across product lines and markets and can tell when you are speaking with someone that is not just knowledgeable, but curious and has a plan for the future.

Three Step Tune-Up

The world is filled with a lot of good and not-so-good product leaders. It is never to late to help a good product manager become great if you already have members on your team. We just have to frost those flakes like Tony the Tiger to make them “Grrrrreat!” (Okay, that is not meant to be offensive-I’m not saying good product leaders are flaky. Some are. We can transform a good cereal to a great one when we add the frosting.) Frost away.

First, identify those leaders that have the intellectual curiosity to take your team and the product(s) they manage within a market(s) higher.

Secondly, ask questions. Listen. Be a voracious reader yourself and have open dialogue within your team about your learning.

Finally, invest in them. Give them the tools and encouragement that they need to take it to the next level in product leadership.

What’s Next?

I’m not writing a book today, so I will make this a 10 part mini-series on great product leadership. Click here to move on or stay tuned (or subscribe) for the next installment on Take Notice: The Charismatic is NOT Static if you like what you have read thus far.

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Comment away below.

What do you want to learn about next?

Brian Stout
Curious Software Product Leader