Want to know a not-so-obvious attribute that will determine if you’re going to be a great product manager or merely a good one?  It’s not your product expertise, your gift for anticipating market inflections, your talent for telling a great story in PowerPoint(R), or your ability calculate cost of ownership in your head to three decimal places. These are all great measures of product management aptitude. But these skills are not enough if you want to be great.

Executing a product’s strategy involves a lot of people and requires thousands of decisions. As a product manager, you are the glue that holds it all together. You’ll often need to

  • lead peers, superiors, and subordinates alike,
  • confront difficult trade-off decisions, and
  • pull together recovery efforts when a plans go awry.

This job isn’t for shrinking violets. As a product manager, you’re out in front. It’s up to you to ensure your product’s commercial success. The key difference between being a leader and a victim is how you respond to challenges. Consider the contrast between victim and leader behaviors shown below.

What Victims Say… What Leaders Say…
“I can’t be held accountable for gross margins.  Sales keeps discounting even though our value proposition should support our target pricing. Plus management won’t give me final say on deal approval.” “Sales keeps discounting even though our value proposition should support our target pricing.  I’m going to check with the sales team, see what the issues are, and then figure out how to address them.”
“The customer just called. They’d like their system installed a month earlier than we planned”

“We can’t. We don’t have the resources”

“The customer just called. They’d like their system installed a month earlier than we planned”

“Sure, if we can perform the extended qualification after install instead of before shipment.”

“All this talk of product manager’s acting like their product line’s chief executive is great in theory. Reality is I can’t do it. I am too consumed with day-to-day sales support” “All this talk of product manager’s acting like their product line’s chief executive is great in theory. But to turn theory into reality, I need to get day-to-day sales support under control.”
“I haven’t been able to complete my product strategy update because management hasn’t given me the time. If they don’t care, I don’t care.” “A lot has changed in our market and competitive environment since we last refreshed our product strategy.  I’m not sure management realizes this.  I’ve got to find time to get it done then get them up to speed”

The difference between a leader’s and victim’s response to a challenge is pretty clear. Victims blame others or their circumstances. They let the organization chart be an excuse for inaction. Victims are passive. Things happen to victims. Leaders embrace accountability and accept responsibility for outcomes. Leaders are active. Leaders make things happen. Choose to be a leader, and you’re on your way to being a great product manager.