WANTED: Product Management (Hazardous Duty, Long Hours, No Glory) Inquire within

As I mentioned in a previous post, Start With Why is a great read for anyone in product management. One particular story should resonate with any leader and while reading, I thought of one idea I’d like to share.

Ernest Shackleton had a vision to become the first explorer to reach Antarctica. I’ve done some reading and it’s a fascinating story, but I’ll leave that for you to discover. What I find interesting is Shackleton’s approach in building a team and how he advertised the journey. Imagine being an experienced sailor in the early 1900’s and reading the following job posting:

“Men wanted for HAZARDOUS journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

With a vision in place, Shackleton knew what he wanted to accomplish, what it would take and what type of experienced adventurer’s he needed to get the job done. He didn’t “sugar coat” or hide the facts in his advertisement. His wording was short, to the point and very direct.

In many ways product management leadership has to adopt the same style in order to build a strong and thriving team. Here’s an example that happened too me.

Some years ago, I connected with a CTO who asked if I’d like to join their company as the executive of Product Management and Marketing. I had the experience, leadership qualifications and my technology and product management background were a good match.

During an initial conversation, the CTO said, “This job won’t be easy. The team lacks leadership, marketing has no credibility, we’re a sales-driven organization and the primary shareholder of the company wants to make all the decisions. If you can thrive in that kind of environment, I’d like to talk more.”

I sat silently for a few seconds and responded, “I appreciate your honesty. That’s not anymore than I’ve seen before. Are there other challenges I should know about?” After some time, I accepted the position and spent a number of years enabling a team where as you can guess, there was never a dull moment.

I’ve often thought about that conversation and realize I was better prepared, as were Shackleton’s sailors when boarding the ship. As with Shackleton’s expedition, my team experienced hazards everyday, the days were long, and sometimes we felt that our safe return was not a part of the deal. However, I continually communicated to the team, let them know what was going on, and set realistic expectations that executive management could measure.

It should (or has) to be the priority of leaders to communicate with potential, new and existing team members and provide candid insights. This can strengthen the organization and prepare the crew for the journey ahead.

As always, comments and opinions are welcome.

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