Category Archives: Product Leadership

Compassion in Product Leadership

Recently, while in a discussion with a senior executive, I asked; “What are the attributes or traits of  product leaders that work for you?” He responded with a list that included; communicator, team player, business savvy and then shared that humility and other important characteristics made for exceptional product leaders.

In a recent post Climbing to the Top? Bring Compassion by Bruce Kasanoff, he shared that while courage, discipline and tenacity are often cited attributes, that we need to bring compassion to leadership. Why?

Compassion brings Action

Just a few days ago, I was traveling and went through the typical security screening process. While re-loading by bag, storing my personal stuff and getting dressed, a gentleman beside me said; “Excuse me. This may sound awkward, but would you please tie me shoes?” Now, I’ve tied lot’s of shoes in my life. My own, my children, my wife’s kindergarten class, but I don’t recall tying another adults shoes.

He then showed me his burned fingertips, explained how he had no feeling in them and they were sensitive. He apologized for wearing lace up shoes to the airport. My response was simple. “Sure, I’d be glad to ties your shoes.” As people walked by looking at me tying this guys shoes, I didn’t stop to think, but acted. Compassion incites action.


As product leaders are we compassionate with those we lead and work with? Or do we bring too much of the “A-game” “hardball” image and persona to our roles and forget to be perceptive, compassionate and then act.

My recent experience and the post by Bruce gave me time to reflect and recall my actions as a leader.

What attributes do you possess and where does compassion factor as a product leader?

Looking for a good review? Start with Five Ways to Lead With More Compassion a HBR post by  Susan Cramm.

Hopefully, this post will cause you to reflect as well. I know it’s given me time to reflect my simple act and I know that the simple, small acts will give a boost to others in product management and those you interact with.

I’d like to hear if you agree, disagree or believe compassion is an attribute of product leadership. If you like the post, please share it on your favorite social media sites or through your feeds.

Here’s a quick link to use. Compassion in Product Leadership. A new post by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #leadership #leadchange


The Challenger Sale: What Product Leaders Need to Know

I recently read The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board and then picked it up again, with a highlighter and red pen and started again.

If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a no-brainer if you’re in sales or live in or around the sales or buying process as product marketing, product management and others do. The research, findings and focus on sales success will connect with you.

The focus of the Challenger Sale for sales is not to build relationships, but to challenge them. To rethink, reshape and change how you engage and lead.

Whether you lead, develop, build, prepare, market, sell or support products that engages in a business-to-business (B2B) model, you know things have changed. In the mind of the buyer it’s not all about the economic wash from the past several years, but what you will do to transform the business and ultimately deliver a solution. While the book focuses on the journey of evolving solution selling, it have a definite message for product leadership. You have to “tailor for resonance.”


As Dixon and Adamson confide; “It’s the ability to tailor the teaching message to different types of customers – as well as different individuals within the customer organization is what makes the teaching pitch resonate and stick with customers.”

I recently listened to a CxO share his frustration and story of why his organization didn’t buy from my client. In the discussion, he stated, “They didn’t get it. they didn’t listen. They didn’t understand my problems, nor did they try to understand my objectives. Forget about an innovative approach. I suffered through vendor pain.”

How can product leaders teach the message to different types of customers and build the level of resonance with sales?

“Tailoring relies on the rep’s knowledge of the specific business priorities of whomever he or she is talking to – the specific outcomes that particular person values most, the results on the hook to deliver for their company, and the various economic drivers most likely to affect those outcome” shares The Challenger Sale.

I believe product leaders must possess, know and build three key areas of knowledge and expertise to support the challenger model:

Understanding of the buying process“Buyers have exponentially more choices and virtually instant access to information about them. Long before they talk to a sales rep, buyers are conducting research and making up their own minds about what’s important to them, eliminating companies on the basis of whatever information they can easily discover” shared Adele Revella of The Buyer Persona Institute.

Buyer personas“Basing your work on buyer personas prevents you from sitting on your butt in your comfortable office just making stuff up, which is the cause of most ineffective marketing. By truly understanding the market problems that your products and services solve for your buyer personas, you transform your marketing from mere product-specific, ego-centric gobbledygook that only you understand and care about into valuable information people are eager to consume” confides David Meerman Scott.

Speak the language of the buyer – in her recent post, Get Over Yourself, Jennifer Doctor shared, “In aligning with their buying process (not what you think they do or what they should do, but how they actually buy the product,) you have to develop a story. The more memorable the story, the better it will be for you. The story has to be about how you have helped others solve similar problems, remembering it’s not about your product. Once you have a story, you can engage.”

With these three areas of knowledge, you’ll be know more about the buying process, understand the dynamics of whose buying, and speak in the language buyers. Don’t leave it to salespeople to translate what you’re trying to convey.

Additionally, you’ll be better prepared for internal conversations, offer credible insights and align with stakeholders while assisting sales and marketing in creating value, not just messaging or positioning. Let’s tailor our resonance to transform the sales channel.

I welcome your thoughts and comments and challenge you to get a copy of The Challenger Sale, read it and apply it to your product leadership.

If you like the post, please share it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+. Here’s a quick link to use. The Challenger Sale – What Product Leaders Need to Know. A new post by @jim_holland

Losing Product Leadership

Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing how product management and product marketing loses and regains leadership with Scott Sehlhorst and Joshua Duncan.

From a previous post, That Sucking Sound, I described a recurring problem I see.

Namely, that product leaders are being pulled in all directions and subsequently the pressure builds to where they describe themselves as product administrators or product janitors.


As you savor some needed downtime, link to The Product Marketing Podcast – Losing Product Leadership and listen to what we have to share.

Once you’ve listened to the podcast a few times, find some time to look at how you will change your direction in the near year and focus and execute on the things that are most important to product management and marketing.

Character-Based Leadership

A few years ago, after discussing ideas and principles of leadership with a great cross-section of contributors, I packed my bags and headed to sunny Florida for the first Lead Change gathering.

Since that initial gathering, Mike Henry, a catalyst for change in leadership along with dozen of others have collaborated to deliver The Character Based Leader. Since receiving a copy, I have highlighted it’s pages, made some notes and would like to shares a few ideas.

So, What is Character-Based Leadership?

From Lead Change discussions a definition surfaced, “Character-based leadership is leading from who you are rather than from power or position.”

Lead Change as a group recognized that “we have a crisis of leadership and a need to personally be involved in changing the world of leadership for the better. It’s not that we feel leadership development is the problem, rather that the current methods aren’t keeping pace with the need expressed by individuals. In a way, individuals in the world are in search of leadership help faster and in a greater variety than is being provided.”

The Simple Truth of Leadership

John Maxwell famously stated, “Leadership is influence, plain and simple.”

It’s not meant to be a power trip or laden with methods and a roadmap on how to get there.

We constantly read and hear about leaders how misuse their power while in leadership or positions of influence. “The crisis is in people’s character, not in the positions that people attain” shared Don Shapiro.

Shapiro continues, “To produce a world of great leaders at home, in the community and in organizations, the time has come to make people’s character priority number one.”

Underlying Principles

The three core principles highlighted throughout the Character Based Leader include:

  • Leadership is influence
  • influence is given
  • People give influence based on competence, trust and purpose.

These principles are the essence of great leadership and happen as we inspire.

Simon Sinek stated, “We can only inspire or manipulate.” Each of us possesses the freedom to make choices and it’s up to us to decide whether we inspire or manipulate.  Where will you lead? Where do you stand?

Lead from Where You Are

While we have to lead from where we are, we have to understand who we are. Lisa Petrilli shared, “There is no escaping the fact that when we show up for work and for our leadership roles, we bring the entirety of ourselves to the table. We bring our convictions, our strengths, our ideas, and our weaknesses, along with our insecurities, knowledge of our past failures, pride in our past accomplishments, and our desire to lead our teams successfully.”

When’s the last time we sat in a quiet place and assessed who we are, what we stand for, and looked at our strengths and weaknesses along with life’s lessons and what we should be learning and doing? Do we accept our whole selves and truly understand where we are taking ourselves and not just those we lead? How can we lead others when we may be lost on the leadership trail?

How Can I Make a Change?

Page Cole surfaced that “leading from your strengths is more than just admitting you are good at something. It also involves the next phase of leadership which is discovering what it is that you do really well.” Page continues, “The challenge for leaders is that this is less like a mining expedition and more like working in a laboratory.”

Each of us has a laboratory whether at home, the office, in the committee, and we need to consistently experiment and discover who we are, surface and assess our strengths, admit we have weaknesses and allow those in the labs to contribute to our change while we provide an avenue for the same.

I believe we need to tell more stories about our experiences and allow others to ask questions. Not too long ago, one of my children, a new homeowner called with a few questions. He said, “Have you ever renovated a bathroom that was built on solid concrete? Do you know how much labor it’s going to take and what it’s going to cost to complete the renovation?”

We discussed the project and the options he could take. I let him know that he was on the right track, validated the options and gave him a few suggestions. While this may seem like a conversation, he was telling me a story. I was able to share my experiences (some not so good) and we laughed some, but it gave him the outlet to move forward with the renovation.  Both of us led from our strengths and experiences and opened the door to change. (As a side note, he learned that a jack hammer was crucial for the job.)

The laboratories I experiment in have surfaced things about me that I may have known or didn’t. I was asked to share what my strengths were to several people I had never met. I thought about it for a second told them who I was, what I believed and how I led. Immediately, there was a connection and the conversation continued as an open and less guarded discussion.

Reading the Character Based Leader has reinforced a few things I know about character-based leadership and taught me a few things I didn’t know. First, we have to persevere and be steadfast. Second, we have to surface concerns in leadership and address those head on. You can’t wimp out no matter what the consequences. Third, “Character-based leadership is the conscious choice to be an ambassador, to place the greater good, the purpose of the organization and the needs of others above your own desires” shares Chery Gegelman.

Each of us can make a change and we can start now.

Thanks to the authors for their insights, passion and desire to lead a change in leadership. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book and he how much of a revolution you can instigate.

That Sucking Sound…

While we all know that product leaders in product management and product marketing can be pulled in all directions, I’m hearing more and more sucking sounds that indicate it’s more of a pull than I thought.

Recently, I was talking to a product manager and he said, “Man, it’s been a tough week. I’ve been designing the new user experience for our product, I’m a referee for the product team and I’m trying to manage my day job at the same time.” Immediately, I heard the sucking sound.

You know. The sucking sound that’s made when product leaders forget to lead and other priorities and disruption suck out what’s important in product leadership.

Just like the example of my friend, I recognize that product teams are sucked into inside out thinking, are pressured into becoming the UX guru, but when did it become fashionable for product management to become the delivery person for user experience and not customer experiences?

When did product marketing become the referee for inside-out thinking and not the leader of outside-in views and what’s really going on in the market.

Not too long ago everyone said “Product management is the CEO of the product.” Now, we’re lucky if product management is recognized as an extension to an administrative function in the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, the life of a product leader isn’t easy, but if we don’t get back to our true roots and bring an understanding of the market and customers in from the cold, the sucking sounds will continue, until your organization starts believing you are sucking at what you do and are expendable.

It’s not time to stand up and shout, “I’m a product leader,” it’s time to show up.

So, what’s it going to be product leaders?

If you like, dislike, agree or disagree with the post, please comment.

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