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Winning as a PM: Skills vs. Personality

What are the skills and kind of personality required to be a winning product manager?

What’s More Important for a Product Manager to be Effective? Skills or Personality?

This question has come up from time to time and has been the source of discussion and debate.

If you could boil down the critical skills or personality traits to help PMs win, what would those be?

Well, folks, that’s the focus of the discussion today:

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PMs need strong quantitative, analytical, logical thinking, and problem-solving skills without question. However, the best plans in the world don’t execute themselves. In my career, I have repeatedly been amazed at how the less “smart” teams have outperformed the teams with a lot of intellectually sophisticated planning but poor execution.

Personality is the “effectiveness driver” for any team. Hence, from my perspective, the most challenging aspect of a PM’s role has always been driving results through execution. I believe execution most critically relies on specific personality traits.

In my framework for developing skills as a product manager, I specifically call out Personality as a critical driver for effectiveness.

My 4Ps PM “Operating System”:

Let me go into a few of these in a bit more detail:

1. The Bulldog and the Cockroach

I often tell product managers that the two PM “spirit animals” are the bulldog and the cockroach. Bulldogs are courageous and tough. They will bark if there’s a danger and are unafraid of engaging in conflict. Similarly, many PMs need to have the courage to engage in direct conversations with teammates; they need to be able to highlight key risks and, most importantly, help a team “stop the train.” When a team is heading towards disaster, the whole team often knows it, but no one wants to voice their concerns. It’s up to the PM to raise the issue and help address it.

According to Inside Science:

The common American cockroach can resist pathogens and pesticides, avoid toxins, and thrive in filthy conditions.

Similarly, a great PM should embody the characteristics of persistence and survival. PMs need to resist politics and ingrained processes, avoid laziness, and thrive in challenging work conditions.

2. Rebuking Your Neighbor

Although I’m not Christian, I believe one of the wisest proverbs relevant to product management comes from the bible:

“Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.”

– Leviticus 19:17

A very critical aspect of this proverb focuses on who’s at fault. If you know someone is doing something wrong, but you don’t do or say anything about it, you are just as much at fault as the person you believe is the problem.

In most organizations, you will often see the typical person who complains about someone but never tells them to their face. They see a problem and know it will lead to a negative outcome but don’t do anything and justify to themselves that it’s someone else’s fault.

We’ve all known that guy in the office: “I can’t wait to tell Bill how much Eric fucked up after the next release flops.” Don’t be that guy.

This attitude is the coward’s path and, unfortunately, the typical behavior at most large companies.

Another sage biblical proverb:

“Better are the wounds of a friend, then the deceitful kisses of an enemy.”

– Proverbs 27:6

A great PM will understand that feedback is a gift. The kinds of people who can’t take feedback because they are too sensitive are weak and don’t improve. The great irony about feedback is that the ones trying to help you, those giving you direct feedback, are the actual people who are your friends trying to help you. The people who spread lies and tell everyone just what they want to hear are cowards and your real enemies.

Too many people choose enemies over friends because of immaturity and lack of wisdom. Learn to distinguish the two; otherwise, you’ll regret it.

3. Communication

Most people suck at communication. I know: after years of effort, I still suck but actively trying to improve. In particular, however, I believe the most common mistakes include the following:

  • Not communicating a critical issue because of fear or laziness.
  • Not utilizing multiple types of communication, for example, both written and verbal, appropriate for the situation and person.
  • Not understanding how to communicate more impactfully to different people in different ways given different personalities.
  • Not characterizing or understanding how communications flow within and between teams and then optimizing the communication flow.

Radical Truth

We can dance around political sensitivities or embrace the fact that “radical truth” is the most efficient and effective way of communication.

According to the legend Ray Dalio:

I often talk about great PMs understanding situational context. But let’s be clear, in this case, any organization in which you don’t have radical truth is not one operating very effectively.

Elon Musk on Direct Communication

In a famous email leaked from Tesla, Elon Musk describes how important it is for employees to communicate directly:

Source: Elon Musk

Take it from the GOAT of GOATs. You need to communicate directly!

Don’t Information Hoard

A widespread stupid practice usually amongst employees who have little skill besides relationships and politics is information hoarding. These folks try to sit in between different groups and act as a bridge or approver between the groups.

It is inefficient for the company and is bad for the information hoarder. The only skill the hoarders develop over time is the art of bullshitting and being political.

4. Follow Through

Follow-through is the #1 most significant issue I see with junior PMs. So many ineffective and junior PMs believe that designing an incredible process is all they need to do. What most of these PMs are missing is follow-through. Implementation and the installation of a process are exponentially more difficult.

The PM that blames a team for not following the process they emailed two weeks ago is lazy and ineffective. Don’t be the whiny complainer who sucks at life.

I’ll leave you with the following:

Get your ass up from behind your laptop and go follow up to make a difference!

In Conclusion

Life is short, and achieving something significant in this world is very rare. I know: I’m still trying.

I’ve likely pissed off at least some of you who read this post. However, instead of justifying your weaknesses, please consider how you can improve instead.

And let me know what you think. After reading this post, what do you think is most critical for PMs to be effective?

From the Community

The Next Lev’Elles 3 virtual conference on April 1, 2022:

Mobile game developers Square Enix Montréal, Gameloft Montreal, and Ludia Games are proud co-founders of Next Lev’Elles, a unique cross-studio collaboration created to promote greater diversity in the video game industry through inspiring talks and panels. To date, Next Lev’Elles conferences have raised $15,000 for community organizations that provide services to vulnerable women.

The conference will explore issues related to women leadership, career advancement, workplace equity and inclusion, work/life balance, and more.

When: April 1, 2022, 11 am ET

Where: virtual event


To donate to Centraide of Greater Montreal:

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