I recently met with my friend and former colleague, and over a few drinks we started talking about how our careers have panned out. While I’m fairly happy with what I’ve done so far, his trajectory has been extraordinary. When I asked him how he did it, he told me
Perception is everything.
He started out as an engineer but he quickly rose to the ranks of a technical architect in a remarkably short period of time. His abilities were revered at my previous company, simply because he was able to do things much faster and better than anybody else. By his own admission though, he isn’t half as good as he pretends to be. Whenever there was a large project to be done, he volunteered—even if he didn’t have a clue about how to start. He just believed that he’d figure it out along the way.
This was alien to me. I have this tendency to defer to authority, especially when I recognize that someone is more experienced than I am. If I am not a subject-matter expert, I feel like I should keep my mouth shut. This also ties into the feedback I received from my manager right before I left
Be more aggressive.
I think people know more than I do. And yeah, I suppose humility isn’t necessarily a bad thing but in the context of being a product manager, it’s the worst. As a PM, you need consensus and you constantly need to push new ideas into the pipeline. If you let yourself get beat down by everyone around you, then you essentially become useless.
I was great at execution, every feature that I owned made it into production seamlessly. But it was in the more unstructured areas that I floundered. While others firmly held to their beliefs, I didn’t feel confident enough to have a strong opinion. What I’ve come to learn is that no one knows everything, no matter how old they are or how experienced they are. This is way easier for me to say but much harder for me to practice.
This is something I absolutely want to focus on during the MBA. Learn how to be more aggressive and forceful, in order to make my voice heard and defend my opinions vociferously. I also want to learn how to bring structure to unstructured problems. I work much better within the parameters of a defined framework, but real business problems don’t fit into neat silos. I know I need to get better at it and I’m determined to work towards it.