Curious or Commanding – What type do you hire?

What is your Leadership and Marketing style? A core skill of all product managers is curiosity. When hiring or evaluating a team curiosity lives on two levels, first is the individual and second is cultural. Founders have enormous passion and vision but often fail miserably to share or communicate to others what they see. I worked briefly with Steve Jobs and saw in him what some say was him being a jerk but in my understanding it was a visionary man who lacked the vocabulary to communicate or pin down what he saw as wrong.

It may seem commanding thereby sucking the innovation out of a team when a leader is lacking the verbal tools to communicate. We have all heard the term “I can’t tell you but I know when I see it”. To some measure this is a cop out for someone who has not pushed themselves to learn to communicate in terms or be definitive.

The old product idiom that customers talk in terms of solutions not problems is true throughout our culture. Problems are painful, talking to them is considered a sign of failure. The leader is one who openly has the courage of character to walk through the problem definition and explore ideas in the divergent phase then take the risks to select ideas in the convergent stage that may in fact be poor choices.

This is part of the reason that hiring outside Product executives is so hard. The interview process is one of Q&A not idea exploration. To overcome this many teams work on use cases with staff hires so they can witness thought behavior in action. This is not even close to standard practice in the executive or portfolio level hiring process.

Clearly in smaller companies the founder still in the leaders chair often gets into debates with outside experts. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “they just don’t understand us” from founders! Portfolio level execs that come in with deep multi industry experience work in terms of models at the top level, they explore and need to get context before offering solutions, not what founders hitting a wall of change want!

To be a founder or start-up you risk everything so ego is required, and frankly a lot of it! So don’t get me wrong I love founders’ energy but at some point like a parent with a child one needs to let go! Allow that product to live so it can have a “Life Cycle”. Doing this is not easy emotionally and if you have not developed new vocabulary and behavioral skills you will destroy the curiosity of others, create a culture of “do – don’t think” and limit your dreams.

The first trigger in emerging companies is hiring in executive talent. This can be positive layering if you do two things: first is demonstrate that you seek experts in areas, listen to them and celebrate their value. Second is bring up your existing teams through training or coaching to the point you have a culture of outsider support, no “not built here” thinking.

Tim Bates