I have an embarrassing secret to share. I hate execution.
The spreadsheets tracking tasks, following up on every little detail, making sure that every corner case is accounted for. Miserable.
I don't just hate it, I suck at it. I expend way more energy than your average PM and my results are mediocre. I'm like a kid thrashing in a pool, flailing my arms trying to make progress.
"But Brad, you're a PM at Facebook. Execution is literally your job."
Sure, I've shipped tons of products before. I can get them out the door. But I'm not the person you want helping you burn down issues at the last minute. I'm way more useful grabbing coffee or ordering pizza.
So how do I plan to improve at execution? I don't.
I've accepted that execution is my weakness. My team has my back.
Surround yourself with people who complement your weaknesses so you can focus on your strengths.
A strength is something you're good at and you enjoy doing.
Your strengths give you energy. Your strengths make you happy. When you play to your strengths, people can't stop talking about how much value you add. It's like you have a superpower.
My strengths are zero to one product strategy and deeply understanding people. I wield these to build great early stage products and coach PM’s to help reach the next level in their careers. I value ruthless prioritization, caring deeply about quality of life, and justice. When you combine all of these together, you get Brad.
I've made the mistake of focusing on execution-heavy projects, growth teams, or areas that don't need strategy work. I struggle on these types of projects and burn out quickly.
When you start a new project or product, make sure it plays to your strengths. You'll spend less energy and make dramatically more impact. The more strength-based projects you take on, the more you hone your strengths.
Be open about your strengths with your team. Make sure everyone knows your strengths in advance and understands the type of work that you excel at. Your teammates will naturally start to bring you opportunities that play to your strengths.
You should also share your weaknesses.
A weakness is something you're not good at and you don't enjoy.
Your weaknesses drain energy. Your weaknesses make you frustrated. When you are working in an area of weakness, you'll feel like you're barely adding any value. It's like your kryptonite.
My weaknesses are execution and incremental work. I find myself overwhelmed, unable to make decisions, and spending hours staring at my screen trying to figure out what to do next.
Your weaknesses are typically rooted in your strengths. For example, being strong in strategy encourages you to think high level and long term which is at odds with detailed execution planning.
Like your strengths, you should avoid projects that force you to lean into your weaknesses. Be open about your weaknesses with your teammates.
People are often afraid to talk about their weaknesses. They think it makes them weak. In fact, the opposite is true.
I spoke with the head of product of an incredibly successful startup who was looking for a senior PM. In my introduction email, I shared my strengths and weaknesses. He started the conversation saying, "I've never had anyone openly state their weaknesses before an interview. Tell me more about them." What could have been an awkward topic uncovered late in the interview became a positive and constructive conversation about how I manage my weaknesses.
Don't be afraid of your weaknesses, embrace them.
By sharing your weaknesses, you name them, acknowledge them, and can openly discuss how to mitigate them with your team.
This creates an opportunity to find solutions together.
Building a strengths-based team
Surround yourself with teammates who complement your weaknesses.
Imagine a soccer team taking their star striker and telling them "we need you to work on your weaknesses. Play Goalie this season instead." That coach would be fired immediately. Your star striker should do what they do best, striking. Pair them with a great defensive team and a great goalie to complement the striker's weakness.
If you're weak at strategy, find a strategic Eng or Design counterpart. If you're weak on data, find a strong analytical co-founder.
Design your team based on each others' strengths. Great teams have a variety of different strengths that complement each other to cover weaknesses.
"You can’t, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But you can make them irrelevant." -Peter Drucker
Assemble the right team and your weaknesses will be irrelevant.
In a team of generalists, everyone is capable, but noone excels at one specific area.
In a team where everyone shares the same strength, they all also share the same weakness.
A strength-based team has multiple strengths that overlap with each others weaknesses. They can cover more ground and trust each other to focus on areas of strength.
I spent years trying to address my weaknesses. I studied, took courses, and led projects that were execution/data heavy. Each time, I learned alot, but I struggled and burned out.
Once I focused on my strengths, my career took off like a rocket. I enjoyed my work more, my team noticed and appreciated me, and I shipped better products.
Special thanks to Kumar Iyer for helping me find my strengths and Scott Stern for introducing me to Peter Drucker.
Do you spend most of your time on your strengths or your weaknesses? How much time do you spend doing work you love? I'd love to help: @bdickason
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Post last updated: Apr 9, 2021
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