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Guest

178

You can always adjust your requirements, but not your standards.

In this episode

How do you balance future planning while maintaining flexibility to adapt to changes? 

In episode #178, Leah Tharin shares her insights from working in tech and start-ups for over 20 years. She covers how to lead your team through constant change, aligning your team with team goals, and why you should allow people to try a job before they commit to it.

You’ll learn her framework for “reality checks,” which she calls periodic evaluations that prevent you and your employees from getting off course. She also reveals how to avoid burnout and costly mistakes in the hiring process, planning for resilience, and mitigating risks.

Leah Tharin is a product leader, content creator, advisor, and startup founder. She has been in tech for over 2 decades and has founded 4 startups. Previously the Head of Product at jua.ai and Product Lead at Smallpdf, she is now a Portfolio Advisor at Notion Capital and Advisor to NorthOne and Paddle. Specializing in B2B product-led growth, she shares her experiences and features industry leaders on her website and YouTube channel.

Tune in to hear all about Leah’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!


Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


04:24

Leading versus managing a team

10:07

Different ways to get team members aligned

20:47

It’s very hard to predict anything

26:25

How to handle hiring outcomes

30:40

Allow people to try jobs before committing

37:30

When to pause the hiring process

40:25

It takes a lot less than you think to be a good leader


Resources mentioned in this episode:


Transcript

Leah, welcome to the show.

Leah Tharin  02:55

Thank you so much for having me.

Aydin Mirzaee  02:56

Yeah, I’m very excited to do this. But you know, before we hit record, we were talking about how to introduce you and you do so many different things that it’s kind of hard to give you a label of sorts. I know a lot of people know you from being a product lead at small PDF, but you run late as ProducTea your portfolio advisor for Notion capital big fund out of Europe, but basically you help companies grow. And you really focus on product lead growth, that relatively decent categorization of the stuff that you do. Yeah,

Leah Tharin  03:26

so like the business that I do is I’m getting meta on myself. So not only do I teach you about product lead growth, but I also build my business in this way. So what product lead growth is, is that you try to take a huge mass of people, you give them a lot of stuff for free, then some of those are escalating to the next step, which is my newsletter. And then from that newsletter, some of them become paid. Some of those are going to my workshops, and some of those become my paid retainer advising clients. So I have my entire kind of funnel as well in how I guide people through this. Yeah, but like I talk a lot about product lead growth. So like how to grow and scale companies, and how you do that in a way that is efficient. And yeah, you know, like the right way, like the best way that you can do it in 2023. And hopefully 2024. So,

Aydin Mirzaee  04:12

yeah, yeah, it’s awesome. Yeah, so excited to dig in. One of the things that we always like to start with on this show is mistakes. So do you remember when you first started to manage or lead a team? What were some of those early mistakes that you used to make?

Leah Tharin  04:27

I thought about this question for a bit. And I always make a differentiation between leading and managing. So when we talk about leadership, like I mean, could be leading people without managing them. And my really first job where I actually was the head of something was as the head of a 360. And a 360 was an initiative from Microsoft to talk about digital lifestyle, you know, like the digital lifestyle that people have that is happening in the living room. So back then the hypothesis was there was like in 2000 Something The hypothesis was to like when the Xbox was coming around, you’re like you have a media center, your life is starting to shift from your desk to the living room. And I was the head of that particular platform where we were reviewing consumer grade hardware, but not with like preferring anyone but clearly only testing stuff from Microsoft. Right? I had my journalists and I had the people that were conducting all of this stuff. And I was leading there the entire platform. And I think this was the first time where I was a leader on paper. And I’m saying on paper, because I wasn’t leading anyone. I loved talking about it, how I was a leader and how important I am, you know, it was a very cool batch to have. But I never had formal training. And I did definitely not grow people back there. And that just came down to the fact that I did not know what I was doing, and did not know what I didn’t know. And I never had really good role models as managers to in the way that I look at them nowadays. So yeah, I was young, I was inexperienced. In India, I was just not good at it. And I think that was the first time where I started to have some responsibility for others. And started also to notice a couple of problems that I definitely did not solve, which is one of them is that what do you do when people do not want to move into the direction? Did you say is the good one to go to?

Aydin Mirzaee  06:17

Oh, that’s a really good one. That’s still hard.

Leah Tharin  06:19

Yeah, it is. What

Aydin Mirzaee  06:20

did you learn? Look,

Leah Tharin  06:21

the majority of optimization potential that we have as humans in regards to leadership, and that is my personal opinion, that’s completely out there. In some way. I feel like a lot of the stuff is about alignment. It’s about not what we do. But like whether you understand agree in the direction that we want to go to, right. So like, we want to land on the moon, here’s the vehicle that we’re going to do it with, right? So like, you have to create alignment in some sorts of like, why are we doing it? Where’s the target? Where do we go. And I think in this entire discussion, the one thing that people really forget is, the person that is listening to you, that is supposed to do it with you, or under you or above you, whatever it is, right. So like whoever is coming with you, they also need to believe that they can do it. And I feel like this is a very underappreciated part of leadership. Because not only do leaders oftentimes have imposter syndrome, but also the people that they lead. And if someone does not really believe that they can do something, then they can agree with you. They see the goal, they know where to go, but they can’t, because they feel like they’re not capable of doing so because they do not believe their own abilities. And I think the devil’s kind of circle in this regard is, is that a lot of people do not have the confidence to just say, like, Hey, I don’t agree with you, all of this is great, but I feel overwhelmed. I cannot do this. Because when you have a product managers title, or like a senior product manager, or you’re a head of product, or like you’re a CEO of a company, everybody assumes that you know what you’re doing, it’s very rare that a leader just stands in front of you and says, like this particular thing that I should be knowing, I just cannot do and this is exactly where you need a leader that actually understands and says, Hey, you know what it is okay, we’re going to figure it out. And it’s fine if we make mistakes. I think that’s a really core principle that kind of learned this, at least in a, like an academia setting. Let’s say that. Yeah. Yeah,

Aydin Mirzaee  08:13

I mean, it’s super interesting, because we often I think, on this podcast talked about how leaders might have imposter syndrome, like you said, and not want to maybe talk about how they don’t know how something should be done and admitting that and vulnerability, but it’s very interesting, the angle of the people who report to you who are going to be on that mission, they might be in the same place, and they might not want to tell you that they don’t feel confident and being able to achieve the things that you think they should be able to achieve.

Leah Tharin  08:39

I think it is even worse. I think, if you take a room of 10 people, in an average company, about eight or nine of those are probably thinking constantly, like, are other people thinking the correct thing about me or like, you know, like, they worry so much on what’s going on. And they’re looking at themselves. And if you look at yourself constantly, because you’re so worried about the picture that you’re projecting to the outside, you don’t start to notice others anymore. And this happens so much more with leaders than we care to admit, I really believe so. And this is kind of a problem, right? Like, it’s like everybody’s like worried about like, hey, so how do they perceive me? How do they perceive me, and then at the same time, nobody’s really taking care of others anymore. And I feel like this decreases with age, it gets easier. I still have an imposter syndrome, but it’s not as bad as it used to be, like a couple years ago, the success also helps in some regards, but you also need to do some kind of self reflection on this and really be like, hey, you know what, if I was in this situation when I was 20, then the people that I have managing who are 20 now, probably are too, and they usually are and just interesting. Yeah, yeah, I

Aydin Mirzaee  09:45

think it’s a good reminder. I agree with you on the age thing. It’s not to say you can’t come to these realizations earlier. But certainly the older you get, you realize that people spend more time thinking about themselves, so they’re too busy doing that instead of like trying to judge you. So It’s a very healthy thing of realization that you get. But I do want to tie this back to what we started talking about, which was, you said, sometimes it’s hard to people to get people to be aligned in what you want them to do, and like you tell them to do a thing. But it doesn’t necessarily happen in the way that you wanted. So what are ways that you can get around that, and I don’t know, if you have a story or an example of, you know, time you did it correctly, or incorrect, or something that can really drive the point home. So

Leah Tharin  10:29

I think a very good example of this is when you have a team that is stuck. And let’s say you have multiple options on where the team can go. And this is a very specific example that I fondly remember, because I felt I was super clever on how I solved it. That wasn’t my time at small PDF that was about two years ago, the core decision that we have to do from our side was, how are we going to build the core technology around PDFs? Right, so like, we had three or like four major kind of directions that we could have taken. And I had about three or four different preferences in the team distributed, you know, like, so these people, these two guys, they thought we should do it this way, the designer, so we should do it this way. And then we have this particular side. And while it is very useful, that you have so many people who are really passionate about what should happen, this can also kind of it can really paralyze you, of course. And if you think about so what was my job, my job was to unkind of to unblock the team, right? So we do start to move somewhere, because frankly, I do not care in which direction we move. Because you know, this person might be correct, this person might be correct. I don’t know. Like, I did not have a strong opinion myself. And unlocking this was just really difficult. And then at some point, I was going back to a lesson that I learned from someone else a couple of years ago, I made just a suggestion that was absolutely ludicrous. And I said, like, you’re gonna go into a room, and you’re going to make a decision. And if not, then we’re going to do this particular suggestion on a direction that is absolutely stupid. I did not frame it this way. But I said, like, look, we’re going to do this. And then the team started to unite against me to come to a better solution. And that unblocked them, because they had the two alternatives between like, so are we going to choose one of these three original ways that we had or layers idea, which was just not that good. And I think an interesting learning from my side was that it really wasn’t about me. Leadership is not just about my opinion, like, I need to convince others, I just need to sometimes also, like, figure out, okay, how do I align enough of the people in the team to just go into one direction, because then at least we have a chance of getting something done, right. And if you have this distributed alignment in the team, then everybody’s pulling a little bit into some direction, and nothing has a chance of surviving? And I think that can actually help sometimes. Yeah, it’s super interesting.

Aydin Mirzaee  12:51

It’s almost like a you have to decide otherwise, we do this really bad thing. And that causes themselves to believe in themselves to be able to do I mean, I

Leah Tharin  12:59

didn’t say that, right. I didn’t say that. I just kind of said like below, like from the four options that they had, I took the worst one. And I think that’s sometimes where it’s a stupid trick. But like the point is moving forward with one option is sometimes more important that would you think, like, at least to the outside? Yeah.

Aydin Mirzaee  13:14

So what would you say to someone, because it’s one of the things that I sometimes hear is people will say, for example, that I’m trying to explain something to so and so on my team. And they’re just not coachable. Like, they just don’t listen, or they don’t, you know, I tell them to do this thing. And they kind of nod their head, but it doesn’t quite happen. And you know, at some surface level, the person or the manager might believe that, oh, it’s just they’re not coachable. But maybe the problem isn’t there. coachability? I mean, what do you think about that?

Leah Tharin  13:45

I think this is an impossible question to answer, because you don’t know like, what? So first of all, we don’t know what the problem is, right? So like, we know, what’s not happening, what’s not happening is this, that, that my perception of where things should go is not happening as a leader, right? So like, now you’re asking me, so like, how should I solve this? So if you were with me now in a coaching scenario, then I will kind of ask you, okay, so what are your options? What can you do now? Right, so like, let’s do an inventory on what you can do as a leader. And if there is one thing that I learned as a leader, which is quite hard to do, because it sounds a bit rough is that you should invest the majority of your time into the strong people in your team, and the minority of your efforts into the weak ones. And you have to really come to terms with yourself, once you start to really understand that you have a problem in your team with a non performer, for instance, that moment where you realize this, you know, like where it becomes a certainty because all of this stuff is kind of on a spectrum, right? Like it’s like first you get an impression, then you get the second impression of something that happens and it’s the third impression, the moment where you are sure that there is a problem in the team. It becomes a you problem. You can no more get up in the next morning and say, oh, this person never works, if it is within your power to do so. One thing about it, then you either do it, you let them go, or you fix it, right? It’s like if you take something that is really unemotional, it’s like something that you ship in your company, at some point you need to now decide on are we going to develop this further? Because it’s a prototype, are we going to kill it? I’m not saying that you should kill your employees, but like, we call it killing yourself, right? Right. But you cannot leave it as is, that just does not work. Right. So like, at that point, it becomes a huge problem. And I think it is very destructive, if you just keep nagging about a problem, when you could be also part of the solution. And that means sometimes that you put yourself or that person on a pip where you just say like, look, this is going to change until then. And then we see how it goes further, or I live with it. But then I’m also not weaponizing this kind of situation, as is something in the future where you can say like, Yeah, but so person, so and so is never really, you know, like performing, I don’t want to hear that. Like if I have a directive that tells me that someone is not performing for nine months, then I’m going to ask questions, then I’m going to be like, Why do you have someone in your team that does not perform for nine months, that is a you problem. Either you accept it, and then you deal with it, or you let them go, or you help them out of it. But that is a huge problem. I don’t want to hear from anyone that they were not performing for nine months. It’s just not fair, right? I’ve had many examples like this in the past, where just people were waiting for way too long. And this is just hurting everyone in the company, the person that is being accused and their managers. It’s just not good.

Aydin Mirzaee  16:25

What was interesting, several things, but one of which was the focusing on the people who are actually performing in your company versus those that are not, you know, to some extent, I think that makes sense, right? Like, if we talked about the product scenario, like where are you going to do most of your investments on the things that are really, really working? No, those are the things you’re going to double down on. But is the intention there? I mean, by not paying as much attention to the other employees? What is the intent there? Is it that they’re gonna notice that and leave? Or it’s just not worth your time? Because it’s not a high leverage point? Or what is the eventuality of you know, something that because when I think about products, you invest in the ones that work, and like you said, the ones that don’t work eventually, you know, they’re not going to be part of the portfolio. So what happens to the people that you maybe spend a little bit less time with?

Leah Tharin  17:14

I think it’s not so much about the attention did you spend, I think you said it right now, just correct in the way that you said, like less time, it’s really about, let’s say, you have two product managers or group product managers, whatever, like medium, medium level, seniority, whatever. And they both have a very specific problem, and that they do not know how to interview customers, for instance, right. And we have determined that we need to have more customer centricity in your organization, whatever. Now you as a middle manager, who are responsible for these two people, you know, these kind of they both have kind of the same problem. So one of them wants to grow is a strong performer. And this is what I actually mean with a strong performance, right? Like that is someone that has the propensity and the personality to learn things. So they’re aware of it, they want to learn, right, so what you usually do with those is, you have a very close growth plan, you’re like, hey, look, here’s the book, here’s some material, like, bring this back, you know, like, and then you see how they grow continuously. It’s not that someone who just goes away for a year, and then they bring back a good output, right? It’s always about, you know, they’re doing something in small increments, and you see how they grow. On the other hand, you have the other person who’s not growing. Now, obviously, of course, what’s going to happen is, if I suggest something to them, they just never have time, they don’t make the time, you know, like something is just not working out between them, or me, or whatever it is. And that does not mean that they’re necessarily a bad performer. Right, there’s just not a strong performer that is really growing. The reality is, and this is what a lot of people really need to understand with a manager like me, you will not get the career opportunities that the other person is getting. And it doesn’t mean that the first person is working more, if I teach someone a couple of skills, or allow them to grow on the outside, you know, like from things that I cannot do and so forth. And I already kind of factor this in into their working time. Right? It doesn’t mean that, oh, you know, like, you have to learn this particular thing, would you do it after the job, that’s not what I mean. The one thing that I really love about good employees or good colleagues, is that they are reliable. It’s not about whether you can juggle the numbers especially well or whether you can handle Excel really good or like whether you can do a correlative analysis or whatever. The one thing that pisses me off at the end of the day, is if I start to notice that something has not been done that was promised, and I need to go ask again, by far and away, it’s almost never like, ah, you know, like the data substantial was not that good. And that’s an it’s always like, this is always like the beginning of the end for anyone. And this is where you put an expectation on someone. And then this expectation is not happening. And people who are not strong growers, they will not fulfill or like they will not match these expectations and that creates frustration on the side. I have the leader like her, in my sense, right? And this is why I’m saying like, it isn’t me problem, why would I expect a different output or outcome if they already have done this for quite some time. So I can either work with it and I create processes where this is not that necessary, or and I focus on those that where it can give stuff. And I know they’re gonna do something great with it, and then they grow with it. And they also get the career opportunities. I mean, this is this is this is one to one, the person’s the two people that I just described to you. This is one on one me, like, I was the bad performer for almost 15 years in my life. And then I kind of started to figure it out what it really is about, and I think, yeah, that’s just what it is. That’s how young people should look at their careers. Yeah,

Aydin Mirzaee  20:41

I think it’s a really good explanation. And I think it’s also a really good segue into a blog post that you recently had around people doing reality checks, and maybe not doing them more frequently. Maybe you can explain a little bit, you know, what that actually looks like? And in very practical terms, like what is reality check? How do you do it? And what kind of contexts?

Leah Tharin  21:03

So I think what we love to hear is frameworks that seem to work, right, it’s like, here’s how you grow a person, here’s how you structure a one on one, here’s how you do this, here’s how, here’s how you do strategy. Here’s how you do that. And here’s how you do this. If I learned one thing about all of these plans, and how you should manage people, and how you should manage businesses and so forth, is that the only thing that counts really is first principles need to be in order. And those are the only immovable things and everything else should stay kind of fluid with. So what do I mean with that? What I mean with that is, no matter how much you plan, an experiment, a feature launch the growth of a person, whatever it is, you know, like whether you look at people or projects, it doesn’t really matter, something will go wrong. So if you do not account for this in your process, that you have to check where your progress is in an objective way, and you also adjust for failure on the along the way, then it’s a bad process. So a good example would be if you have the best weather forecasts in the world, and you want to take off from one airport, and you have to fly to the next airport. If you have perfect planning, then you don’t need to talk to anyone, you don’t have to look outside the window, you can just fly with your instruments. Nobody does that. The reality is always different. There’s other traffic, there are other factors, there’s just things that you just do not know about. And this is more common than not. And any kind of process or plan that is complex is going to not materialize. Anyways, I have never seen it happen ever. Even in the best product, what we usually do is we have about 1000s and 10 1000s of tries on, you know, launching products and trying out frameworks and so forth. One of them accidentally works. And then we kind of think, Oh, now let’s deconstruct this and see why that actually worked. Whereas sometimes, you know, like, it’s also like just random luck, or just like people adapting to circumstances as they go. What’s much more interesting is sometimes so like, How close were you with what you initially thought about your business, for instance, right? So like the business hypothesis when you’re starting off, so I want to create a product, here’s the people that I sell it to, here’s the market, and here’s how the product should look like, after two years, you most of the time do not recognize it anymore. And this is exactly how it is also with people, it’s very, very hard to predict anything. And this is what I mean with reality checks. So you need to plan in your plan, that there will be reality checks relatively soon, to see where you are actually are. am I heading roughly into the correct direction? Or do I need to adjust and it is okay to adjust it is most likely that you adjust. So you could now ask the question. So why do you set these goals in the first place, because it’s still good to know roughly in which direction you head. That’s still very useful. But you don’t need to plan it to the very little detail. If you already know that in six months, something is not going to pan out. And this is why I’m such a big opponent almost on a lot of companies sizes of annual planning. I think it’s still one of these exercises that is done just completely wrong. Now.

Aydin Mirzaee  24:18

Hey, everyone, just a quick pause on today’s episode to tell you about a new feature that I am so excited about. We’ve been working on this one for quite a while and excited to announce it to the world. We’re calling it meeting guidelines. So there’s all these things that people already know they should do when they organize a meeting. So for example, you should make sure that you shouldn’t invite too many people or if you’re booking a recurring meeting, you probably want to put an end date on that meeting. Or if you’re going to invite someone to a meeting, you should probably you know if they have more than 20 hours of meetings that week, maybe be a little bit more considerate and ask Should I really invite that person to the meeting? So there’s a bunch of these sorts of things. Is that you might even know about. But what happens somehow in larger organizations is that people forget all of these things. And so that’s why we built this feature called meeting guidelines. It’s super easy to use. It’s a Google Chrome extension. So if you install it, what will happen is it will integrate with your Google Calendar. And that way, whenever anyone within your company is about to book a meeting, these meeting guidelines will show up and make sure that people know and take a second look at that meeting that they’re about to book and make sure that it adheres to these guidelines. So if you want to book or within your company, have a no meeting day, or if you want to make sure that every meeting has an agenda in advance before it’s booked. So all the different sorts of guidelines that you may want. And they’re all obviously highly configurable, because every company is going to be slightly different. But this is the first time that there is a way that you can get an entire organization to change their meeting behavior. It’s something that we’ve been working on for a very long time, super proud to announce it to the world. It’s called meeting guidelines. If you’re interested in checking it out, we’d love for you to do that and give us feedback, you can get to it by going to fellow.org/guidelines. Again, that fellow.app/guidelines, check it out. And let me know what you think. So let’s dig into that a little bit. So to make sure that I understand when you think about like, it’s hard to predict anything, like you said, it’s hard to predict a business. So in the same way, it’s also hard to predict how any one person that you hire is going to do well, you can do all these things, you can interview reference check. But at the end of the day, your company is different different circumstances that were present yourselves, that person has to work with different people within the team. So it is still going to be hard to predict. But at the end of the day, like you hired this person to do a role, and the role is going to have an outcome. And so it’s reasonable to say in six months, we’re going to visit and do reality check and see like how far we were we were supposed to go east, we ended up worse. That’s a pretty big deviation. And that that’s what you mean by reality check, right?

Leah Tharin  27:12

Yeah, maybe with the exception that six months is an awfully long time, in pretty much any business, it is very long time. So if you look at, let’s say you are the CEO of a really big retail chain versus like just like one little small store, you’re selling into the same kind of market, you’re doing the same kind of business, but two things are changing. One of those people is thinking in five years plus, and the other person is thinking in like six months plus, you know, like the next season, the next holiday, the next this and that. And the other thing that is changing with this is the detail of the plan. It’s just what this is, right? So for instance, let’s take your example of what you said you hire someone. And then there are two outcomes. So one of them is everything’s going to Well, we keep the person which is the most likely one because hopefully our hiring processes are actually good. And I think usually when you sign someone, the average tenure is about 12 to 18 months in a good company. So it’s very unlikely that these people can fail. But did you ever think about it in the way that okay, what is the likelihood of this to fail? And how much does it cost us for this particular position? If it does fail, right? Like what is the cost that this is going to take off? If it doesn’t work? And what do we do if it doesn’t work? So I’ll give you a good example. So let’s say you hire someone, or you promote someone internally into a leadership position. And let’s say this would be for VP of product, they’ve never let a product, they’re good group product manager, right? Like, but this is their first VP product gig. And this is oftentimes the case, right? Like it’s always like, at some point, it’s for everyone. It’s like the first time where they have to just like take care of a good product, me as the CPO or the CEO or whoever I am, I have to kind of be okay, with this going wrong. There’s always an inherent risk, does it that it can happen, right? So the first question that you always have to ask yourself, Does this kill the business? If it goes wrong? Probably not. We can sustain much more than we actually admit. But how long does it take me to kind of start to figure it out to see whether it does work or not? Is it six months? Is it three months? And how would I evaluate this? Is it more important to me as a CEO that this particular VP is now solving a specific problem that we have with shipping? Or do I measure them on the happiness of their direct reports? Because we had too many direct reports into the CPO before whatever, right? Like people do not sit down long enough to really figure out what is the good outcome looking like before, just as a general concept, you don’t need to put it in numbers in any way. But once you do that, you start to kind of think that Okay, so let’s say there’s a 10% chance that this goes wrong, what happens afterwards, then I need a replacement, and then I need to kick off a new hiring process. Can we maybe already define at least a role description for this that then this VP is also trying to kind of fulfill and in case it doesn’t have And then we can at least start to kick off the hiring process relatively fast. These are all things that you can already do not to mitigate risk, but to at least dampen the impact of a bad decision. And also to say to these people, and this is where I’m a big fan of, you can try it out. Because sometimes people don’t fail, but they don’t like it. And you can always revert into the old position. And I’ve done this many, many, many times, where we just said, like, Hey, you can try it out, you have two months, and then I want your answer whether you want to keep doing this or not. And then we just have like this kind of, you know, back and forth. This is what I mean, right? So like, you need to be aware of the optionality that can happen and have a rough plan. I’m like, What am I doing? If it does not pan out? And this does not change in senior manager roles? For sure not?

Aydin Mirzaee  30:43

Yeah, what I was gonna say is like, I also agree with the idea of giving people like trials of doing something. So one of the ways that I’ve seen this done is interim VP of product, or, you know, one of the things that we do is that fellow we, you know, you don’t become a manager, first, you become a team lead first, and it’s effectively a manager, but we’re kind of acknowledging that it’s not fully a manager, and you kind of try the role. And so by also making the, you know, allowing people to revert, but do it on a low cost basis, then, you know, they’re more likely to do that and not think that, you know, they have to go, you know, in a given path and not look at it at failure if it doesn’t work out.

Leah Tharin  31:23

So here’s a great example of this. So I love the story. So let’s call this guy Gabriel. His name is not Gabriel, but he knows if he’s listening to this, he knows who he is. So Gabriel asked me whether he should become an engineering manager, right, like a great engineer, a really good guy, but he never wanted to be an engineer. So he tried it out. And we said, Okay, you have two months, you’re going to try to solve not a problem, not a big deal. So we tried it out. After two months. He said, I’m not liking it. So he stepped back down. And we said, hey, no, not a big deal. Not a big deal. Another month goes past, he comes back and he says Leia, I think I actually I actually want to do it. And he felt horrible about this, right, like a classical overthinker. He felt like he inconvenienced us so much. And like, we already started to kick off hiring and so forth. So now we’re at month number four. And then I said, look, the amount of time that it takes me to hire someone, even if we just started right now, to onboard them to test whether they’re actually good to ramp them up from start to finish is between seven to 1011 months, it’s just the average that it takes you in this particular segment to do this. So far, this experiment with you costed us like four months, and you did not even do a bad job. It’s just, you know, you’re going back and forth. And that’s fine. So do you want to do it or not? And this was very important for him to hear, because he started to also kind of realize that he’s not inconveniencing us as much as he thinks, because in their minds is like, Oh my God, you know, like, I’m wasting the company’s time for like four months. And I’m just thinking that, hey, if we can find a good leader in four months like this, so when when it’s still better than like hiring someone completely new, you know, like an entire ramp up, and managers are always critical. So this is why I always say that, let them not only try it out, but don’t really don’t make a big deal out of it, it is not as costly as it seems, because these people don’t just stop working right like to so I think it’s a good thing. No, yeah,

Aydin Mirzaee  33:10

and I think the ending and if your company is large enough, and others have seen examples of this happening, you know, so and so was great engineering became a manager than not a manager and it’s fine and they’re doing really well and very well respected. It’s when you’re the first one in the company for it, that becomes a case where you might need a little bit more reassurance, but then once it becomes like a norm and you know, I’ve seen it in a lot of cases. And this is very normal, like for companies to reorg all the time. So in this reorg your leader and the next one you’re not in this one you are it’s just you know, whatever makes sense in the context of what’s going on in the company. So one thing that I did want to chat with you about is you have this blog post around you know top five lessons for hiring without causing burnout it’s just it’s a very intriguing title because you know, usually you hire so that less people have burnout so I’m curious like if you could maybe elaborate on how do you hire without tiring as you talk about so

Leah Tharin  34:08

I think it comes back down again to what I said before like you need to be aware of that things can just go wrong that’s the very first the one thing that you do not want to have is a miss hire, but it will happen the one thing did you definitely do not want to have even more is the second Miss hire for the same position because by then two years have now past right like this is actually what can happen so you’re hiring someone it’s the wrong person and you know like you off board them they go on a trip and the year is over you have to restart the entire thing the people that were doing it with you beforehand, they’re already gone. So like this is the first thing so what does that mean? Now? In some ways, you really have to make sure that whenever you are starting to get tired, and this is why I said like you know hiring without tiring like when you start to notice that you are getting tired. These are like these signals I have, I don’t enjoy hiring, I don’t I don’t know anyone who enjoys hiring, right? Like in that sense, like, this is not a favorite activity of mine. So what we do as people or as leaders or as managers is we start to make compromises. So at the very start, in the first two weeks, everything is okay, oh, we have this really complex profile that we want to hire, you know, like, they need to do this, they need to be able to do that, everything’s kind of fine. And then you don’t find the right people, you have 700 applications, not a good one in there, you have to go through the role description for the fourth or the fifth time, you’re going to maybe even also try to hire external recruiters that also does not work out, you get tired. And that is sometimes where I really think you know what, you’re now so tired, you’re going to make a mistake, the chance of you making a mistake just went up dramatically, because you’re really tired, because what’s now going to happen is someone that is mediocre, did you reject it in the first two weeks, you’re gonna look at them. And you say, like, yeah, maybe they’re good enough. So maybe maybe we can make an exception in this kind of regard. Right. So maybe we can lower the quality a little bit, maybe it’s kind of fine. And this is exactly how I ran into this particular hammer, I hired two people where I was not in love with them. And both of them were Miss hires, and it cost me quite a lot of nurse to get them out afterwards. And re staff the team again. And those are mistakes that cost so much money and so much time, and even more money, because not not just like the money that you pay in terms of server and the salary. But like for a small company like this is time, this is time of a ramp up that is lost, right? Like the market has moved on for another six or seven months. And that is something that you should not forget, right? So like, once you get tired, take a break really bad, take a break slow down, right? It’s not worth it, because you will make mistakes. And these mistakes will cost you dearly. They really, really do. Yeah,

Aydin Mirzaee  36:50

there’s always like this adage of people always talk about hire slow fire fast. And that’s generally true. But if you hire too slow, you do lead to these problems. And like I, you know, I’ve been there too. Certainly, I remember a situation where we’re looking to hire this person took us a very long time. And in the last moment, the top candidate that we chose, we just figured out in the very last stages that this isn’t the person. But by that point, we were so tired, like you said, and we were like, wow, we’ve taken so long to do this. Like we just have to make a hire. And so we just went and chose, you know, the next person in line. And we wouldn’t have necessarily done that. But we did because of the circumstances. And we’re like this is taking too long. And yeah, done that more than once. But it’s a very true point. Sure, your advice is when that happens. And when you get that feeling it’s okay to put a pause on the hiring and revisit it maybe in a quarter. Is that what you’re saying? Well,

Leah Tharin  37:48

I don’t say like, Hey, you know, like, let’s just pause it for three months. But like, I think if your projects cannot survive anyways, for like three months, without having someone that is really good, then you need to reevaluate how you’re setting this up anyways, right? So like, I mean, then rather just like shift someone internally to this or whatever. But I think the way that I formulated this back then in this particular article is like, you can always adjust your requirements, but not your standards, right. So like, we can always say like, okay, like, instead of like five years of experience for this particular thing, they need maybe three years or whatever. So these requirements, you can kind of lower, but if you do not have a good feeling about the personality of someone, that they fit into the team, you know, like the cultural fit, like, whether they’re hungry, whether they have a buying into the company’s mission, or whatever you want to do, right, like, then just don’t do it. That’s what I mean, like was lowering your standards, this is when you get tired, and when you start to make mistakes, and I think it’s a really basic thing, but good job profiles, you know, like a really having a really good profile of like, what should the position to, they are so rare, we get so much of the standard garbage, you know, like, we’re like, oh, you know, like the wrong should do this, and this and that. And then you just like, they describe the standard of what the product manager does. What I want to see is like, I want to see a job description, where you disqualify a lot of people just because they say, I would not enjoy this. That’s a good job profile. So for instance, with me, I’m all over the place. I’m not good at this, and I’m not good at that. So I need someone that is working with me to kind of compliment me on this. Right. So can someone keep up with my speed? Can someone keep up with my chaotic nature? You know, like, can they keep up with criticism, because I’m very, very direct, right? Like, I’m sometimes rolling over people without meaning, but that’s just who I am. And that’s much more important in a good profile than just like describing what the product manager does all day. Anyways, these are table stakes, right? Like you’re good product manager, if you can do what we expect from a product manager, but also can work with me great, because in the end, you’re not hiring a person into some kind of structure. You always hired them into a team, or most of the time at least, and I feel like these profiles are usually not really well synchronized with a team. It’s just like some kind of hiring manager just like doing Some kind of stuff. Now it’s catchy PT very often, and then that’s good enough. But it really isn’t. You really should. Yeah, it’s an underappreciated skill, for sure. Like to have a really good profile.

Aydin Mirzaee  40:10

And I think is, you know, just to loop back on to the reality check concept. Once you have that profile, you can, you know, at the end of the process, you can say, Hey, did we find this person that we were looking for? Or do we find something completely different? So it helps with that, too. Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. So Leah, this has been an awesome conversation talked about so many different things. Starting with we talked about the reality checks, we talked about how to do hiring, we talked about how planning, so far ahead is not necessarily as productive and what kind of planning is productive. One of the questions that we always like to end on is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft. Are there any final tips, tricks, or words of wisdom that you would leave them with?

Leah Tharin  40:52

I would say, the most common one that I know from a survey that I did with all of my subscribers, which was very interesting, because I have mostly leaders in there. So I basically asked them on a scale of one to five, how much would you like to do something? And then how much are you capable of doing it? Right? So like, first question, the desire and then also like seeing like a gift that someone can do, there was one specific question where I asked, how much would you like to write about what you do, or like, you’d like to express yourself in some kind of medium, either through a podcast or writing or whatever it is. And I had such a big disparity between what people wanted and what they felt they can do. And when you’re writing about something, or you talk about something, or you stand in front of people and talk to them, which is leader has to do quite often, we are getting evaluated, raise. So like we are getting evaluated. And it’s not just about whether you are a good leader, but like whether you also believe that you are like it takes far less than you think, to be a good leader. It takes a lot of compassion. And it takes way less actual skills of knowing frameworks and doing this and that, it’s just like whether you consistently show up for the people that you’re leading, every day, every time you have a one on one, if you invest like five minutes before that, you just really sit down and think like, okay, so how can I make the day better of this particular person? Like, how can I approach this from a good point of view or like from, you know, like, in good faith as well, I feel like, it is so obvious every time I do one of these surveys, how much people are afraid of being judged by others. And specifically, as a leader, you have to overcome this. It’s not about you, oftentimes, it really is more about the people that you are talking to or like that you’re speaking to that you’re leading. And the way that I have overcome this for myself is that nowadays, I push post or I speak or I publish an episode faster than I worry about it, right? I still have this kind of feeling that I said something stupid, or that I gave someone not good guidance. But I push it out first. And I worry about it later. And I think that’s a good advice to take home

Aydin Mirzaee  43:01

for sure. That’s great advice. And lead before we drop off, you’re working on a leadership guide. Do you know like for people who want to find it, do you want to maybe tell us a little bit more about what it is and how people can find it. And also how people can find you because you have a lot of published works. And if people want to connect with you, too.

Leah Tharin  43:20

So let’s say someone enjoys what I do, then you can go to my website, which is www.layout.com, which is my first name. And the last name.com is probably also going to be in the show notes. And if you want to read one piece of what I have ever written that is kind of encompassing what I do, then it is the product lead growth guide. It is a guide that is written from very first principles perspective, it goes about leadership, it goes about how do we think about selling something in a way that is efficient, and then you will know whether you like my writing style or not. And I think as you said, I’m writing right now, the next big one, it’s my leadership guide is going to be a lot about alignment, and how I create alignment and like so like how do I do great leadership. And the five topics that I think you need to have are going to be great storytelling, how to communicate often without tiring, again, how to grow in front of your employees, how do you acquire sterile market knowledge, right? So like the skills behind it, and how to experiment to learn and not to succeed? And I feel like that’s an approach to leadership that I’ve never seen somewhere else. And yeah, we’ll see what happens, you know, but like, I will publish it on my blog, for sure. Awesome.

Aydin Mirzaee  44:31

And, you know, we’ll obviously put the links in the show notes later. Thanks so much for doing this.

Leah Tharin  44:35

Thank you for having me. This was cool.

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