Introducing the ESTEEM Method™ / by Kaitlin Hung

The ESTEEM Method™ is a framework of six core skills that will help master the goal of moving up the PM ladder. It’s a memory aid and step-by-step guide on how to reach the top tier after you’ve landed a job at your dream company.

Image by Lewis Lin

Image by Lewis Lin

Featured in his book Be the Greatest Product Manager Ever, Lewis crafted this handy six-letter acronym to make it easy to remember: ESTEEM™. If you want to make it to the top, you’ll need ESTEEM™ (pun intended). Here are the components:


Superior communication skills

Tactical awareness

Extraordinary mental toughness

Exceptional team builder

Moonshot vision

1. Execution

The first competency is execution. If a PM can’t deliver a feature, product, or otherwise get things done, what’s the point?

The best execution-oriented PMs can do anywhere from five to ten times the work of an ordinary PM. They have a supernatural ability to get things done. That talented PM’s productivity is the reason for the team’s happiness. Without him or her, the team would bend and (likely) break under the collective workload.

Managers have no problem giving the best PMs merit bonuses. There’s no jealousy because those PMs earned it.

2. Superior Communication Skills

The second competency is superior communication skills.

Usually starting at the group product manager level, the best PMs tell captivating stories during critical times such as:

• Executive meetings

• Product brainstorms

• Brown bag presentations

• Sales conferences

Sometimes they tell stories with intelligence, filled with facts, numbers, or logic. Other times they tell stories with charm, developing chemistry and rapport. And the best can tell stories with heart, tugging on emotions and revealing authenticity.

During promotion time, they are hard to miss. Strong communicators get promoted at an unprecedented rate.

Strong communicators remind promotion committees of well-known CEOs such as Jeff Bezos, Satya Nadella, and Elon Musk. Not all CEOs are competent, but all famous CEOs communicate exceptionally. And there's a good reason why: CEOs must communicate effectively with their employees, customers, partners, and shareholders.

3. Tactical Awareness

The third competency is tactical awareness.

It’s a term I borrowed from soccer. The military also uses the term tactical awareness, which likely evolved from a more popular term “situational awareness.”

Those unfamiliar with the world of soccer can get thrown off by the phrase tactical awareness. They think I’m referring to rote execution or operational work.

That’s not what I mean. Tactical awareness is about:

1. Assessing the situation

2. Making good decisions, based on your assessment

In soccer, a player exhibits tactical awareness by:

1. Understanding where the nearest attacker or defender is

2. Predicting where he is going to pass the ball

3. Realizing where his teammates are and where they should be

4. Knowing where he is and where he needs to be

5. Making the right decision to stop the attacker or elude the defender

In product management, tactical awareness is about utilizing other worldly tactics that allow the best, usually starting at the director level, to:

1. Understanding what needs to be done

2. Foreseeing how others will react

3. Laying out how to achieve the goal

4. Making correct decisions – on the appropriate behaviors, deliverables, resources, and allies – to get the right outcomes

Tactical awareness is what many call the “sixth sense.” That is, as you get closer to the top, it’s no longer enough to work extra hours; almost everyone does that. Instead, you need tactical awareness; it’s what people mean when they say you need to “work smarter.”

4. Extraordinary Mental Toughness

The fourth competency is extraordinary mental toughness.

Many can execute, but few can lead groundbreaking change. Seismic change happens when a PM leader stomachs daunting circumstances and grinds through long hours.

They don’t quit. Even if they’ve failed 999 times, they’re ready to try the thousandth time, and so on.

Ordinary PMs aren’t the ones building billion-dollar businesses, inventing self-driving cars, or challenging long-held taxi regulations. The ordinary wilt when there’s a hint of resistance, whether it’s a stubborn engineer or an executive bully.

Great products are great because they’re hard to build. And many PMs don’t want to do hard things.

5. Exceptional Team Builder

The fifth competency is exceptional team builder. The best, usually starting at the VP level, call upon their deep network to quickly fill PM openings.

But that’s not the only thing that makes them outstanding. These team builders can and love to teach others how to do their jobs well, and they expect their direct reports to do the same.

6. Moonshot Vision

The sixth competency is moonshot vision.

Many CEOs communicate well, operate businesses efficiently, and demonstrate reasonable business judgment. But legendary CEOs differentiate themselves with moonshot vision. A moonshot vision is a product vision so audacious that it feels like John F. Kennedy’s 1961 proclamation to land the first humans on the moon.

Moonshot CEOs typically meet three criteria. They:

1. Propose a moonshot vision or idea that is unique, audacious, and extraordinary.

2. Describe why that vision will meet a large, profitable need.

3. Persuade, even skeptics, why the vision is feasible and, if necessary, the specifics steps to build it now.