These Strategic Leader Spotlights feature Goff alumni and community partners who share their knowledge and perspectives on strategic leadership. Meet Jeff Letsinger, a Product Manager at Mavenlink and a 2016-17 Goff Scholar.

Please describe your professional path after graduation from the University of Utah.

As I left the U just narrowly missing the job I was aiming for out of school, I didn’t know what was next. I had received my degree, a B.S. in Finance, but wasn’t convinced I wanted to follow a traditional finance path. I received some professional advice from a Utah alumnus before graduating that it’s important to try many different roles early in your career. I took that advice to heart and found a job working in technical sales at a software company in the investment accounting space. It wasn’t a job I wanted forever, but gave me a growth-oriented business perspective through a sales lens in which I had no prior experience. After one year, I transitioned into a market research role positioned between sales and product management, a connective tissue of sorts. I quickly found a passion in the products being built rather than the process to sell them and moved into a product manager role. I’ve been in product management for almost two years now and thoroughly enjoy understanding and solving complex problems to help drive business value. Reflecting on the past four years since graduation, I’m grateful that I was able to try different roles across two companies. It allowed me to get exposure to different parts of a business and ultimately, find a career path that I find suits my strengths and challenges me to grow as a professional.

What does your current job entail, and what do you enjoy most about it?

My current position is centered around delivering value to customers through software development and education. Discovering their most painful problems and prioritizing our engineering efforts to solve those problems is my main objective. I spend a lot of my time speaking with customers, analyzing market and usage data and building a product roadmap for our team. I am also partially responsible for helping with development execution and quality assurance.

I thoroughly enjoy working with customers to help understand their problems and it is extremely rewarding presenting them with solutions. I also enjoy the pressure of being responsible for translating products into revenue and the strategic justification that accompanies the planning process.

What does being a strategic leader mean to you?

Being a strategic leader means being able to set strong goals, analyze different paths to reach those goals, and define the best way to execute. Strategic leadership requires you to listen to all stakeholders and value their opinions and experience. Listen to people, be flexible, and take risks. When you value other people’s experiences to help make decisions, it rallies people around a common goal. Strategic leaders are persuasive and looked to for confidence and motivation.

One of the 6 Principles of Strategic Leadership is “Actively Find and Formulate the Right Problems.” How do you make sure you’re finding and solving the right problems in your job?

A good place to start with finding the right problems is to understand and quantify people’s pains. Speak with people (customers) and get really comfortable with asking the question “why?”. By asking “why?” enough times, you typically get to the root of a problem and that is the most valuable and often the most challenging problem to solve. In many cases it is also the right problem to solve to alleviate other pains from problems that stem from the root. Another important piece to finding the right problem to solve is to make sure you have firmly identified the right customer. It’s important to leverage data and quantify the customer to make sure they align with a larger population. It can be helpful to start by properly identifying your objectives. From there, collect and analyze data and testimonials to realize what problems are preventing you from meeting those objectives.

What resources have you leveraged to generate value in your current or past role(s)?

Building close relationships with customers is an invaluable resource. Knowing that you have someone that can speak intricately about their problems and even provide solutioning nuggets is extremely helpful. Data analysis tools are crucial to help collect the appropriate data that allows you to form an opinion. Constructing your analysis toolset to identify and make sense of problems helps you build stories and be persuasive. I am always trying to improve my domain expertise through reading books about product management thought leadership, and applying strategic leadership principles and frameworks in my everyday job. Ultimately, I believe my best resource is the relationships I form with coworkers.