Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Accelerating Leadership Development in the Workplace

Contributed by Global Knowledge

Today’s business recruiters face a growing concern over the future of leadership. This concern is certainly not unfounded – by the year 2020 over a quarter of the workforce will be aged 55 and over (compared to just 13% in 2000), and many of these will hold senior positions in their organization. Employers are therefore being faced with the sensitive task of bridging the skills gap in a bid to find new leaders to replace those who are heading towards retirement.

Accelerating Leadership DevelopmentJocelyn Bérard, Global Knowledge’s Vice President is one leader who is working diligently to steer organizations through the leadership predicament towards a green light solution. In his latest publication Accelerating Leadership Development: Practical Solutions for Building Your Organization’s Potential, Bérard identifies key ways in which employers can work to fill leadership roles, whether through leadership training or business development strategies.

According to Bérard, the book’s main purpose is to aid businesses to “speed up the process of leadership development [by making sure that they] have the right opportunities and infrastructure to retain that talent.” The publication includes a step-by-step approach to accelerating leadership development within the workplace, which seeks to lay the foundations for organizations to “identify talent gaps, select next-generation talent, determine leadership requirements and give them [employees] the tools they need to succeed.”

The publication also includes interviews with top international academics and executives from Europe and North America who offer sound advice on how to find, encourage and nurture emerging talent in the workplace.

In addition to his recent book, Bérard also regularly offers leadership advice in industry publications both online and in print. In a recent article on accelerating leadership development, Bérard identified two key strategies for organizations seeking to prepare for leadership succession:

1.  The 9-Box Grid

A core part of the solution is identifying potential leader candidates, this may be an employee who consistently produces work of a high standard and is skilled in every area of their role. One tool, which Bérard suggests organizations can use, is the nine-box grid that can be used to position potential leaders on a low, medium and high performance scale.

However, merely scoring employees with a performance rating is not enough to predict and rate potential leaders. Bérard identifies six factors that employees need to take into account in order to assess future leaders. These are:

  1. Cognitive complexity and capacity
  2. Learning orientation: self and others
  3. Drive and achievement orientation
  4. Motivation to lead
  5. Social and emotional complexity and capacity
  6. Personal and business ethics

These factors are believed to be essential in order to streamline the leadership assessment process.

2.  Carefully Identify Potential Leaders Through Diagnosis

Meticulously assessing a potential leader’s capabilities, competencies, experience and knowledge is essential in order to recognize strengths and identify room for improvement. Bérard says options for assessment could include “360-degree surveys or simulations, validated personality traits inventories, tailored knowledge, and an experience review interview or questionnaire.”

Using these four components to appropriately assess potential-leaders will give employers an accurate indication of whether a candidate is ready to make the leap of faith towards leadership training and development.

Author Note: Global Knowledge are IT and business training providers who organize a number of leadership development training events designed to offer practical solutions for building an organization’s potential. The next event will be hosted by Jocelyn Bérard on the 2nd December. Visit the website to find out more.


The Product Management Perspective: Many product management leaders face challenges with aging individual contributors on their teams. What makes this challenge even more difficult is the shortage of college programs focused on product management, which means new candidates need training and preparation beyond what they get in college to get started. Therefore, product management leaders must focus on not only finding people with the right skills to lead their products, but also on training them for their job. When hiring a VP or Director of Product Management, make sure your chosen candidate understands these aspects and will focus on developing leaders in your product organization.


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Arm the Messenger: Helping Your Team Talk Business

Guest post by Allison Rice

Imagine you are at a networking event with several of your employees, enjoying an appetizer and mingling with other small business types, when suddenly you overhear one of your own team members struggling to explain what, exactly, your business does and how you do it. Would you be embarrassed? Of course you would.

But scenarios like this don’t have to happen. Instead, you can arm your team with the information necessary to talk about your business in the outside world. After all, word of mouth is the best advertisement for any business — and happy team members who can readily discuss how the company works are a sure sign of success.

Find out how much everyone knows

First, find out where your team stands in terms of discussing business affairs. Arrange a meeting with the entire company, from college interns to managers and partners, and give everyone a simple worksheet of questions to answer. Don’t tell them before the meeting what the meeting will be about or you won’t get a true picture of how much training is needed.

What should everyone know?

The worksheet should include questions that you would want your team to be able to answer in a variety of business situations. Whether an employee is attending a networking function or encouraging a new client to consider your product, he or she should be able to speak candidly about what your company offers and have a general idea about everyday processes. The classic questions of who, what, when, where, how and why make a good starting point. For example:

What Does the Company Offer?

This question seems simple enough, but often employees and managers don’t have a clear answer. Narrow it down to specifics with the following hints:

  • Is it considered to be a product or service?
  • What makes the product or service unique?
  • What kind of competition exists in the market, both locally and nationally, for this product or service?
  • Does your company include “perks” or benefits with its products or services? (For example: a hair salon offers a 10-minute scalp massage with each wash and haircut.)

Who Might Benefit From What the Company Offers?

Understanding the demographics of the company’s product or service is also important. Make sure your team knows about the qualities of your ideal client, such as:

  • The company’s target age range
  • Target educational and/or economic status
  • Gender, if applicable

How Does Your Company Deliver?

How your company delivers a marketing message, or navigates today’s economy, is important. What do your employees know about your marketing efforts?

  • Mass Media: Does your company use television, radio or live events to deliver a message?
  • Websites: How does your company’s website work? Is it possible to purchase your product or service on the web?
  • Social Media: What social media tactics does your company use?
  • “Old School” Methods: Does your company send out brochures and/or fliers, hang posters or mail newsletters?

Why Has Your Company Thrived?

The “why” portion is a chance to share the philosophy of your company: its history and its current mission. While you might not think people will ask about these matters, this is important information that each employee and business owner should have.

Where Can Someone Get More Information?

This should be a no-brainer, but make sure everyone on the team is aware of all the different places a potential client can find out more, such as:

  • The company’s website or email address
  • The company’s storefront(s)
  • The company’s contact information

When is the Best Time to Get in Touch?

Answering this question could be as easy as relaying the business hours, but, if you have a website that offers purchasing, a client would need to know that the product or service is available any time.

Follow up the worksheet session

After you give your team the worksheet and let them fill it out, you’ll be able to see how much, or how little, everyone knows. You’ll also be able to notice any similarities in the answers. If the answers are not similar at all, that means there’s more training to be done. Sharing the same company information is important. If you find that your team didn’t respond in the way you wanted, it might be time to schedule a training session or two and get everyone on the same page.

Remember, every single employee within the company is likely to be delivering your message to the outside world at some point, so it’s important to figure out what the message should be and make sure it’s understood by everyone.

Allison Rice is the Marketing Director for Amsterdam Printing (www.amsterdamprinting.com), a leading provider of promotional marketing pens and other promotional products to grow your business and thank customers. Allison regularly contributes to the Promo & Marketing Wall blog, where she provides actionable business tips.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers play a key role in ‘arming’ the company with product messaging, especially in answering questions about what the company offers. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone in the company knows what your product will do for your customers. Take advantage of every opportunity to share the value of your product and get your coworkers excited about how it helps your customers.


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Becoming a decisive leader

“Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.”

Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath wrote the book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work with the following goals: “We want to make you a bit better at making good decisions, and we want to help you make your good decisions a bit more decisively. We also want to make you a better advisor to your colleagues and loved ones who are making decisions.”

The entire premise of the book is built around four principles the authors call the WRAP process:Decisive

  1. Widen Your Options
  2. Reality-Test Your Assumptions
  3. Attain Distance Before Deciding
  4. Prepare to be Wrong

To widen your options, ask yourself these questions: What are we giving up if we make this decision? What else could we do with the same time and money? Push for additional alternatives, for “this AND that” rather than “this OR that.” Find someone else who’s solved your problem, and learn from them.

To reality-test your assumptions, start by considering the opposite. Some companies have a formal process to prepare a case against a high-stakes proposal. Spark constructive disagreement within your organization. Find ways to bring real-world experience into your decision-making process.

As you make big decisions, take a step back and consider the larger impact. Use the 10/10/10 tool: how will I feel about the decision 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? What about 10 years from now? Look at your situation from an observer’s perspective. Focus on your core priorities and create a “stop doing” list to help you weed out time wasters.

No decision maker is perfect, so prepare ahead of time to be wrong. Consider a range of outcomes, from very bad to very good. Conduct a ‘pre-mortem’—“it’s a year from now, our decision has failed utterly. Why?” Do a ‘pre-parade’—“It’s a year from now. We’re heroes. Will we be ready for success?” Set ‘tripwires’—deadlines or partitions—to help you realize you have choices.

Finally, you have to trust in the process. “Bargaining”—horse-trading until all sides can live with the choice—will take more time up front, but it accelerates implementation. Making sure others are aware of your decision making process is key to team buy-in.

Decisive is a great read, filled with stories and examples of how to analyze things rapidly and make informed decisions quickly. I guarantee it will keep you interested and you will learn techniques for making decisions. The book is replete with great stories that will keep you reading and learning. Some of my favorites include:

  • David Lee Roth, lead singer of the band Van Halen, put an M&Ms clause in every contract. The clause demanded a bowl of the candy without any brown M&Ms backstage before every concert. Was he a spoiled rock diva or an operations expert?
  • What major decision did Andy Grove, president of Intel, make in 1985 that was a huge turning point for the company?
  • The CEO of Quaker (the oats company) made a major decision in 1983 that cost his company more than $1.5 billion by the time it all played out.
  • Why did Zappos, the online shoe store based in Las Vegas, offer its new employees $1000 (now up to $4000) to quit their job (at Zappos)? Why do they have one of the lowest employee turnover rates of any company?
  • Why did Kodak executives allow digital images to kill their company? What did the executives know years ahead of time that could have saved the company?
  • How did the product Rogaine emerge successfully from mistakes made in another product line?

If you read only one book this year, make sure it’s Decisive!


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers make decisions constantly. They get bombarded with figures and estimates all the time, and they need to make decisions and move forward. The book Decisive has opened my eyes to new, better ways of making decisions. This is a must-read for all product managers and product marketing managers.


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How can you make a positive perception?

Beyond IllusionsHow we perceive things shapes our lives. In the book Beyond Illusions: The Magic of Positive Perception, Brad Barton—a magician, athlete and all-around great guy—takes you on a journey of looking past illusions and forming positive perceptions that will change your life.

When we understand how we’re deceived, we have the power to no longer be enslaved by the illusions and misperceptions that create personal, social and business crises. This is how we achieve freedom.

Each chapter deals with a compelling topic, with humor and emotion. I literally laughed out loud reading some parts and shed tears in others. Brad’s ability to teach principles through stories is second to none. For example, he discusses the terribly difficult business crises of Tylenol and Jack In The Box to drive home the point that bad situations can lead to great opportunities.

Brad teaches, “Anything is a blessing – illness, accident, injury, bad luck – depending on how we respond to it and grow from it.” He illustrates this with a powerful story about his brother Will, who became a quadriplegic after a terrible accident. Will almost died (actually did die and came back), never gave up hope, worked hard and eventually was able to walk.

Brad tells his own story about overcoming tremendous odds to become a top college athlete. “Helping others is the best way to help yourself.” He also developed what he calls the Ten A’s, “the magic formula behind the power of positive perception.” They are: acceptance, acknowledgement, acclamation, action, approval, appreciation, appraisal, achievement, accessibility and allegiance.

Beyond Illusions is an excellent (and quick) read that will change your life. It will improve your leadership and your outlook.


The Product Management Perspective: Every product manager can benefit from the magic of positive perceptions. As the chief product evangelist you play a key role in keeping everyone engaged and optimistic about the work they’re doing. This book has valuable tools to help you win the fight.


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Guest Post: Leadership—Why Passion Still Matters

By Melissa Crossman

We associate the term passion too much with magazine ads for perfumes or movie clips about doomed love. According to business leadership gurus Tim Elmore and Glenn Llopis, it needs to be a term we associate more with our careers and work life. At most Monday morning staff meetings, voices rarely stray from a monotone unless a colleague mentions a leisure event he attended over the weekend. Managers either cajole or threaten — whatever method seems more productive this month — to enlist staff support for the upcoming week’s planned projects. Another unproductive meeting ends as employees move grudgingly toward their cubicles to begin their workdays. What passion? Where?

Is Passion Even Part of the Preparation?

Despite our idealistic notion that college is the time for young adults to seek out and study the discipline that inspires them with enough passion to build a lifelong career, other circumstances can intervene. In times of scarcity such as the recent economic recession, students tend to turn pragmatic and pursue majors that might provide them the best opportunities for employment following graduation. Whether they attend classes in a physical classroom or log onto an online school, a significant amount of students are going to seek a degree that will most likely provide them a paycheck after graduation, not a “fill-in” job.

Passions: Interests on Steroids

Passions, writes Tim Elmore, are like interests on steroids. He encourages participants in his leadership classes to identify what he terms a “Passion Profile” inclusive of both issues and actions. The ultimate purpose of this exercise is to help individuals to discover their own “incarnational passions,” i.e., those that can blend the personal, professional, individual and communal. There are many ways to pursue or even discover your passions. These might be discovered via furthering your education, volunteering efforts, great literature or even a religious experience. Whatever they are, when discovered and pursued, these interests can help lead workers to a fulfilling career.

Passion and Leadership

Llopis ties passion to the ability of leadership to successfully institute and implement strategic change. For a leader, following a true passion can unlock leadership in a constructive, responsible way. Elmore further identifies two specific reasons passion is important to leaders or those considering a position in leadership. First, thorough knowledge of a passion is a type of self-awareness that allows you to then focus limited energies on said passions. In addition, this form of self-knowledge typically allows those who possess it to act as mentors and leaders for what Elmore terms “your team.” Part of the mentoring process is that of leaders helping team members to identify their own passions, i.e., working as a “passionator.”

Good leadership is difficult to perform and hard to describe, yet easily noted when you’re lucky enough to work for a strong and capable leader. Too often, Elmore says, passion is confused with intensity. Intensity might have its place in the toolset of a good leader, but it’s no substitute for true passion. As Elmore clarifies: “Intensity is marked mostly by emotion, [while] passion is marked mostly by conviction.” No matter what sort of role you perform in your work life, you can rely on passion to help hone leadership skills.

Melissa Crossman lives in Indianapolis with her two dogs. She writes for The Professional Intern, specializing on education and career guidance topics.


The Product Management Perspective: As product manager you play a key role in the success of your products. You make sure everyone on the team is working effectively and all the parts come together properly. Passion plays a key role in building consensus and motivating team members to do great things. Let your passion show through in everything you do as the product leader.


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Finding your strengths

Think about the following statement: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do the best every day.” How do you respond? Do you get the opportunity to use your best skills and strengths for what you do every day? Or are you still living in the “You can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough” mindset? Hard work is absolutely critical for success, but if you are working at something that is not a natural fit for your skills and natural talents you are missing a huge opportunity.

In the book Strengths Finder 2.0 author Tom Rath gives an action plan for helping you find the qualities at which you excel. The book is based on research by the late Dr. Donald O. Clifton, considered the father of Strength’s Based Psychology, who discovered and developed 34 themes to clearly classify human strengths. This is a “2.0 version” of the book that provides a succinct description of each theme, ten “ideas for action” that help you apply the theme, and three suggestions for working with other people whose strengths apply to that theme.

Each copy of the book has a unique access code to a comprehensive Strengths discovery and Action-Planning Guide on their website. After completing strengths assessment you receive an email detailing your top five strengths. You then use the descriptions and ideas for action for your top themes to help you identify what you can do, and what you might need to change, to apply your strengths to your work and other important aspects of your life.

The author’s studies indicate that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. The stated goal of the book is to help organizations overcome the “epidemic of active disengagement” that has become prevalent in many organizations.

Mr. Rath sums it up this way: “Far too many people spend a lifetime headed in the wrong direction. They go not only from cradle to cubicle, but then to the casket, without uncovering their greatest talents and potential.”


The Product Management Perspective: One of the great things about product management is you get to use many different skills. However, knowing your strengths will help you focus on areas that are most important to your products’ (and your own) success.


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Lean startup, lean company

“I explained the theory of the Lean Startup, repeating my definition: an organization designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” This definition comes from Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

As the title indicates, the book’s content is geared towards people starting new businesses. While that is the primary focus, what I found extremely interesting about The Lean Startup was the number of action items that work equally well for established companies as they do for startups. Innovation is innovation, no matter where it’s applied and regardless of its source.

The Lean Startup delivers a lot of great insight for leadership and product management. Here are some of the things that struck a chord with me:

  • Success can be learned: Successful startups and great new products aren’t just luck. You can put processes in place that will greatly increase the chances for success. “Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”
  • Five key principles: The book focuses on five key principles:
  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere: “The concept of entrepreneurship includes anyone who works within my definition of a startup” (see above).
  2. Entrepreneurship is management: “A startup is an institution, not just a product, and so it requires a new kind of management specifically geared to its context of extreme uncertainty.”
  3. Validated learning: “Startups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business.”
  4. Build-Measure-Learn: “The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere.”
  5. Innovation accounting: “This requires a new kind of accounting designed for startups—and the people who hold them accountable.
  • Pivot or persevere: The Lean Startup method helps you decide when you need to keep going with an idea or make a change (‘pivot’). “Through this process of steering, we can learn when and if it’s time to make a sharp turn called a pivot or whether we should persevere along our current path.”
  • Build an “innovation factory:” I cannot over emphasize this point: the Lean Startup method works for all companies. “Established companies need to figure out how to accomplish what Scot Cook [founder of Intuit] did in 1983 [he found out people wanted to use their computers to keep track of their check books], but on an industrial scale and with an established cohort of managers steeped in traditional management culture.”
  • Continual learning: A key to success is the ability to learn as you go and make adjustments along the way. “Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects.” Ries gives a detailed personal example of this concept from his work at IMVU.
  • Don’t capitulate: Don’t just give in to what customers think they want. “We adopted the view that our job was to find a synthesis between our vision and what customers would accept; it wasn’t to capitulate to what customers thought they wanted or to tell customers what they ought to want.”
  • Ask hard questions: In every venture you need to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ “The question is not ‘Can this product be built?’ The more pertinent questions are ‘Should this product be built?’ and ‘Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?’” Push your team to answer four questions:
  1. Do consumers recognize that they have the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. If there was a solution, would they buy it?
  3. Would they buy it from us?
  4. Can we build a solution for that problem?
  • Solve problems: In every effort, make sure you’re solving problems. “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.”
  • Create, then test: Create a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) then test to make sure you’re on the right track. “The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn look with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.”
  • Fail quickly: The most successful companies recognized what worked and more importantly, what didn’t work. “What differentiates the success stories from the failures is that the successful entrepreneurs had the foresight, the ability, and the tools to discover which parts of their plans were working brilliantly and which were misguided, and adapt their strategies accordingly.”
  • Genchi Gembutsu: This is a Japanese phrase usually translated as a directive to “go and see for yourself.” You need to get out of the office. “You cannot be sure you really understand any part of any business problem unless you go and see for yourself firsthand.” You need extensive contact with potential customers to understand them sufficiently.

The Lean Startup is replete with stories and real-world examples to help you grasp the concepts. Eric Ries does a great job of bringing out important theories and models that will help you succeed whether you’re starting a new company or creating new products at an established corporation.


The Product Management Perspective: Every product manager in the world should study The Lean Startup and apply its teachings in day-to-day work and strategic planning. Unfortunately product managers get so embroiled in plans and stories and PRDs that we don’t stop and evaluate what’s really going on with the products.

A Good share of development is now done using some form of Agile. Make the effort to be agile in product definition and customer input. Don’t be too prideful to throw away your great idea that customers don’t latch onto. Put your focus and efforts into growing your products’ market share and revenue. Ultimately, nothing else really matters.


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Book Review: 15 Minutes Including Q&A

“Most business presentations stink. Really Stink. They stink in a way that drains souls.” That’s the mantra by which Joey Asher operates, and he wrote the book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations to help solve the problem. “From now on, all presentations should be no longer than 15 minutes. Half of the time is for the prepared message; the other half is for Q&A. 

Following the 15 Minutes Including Q&A model helps you focus on the audience’s key business issues. What are the three things you want the audience to remember? Give clear direction; your presentations will resonate with the audience. Here are the five steps for the presentation part (seven minutes) of Asher’s 15 Minutes plan:

  1. The Hook – 30 seconds: Describe the business issue.
  2. The Preview – 30 seconds: A quick overview that details how you plan to solve the problem. Give the audience three thoughts they must remember above all else.
  3. The body of the presentation – five minutes: Go into detail about each of the three key points (or “bumper stickers”). Give a few sentences of explanation, and then give evidence in support of your point.
  4. The Recap – 30 seconds: Remind the listeners of the three key points.
  5. Call to action – 30 seconds: End by telling your audience the next steps.

The “secret sauce” of Asher’s plan is the second half, the Q&A. “Q&A is the element that fills the gaps and gives a robust feel to your presentation.” This is the opportunity for you to answer all the audience members’ questions and give them confidence in your message. It also helps them understand your message and intentions more clearly.


The Product Management Perspective: Product management presentations usually focus on product features and direction, and rarely focus on the key business issues. In most cases, delivering seven-minute presentations will not only get your message across more clearly but also rivet the main points more clearly and strongly in the minds of the listeners. Plan short presentations and then engage your audience in dialog to fill in the gaps and answer all their questions. They will appreciate you for it and your value in the organization will increase.


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Five questions to ask each week

I ran across a great audio blog post by Mark Sanborn where he poses five questions we should ask ourselves at the beginning of each week. These questions serve as a guide to live by design and not just react to things as they come. They will improve your personal and professional situation.

Here are the questions:

  1. What will I learn this week? Identify what you need to learn, want to learn and how you will learn it. Growth and development rarely happen accidentally.
  2. What relationship will I improve? What relationship needs repair or nurture? Think in terms of both who and how.
  3. What problem will I address or avoid? Look for a problem that is looming on your horizon and head it off.
  4. What opportunity will I seize? Too often we’re fixated on our problems and miss our opportunities. Look for opportunities in the midst of challenges, struggles and difficulties; they’re out there.
  5. How will I increase my value? Think in terms of what you can do to increase your value to your employer, your customer, to your family. Providing more value than you consume makes you a producer.

To improve your business or life, ask yourself these questions and then act on the answers. “Do business by design rather than by default.”


The Product Management Perspective: We will improve our effectiveness and our ability to work with others by giving careful thought to these questions. As product leaders we need to plan and then move forward with focus and energy.


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Leadership and learning

One of the key tenets of leadership is the learning. Great leaders are learners. They read voraciously. They write and teach what they learn. Learning is as much a part of their life as eating. These are a few of my favorite quotes that illustrate the importance of learning:

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. -Eric Hoffer
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. -John F. Kennedy
Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence. -Colin Powell

Make it your objective to be a life-long learner; every aspect of your life will benefit.

The Product Management Perspective: Technology continues to evolve ever more rapidly. Markets change quickly. User interests come on speedily and then change overnight. How can you — the product manager — keep up? You have to be a learner. You read books, magazines and other resources that provide relevant information. You read blogs and follow thought-leaders on Twitter; you watch what they are talking about learn as much as you can. Most importantly, you open the door to new ideas and new ways of doing your job.
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