Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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What is the real driver of your success?

Every so often something happens that brings into question long, and sometimes closely held beliefs. One of those happened this morning.

An important topic, one that has—I thought—defined who I am and the way I work, was turned on its head. Yesterday I purchased and downloaded Scott Adams’ (of Dilbert fame) audio book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, and was listening to it on my morning run. He uses humor, as you’d expect. What I didn’t expect was that, in talking about success, he would throw out—with the ‘bath water’—a something I had long embraced as key element of success. Continue reading


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How you can inspire others to do great things

I’ve been thinking lately about how to motivate people and inspire them to step up, to take action, to do great things. I see so much opportunity for people, and yet so little motivation to make a difference.

So what is the root cause of the lack of inspirational leadership? Too many people are afraid to take a risk, to step outside of their comfort zone, to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. The focus on what they can do within their comfort zone, not on why they do it and why they can make a difference.

Simon Sinek describes this beautifully in a famous TED talk: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe, to sell to people who believe what you believe. Continue reading


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Why leaders need a long-term vision

Why are you in business? What drives your daily activities—your long-term vision or making the numbers this quarter? If you’re a board member, do you incentivize your executives to make a long-term contribution for the company or to keep the shareholders happy this quarter? If these questions cause you any discomfort, your priorities might be out-of-line with your core values.

In a recent interview with McKinsey & Company, Bill George—Harvard Business School professor and former Medtronic CEO—said the following: Anyone who’s willing to postpone the long-term strategies to make the short-term numbers is in route to going out of business.

In the full interview—Bill George on rethinking capitalism—Mr. George discusses important topics including insisting on the long term, managing expectations and creating lasting value. I recommend you spend a few minutes listening to Bill’s interview; it’s well worth your time.


The Product Management Perspective: One of the key aspects of product management is creating a long-term vision for a product/portfolio. Some are uncomfortable putting too much effort in looking to the future because things change. The core of this discomfort is not so much that things might change, as it is that they will be perceived as being wrong.

Don’t let the possibility that you’ll be wrong stop you from looking towards the future. Regardless of whether you end up right or wrong (or anywhere in between), the efforts you put into planning for the future will pay off. You will learn things you would have missed had you not tried. Be the leader—the CEO—of your product and create a long-term vision of how it will create value for your customers.


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Focus on what’s most important

You get results based on the things you focus on most intently.

Most people are driven to increase their performance and expand their abilities. They understand the need to work hard in areas for which they have great passion.

Regardless of how many things you want to accomplish, you must focus on the most important and let other things — which in the right context may be very good things — go by the wayside. Tom Peters sheds an interesting perspective on focus with the following quote:

Leaders focus on the soft stuff — people, values, character, commitment, a cause. All of that was supposed to be too (indefinable) to count in business. Yet it’s the stuff that real leaders take care of first. That’s why leadership is an art, not a science.

Focus on what you want to achieve. The results will speak for themselves.


The Product Management Perspective: Product management takes complete focus. Recently a friend told me his company’s CEO decided that their engineering managers would also be responsible for product requirements and roadmaps. Their (few) ‘product managers’ will only focus on marketing their products.

It’s never easy to predict how things will turn out in the future, but if I were a betting man I would NOT bet on this move. They will lose focus on what the product means to the market/people who use it. For a product to succeed, you need to have someone—a product manager—completely focused on its success.


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How to lead without blinders

Several years ago I wrote that you can’t fake leadership. Becoming a leader requires a careful combination of confidence and humility. Leading an organization requires focusing intently in key areas. Successful leaders lead with their eyes wide open.

In my “day job” as a product manager I create software products that help companies fight against internal fraud. I was recently given the honor of publishing an article in Wired Innovation Insights—Blinders at the C-Level Can Cost You Billions—which discusses the perils of the “not-in-my-company” attitude, and the importance of incorporating active risk-management strategies to mitigate the insider threat. Though it focuses mostly on insider fraud, the article has valuable lessons for all leaders about focusing on the right things and not getting blindsided by the vulnerabilities your organization faces.

You can’t fake leadership, especially if you’re wearing blinders!


The Product Management Perspective: One of the best ways product managers can avoid getting caught with their blinders on is to proactively listen to your customers.


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How do leaders deal with change?

Change is one of the inevitable aspects of business, and life in general. Some people find it difficult to deal with change, and their attitude towards it limits their growth. Others embrace change and deal with it in positive ways.

Leaders have to deal with change personally and also help their people stay positive. Here are three simple, yet powerful ways leaders deal with change effectively:

Be flexible: Don’t get set in your ways. Know ahead of time that things are going to change, and when they do, embrace and move forward. If you’re rigid and inflexible, changes will still come and they will be painful.

Be accountable: When situations change, take charge. Take responsibility for what is happening and work to help others deal with the changes. Lead out in facing the moment and dealing with it head-on. Others will follow and they will appreciate you for your efforts.

Look to the future: Your attitude towards change will determine how it influences you. If you worry and fret about what is happening, it will have a negative affect. If you look for the positives in the situation, and move forward with confidence, everything that changes in your life will have a positive outcome, and your attitude will help others.

Years ago I had received a promotion to a new position—product manager—that I had been working on for more than a year. For the next nine months I worked eagerly to learn what I needed to do to succeed in the role, and I put those things into practice. My manager gave me high reviews and things were looking up. Then the unexpected happened…the company downsized and I was out of a job.

It was difficult at first, but I immediately set my sights on a young company that was starting to get a lot of attention in the industry. They had an opening for the position I wanted. I did my homework, got advice from mentors, researched the company, and prepared myself in every way I could imagine for the interviews. It took a while to get through the process (I later found out that more than 100 people had applied for the job), but I got the job. It was the perfect job for me at that point in my career. This change opened up new opportunities for me to grow as a leader. I never would have pursued it without the unexpected change.

When changes occur, don’t shy away or act like they didn’t happen. Face them head-on, look to the future, and make the best of the situation. Then look for ways to move forward and help others deal with them in a positive way.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers deal with change in many ways. Changes in the market can be the most difficult to detect and deal with, and yet these are among the most important for product success. Set aside time to do market research to make sure you know what’s going on in the market your product serves. Set aside time for customer visits, learn what’s important to them and make sensible decisions based on what you find.

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