Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How are you using your time?

A common response when you ask somebody for their help or their input is “I don’t have enough time.” This is an interesting response given that we all have the same amount of time – 24 hours in a day. When someone doesn’t have enough time it usually means they are focused on something at that moment and don’t want (or feel it’s worth their time) to stop what they’re doing and help you. They don’t have any “white space” at the moment. Continue reading


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Build Your Network to Live Your Passion

Work Happy Now! Guest Post by David Bradford, author of Up Your Game

All of our life successes are defined within the context of their impact on people; namely ourselves first, then impact on family, community, and globally. Without people, on a small scale or large, no innovation in technology would be of significant value. Without people our lives lack depth, connection, and passion.

The Power of Personal Relationships

Two of the most talented people I have ever interacted with are Bill Gates and Gary Kildall. Gary Kildall and Bill Gates have had arguably the most profound impact on the history of personal computing of any two people except possibly Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They defined the age of personal computing, and their contributions continue to have a major impact on business in the twenty-first century.

Why is Bill Gates one of the richest men on planet Earth and Gary Kildall a forgotten footnote in the annals of the computer industry? The fundamental reason is that Gates and Microsoft were about developing relationships that enabled them to secure an agreement to supply the desktop Operating System for the IBM Personal Computer and Kildall did not. Why? What factor impeded the “Inventor of the P.C. Operating System” from securing the most important contract in the history of the computer industry, yet permitted Mr. Gates to secure the same?

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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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Using smart goals and data-driven assessment

Smart goals and data-driven assessment help employees and managers map career advancement – Guest post by Danielle M.

Employees may start angling for a merit increase after a certain amount of time on the job, but discussions about advancement can get uncomfortable — and frustrating — if metrics are left out of the equation. Using metrics to measure progress toward certain milestones can make evaluations more valuable and help employees work toward their objectives.

Setting SMART goals

The SMART system works quite well for setting objectives and measuring performance. Here’s what the acronym means:

  • Specific: When an individual or team needs to tackle a large general goal, such as “Increase productivity,” it often helps to specify the desired action. Breaking down the job into smaller, more specific goals can also help. For example, “increasing productivity” may be clearer as “increasing number of items made per hour” or “decreasing the time it takes to solve problems.”
  • Measurable: How can an employee and manager measure performance on a specific goal? Often, when data is used to assess performance, a yes or no answer can ascertain whether a goal was accomplished. Did the individual meet production goals? Were all incidents of problems reported and resolved quickly?
  • Achievable: When setting goals, be sure that achieving the desired outcome is possible. A manager cannot increase productivity by taking away breaks, for example. But she may be able to implement a reward system.
  • Relevant: There’s no sense in creating a goal that doesn’t meet the needs of the company or department. Be sure to set goals that feed into larger goals for the team or organization.
  • Time-bound: Goals need to have an end date, even if it simply marks the beginning of the next phase. The timing aspect of a goal gives the employee and manager a window for evaluating progress toward the goal

Using metrics to assess workplace performance

Implementing the SMART system for performance reviews requires a certain amount of data collection. After all, tracking progress toward a specific and measurable goal is all about knowing how many of something happens according to a certain standard (often stated in terms of time). But the good news is that much of the information needed to evaluate performance can be collected automatically. Here are some examples:

  • driver log for professional truck drivers can track the number of miles that an employee has driven in a certain block of time and provide real-time updates on miles to go and any violations the driver has accrued.
  • Review metrics can report on a customer service agent’s customer-abandonment (hang-up or disconnect) rates as well as hold and total call time. If certain agents are consistently referring calls to a manager, the metrics may show a need for continued training.

To evaluate qualitative (non-numbers-based) goals, consider asking peers in the department to weigh in on an individual’s performance. Using information about how employees feel about their own performance and that of their peers may help identify problem areas, departmental strengths and weaknesses, and other data that doesn’t track easily on a quantitative scale.

Succeeding with a plan

Progress toward a new goal may seem slow, but removing personal preference and other subjective measures from assessments levels the playing field and ensures that the most deserving employees are rewarded.

Danielle M. studies marketing and supply chain management at the Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis, IN. She is a firm believer of Lean Manufacturing principles and lives for standardized processes. In her spare time she blogs about local music and takes care of her puppy Elwood.


The Product Management Perspective: The SMART system will help you manage your products more effectively. The more specific you are about your products’ goals, the better your team members will understand their role. Focus not only on building great products, but also on ways you can measure your progress more accurately.


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Leadership and confidence

Confidence is a key driver of effective leadership. The ability to both possess and exhibit confidence will have a measurable impact on your ability to lead well. Understanding what confidence is, and is not, will improve your leadership abilities.

Confidence is not arrogance. An arrogant person attempts to lift himself up and put others down. Every move is calculated to elevate himself, and make sure others know of his importance.

Confidence is not cockiness. A cocky person wants the world to know how good he is, and while not necessarily putting others down, he makes a big deal of himself.

On the other end of the spectrum, confidence is not passivity. A passive person knows he’s not that good and thinks everyone else is better. He goes along letting things happen to him, convinced he’s helpless to do anything about it.

So what does it mean to be confident? I like this definition from Dr. Craig Manning:

Confidence is a feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something. Self-confidence is a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities and judgment. Many people confuse self-confidence with arrogance – they are very different behaviors. You cannot have too much self-confidence; store up as much as you can to help you in the difficult moments.

A confident person doesn’t hesitate when asked a question; the answer comes immediately. A confidence person is aggressive towards events (e.g. winning a sale) and things, but not aggressive towards people, at least in a negative way. A confident person doesn’t worry about whom she is and what she can do. This frees her up to do great things as a leader.

To learn more about how you can become a confident leader, I highly recommend Dr. Manning’s book The Fearless Mind: 5 Essential Steps to Higher Performance. Much of what I have learned about confidences comes from his book and from personal interactions with him.

Full disclosure: I know Dr. Manning and consider him a dear friend. His teachings and influence are making a considerable impact on my son’s efforts to become a championship ballroom dancer.


The Product Management Perspective: Confidence is an essential characteristic for product managers. PMs drive the product roadmap, which has a major impact on the overall success of the company. Their confidence is key to creating successful products.


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Are you a passionate leader?

Successful leaders possess a deep passion for their work and other activities in which they participate. They find ways to engage their people to go faster, work harder and improve their results. They don’t push or drive people, they inspire, they cause people to dig deep and give their best effort.

In describing how leaders demonstrate passion, Erika Andersen gave the following advice in her Forbes.com article Passionate Leaders Aren’t Loud, They’re Deep:

True passion requires honestly committing to something about which you feel deeply, and staying committed through difficult circumstances.

When a leader is passionate, people feel a deep sense of being led in a worthy direction by someone who is committed to something more important than his or her own individual glory.

Passionate people work hard to make things happen. I recently met Nitin Julka, who is passionate about product management. He reached out to see if I would be willing to give him some pointers on how to become a successful product manager. We scheduled a call, and within five minutes I could tell he’s eager to learn and excited for the opportunities he’s pursuing. Nitin shared with me his Passion Circle—things that drive his passion such as integrity, optimism and hard work.

What you do is less important than how you do it. Do something you love and do it with passion. What are you passionate about?


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers play a key role in the success of their products. They make sure everyone on the team is working effectively and see that all the parts come together properly. Passion is key to 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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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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How do leaders make lasting change?

One of the great leaders and thinkers of our time is Clayton Christensen, ”a down-to-earth” alum of BYU, Oxford and Harvard. His book The Innovators Dilemma has impacted the business world perhaps more than any other book in recent history. He has expanded his research and applied his theories to other industries like health care, higher education and even governments and tax systems.

I found two recent articles about Clayton Christensen that have increased my understanding about leadership: The first is published in the BYU Magazine’s Spring 2013 edition. (As a BYU alum I get the magazine in the mail; it will be available online in a few months.) The second article is an interview in Wired magazine. In this interview author Jeff Howe asks Christensen questions about his career and sheds thought-provoking light on how he became so important to the business world.

So how do leaders make lasting change? According to Christensen, you keep nimble and respond to up-and-coming innovations at the bottom of the market. You make a concerted effort to not let your company become vulnerable to what Christensen coined as disruptive innovation.

What’s even more important to Christensen is the application of his theories to individual lives; making lasting change in your personal life. He recently wrote the book How Will You Measure Your Life in response to his experiences with former classmates and students. Rather than attempting to explain it I will point you to a TED video where Clayton describes it himself.

If you really want to make lasting change in your life, understand these principles. In the end, says Christensen: “God will measure my life by the individual people that I have blessed.” That’s how you make lasting change.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers operate in a very interesting position (in light of Clayton Christensen’s theories): they need to innovate and keep their products viable. However, the very things they do to innovate lead to The Innovator’s Dilemma if not watched and guarded closely. Take a careful look at Christensen’s writings and talks, and look for ways to apply them in your role as product manager.


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Improving management effectiveness

One of the primary themes of Lead on Purpose is leading effectively regardless of whether you are in a position of authority – in a ‘management’ position. That will continue to be a primary topic for this blog. However, I was recently introduced to a new tool that will help managers and leaders of small to large groups direct their teams more effectively. The tool is called ThEME.

ThEME

Elizabeth Haas Edersheim and her team created the ThEME tool to connect you to the “greats of management.” It is an interactive tool for accessing the wisdom and practical experience of great management thinkers and practitioners – both the gurus of the past and today’s pathfinders. Its integrated framework of the elements of management effectiveness provides users easy access to quotes, video clips, anecdotes, and exercises on any element of management.

Here are a few quotes to whet your appetite:

“Good is the enemy of Great.” –Jim Collins

“Don’t confuse motion with progress.” –Peter Drucker

“The societal disease of our time—short-term thinking.” –Warren Bennis

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me…Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful…that’s what matters to me.” –Steve Jobs

The ThEME tool will help you gather the specific information you need to manage effectively.


The Product Management Perspective: If you are leading a team of product managers, set clear goals and make sure your team knows what’s expected of them. Product management focuses on releasing the right products to the right markets at the right time; set both financial and operational goals for your product line. Build strong relationships with your team. They need to know, without any hesitation, that you have their backs and will do everything you can to help them succeed. Build relationships of trust.

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