Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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The Bright Side of Failure

Guest post by Matt Herndon

Most of us look at failure as a negative occurrence. Surely if we fail at something, that’s a sign of weakness. But even the most successful people in the world have had their failures. Remember when Michael Jordan decided to play baseball? While it wasn’t his greatest success, he was able to turn it into just another lesson learned during a long and prosperous career. To quote the basketball legend, “I can accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

No one likes to fail. When you put extensive time, energy and effort into attaining a goal, missing the mark can certainly smart. You can’t, however, always avoid failure. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you simply can’t reach that mark or accomplish that sought-after goal. It’s important to remember that while failure doesn’t bring with it the accolades and congratulations that accompany success, failure in and of itself isn’t a total loss. If, instead of allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity, you think critically about your failure, you can turn this seemingly negative situation into a valuable learning opportunity.

Goal Re-Evaluation
Particularly if you’ve failed not just once, but numerous times recently, failing once again could be just the prompt you need to re-evaluate the appropriateness of the goals you’ve set for yourself. For example, if you’ve applied for every job under the sun and keep getting the same “thanks but no thanks” response, it may be a sign that your goal isn’t a reasonable one. Perhaps if you still wish to reach your goal, you may need to look into earning a master’s degree or gaining a little more entry-level experience in the field. If you allow yourself to learn from this failure and use it as a cue, you’ll substantially increase your chances of making your next batch of applications more successful than the first.

Opportunity for Analysis
On some occasions, it isn’t that the goal you’ve set is unreasonable, but instead that your method of trying to reach that goal could use some work. Anytime you fail, you’re presented with a valuable opportunity to analyze the situation. To reap the benefits of this chance for careful analysis, consider specifically why you failed and try to determine what you could’ve done to eliminate this failure catalyst. The next time you find yourself working toward a similar goal, keep in mind what you’ve learned and modify your flight plan, improving your chances of enjoying a different outcome.

Character Building
Succeeding is great, but it doesn’t offer the same opportunity for becoming a better person that failure affords. Any time you fail, you’re presented with an opportunity to hone your character. Because failing gracefully requires you to employ self-restraint, class and dignity, not reaching a goal presents the opportunity to exercise these positive character traits, allowing you to become better at exhibiting a level of grace that will ultimately get you much further in life.

Sweeter Success
Just as you don’t appreciate the heat of summer as much without the cold of winter, you won’t really appreciate success as fully if you never feel the burn of failure. To ease the pain associated with failure, remind yourself that when you do ultimately reach your goal-–which you will if you continue to exhibit the dedication and focus that have already served you so well-–it will feel even more sublime than it would have had you reached it on your first attempt.

There’s no way to completely prevent failure. Instead of allowing unsuccessful attempts at reaching goals to leave you burned and jaded, view these misses as opportunities for learning and growth. In doing so, you can retain your positive outlook and hone your skills.

Matt Herndon (@Just_Matt_) lives in Indianapolis with his wife and children. He has been studying and writing about leadership development and organizational communication since he began his undergraduate work in Upper East Tennessee approximately 20 years ago.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are known widely as driven individuals. But as with any other job, not every product succeeds and not every release goes as planned. When failures happen (and we all know they will), we need to take Matt’s advice and learn from them. The more willing we are to learn from failures, the more success we will have with the next product or new release.


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Guest Post: Three Ways to Increase Trust and Eliminate Drama

By Marlene Chism

You ask your employees to engage, but they sit there with their arms crossed.  You solicit ideas, but no one comes forward. No one seems to know exactly what is expected and everyone seems to pass the buck.  If you see any of these drama indicators, it’s likely that there is a trust issue in your workplace.

Stephen M.R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust says in one of his articles, ‘Think about it this way: When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.’

Covey says the two components of trust are character and credibility. I agree and would like to add that where there is a lack of trust, there is drama, and where there is drama, there is always a lack of clarity. The lack of clarity contributing to the trust issues in your organization may be as simple as looking at your processes. Here are three ways to increase trust and eliminate drama by building better processes.

Create an Employee Handbook
In my book, Stop Workplace Drama I talk about the one component always present in all kinds of drama and that is a lack of clarity. Where there is no employee handbook, there will be a lot of confusion. Besides the mission statement, there is no other communication tool more important than the employee handbook. The employee handbook is the one place everyone can go when there is a question regarding any area related to employment with the company including expectations, safety requirements, dress code, probation period, laws, compensation and more.

Develop Written Job Descriptions
If you are delivering feedback to your employees without setting them up for success, you will create a barrier to effective performance and will decrease the trust between boss and employee. No one likes to be judged for their performance if they are not clear on how to make the grade. One way to increase job performance is to describe exactly what areas of responsibility and tasks are to be performed on any particular job. Without a job description you are inviting an excuse, “that’s not my job.”  With a job description there’s no question about what is expected and what skills are required to get the job done. Job descriptions can change over time, so make sure you keep yours updated by having the employees themselves add to the job descriptions or alter them as their duties evolve and change.

Teach Standard Operating Procedures
Each job has many tasks that work together to effectively produce a product or a service that contributes to the overall goals of the company. A standard operating procedure often referred as SOP is a documented step-by-step process of how the job is done most efficiently to avoid defects, or safety hazards or to produce the highest quality product. A good standard operating procedure for each job helps to ensure consistency. You take the guesswork out of performance and thus increase trust when you have the appropriate SOP’s in place.

Ready to Stop Workplace Drama?  Marlene Chism, author of Stop Workplace Drama, invites you to learn more about her new book and Stop Your Drama Methodology, eight principles to help leaders gain clarity and reduce workplace drama.


The Product Management Perspective: Too often drama creeps in to product initiatives and makes it more difficult to deliver on time. Product managers who build relationships of trust will keep the drama at bay and the product initiatives moving forward in the right direction.


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Trust

The recent theme at Lead on Purpose is trust. This focus has come primarily from reading The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey. He discusses the concept of building a trust account, which is similar to a bank account. By behaving in ways that build trust you make deposits, by behaving in ways that destroy trust you make withdrawals. The ‘balance’ in the account reflects the amount of trust you have at any given time. You have a unique trust account with every person you know, and all deposits and withdrawals are not created equal.

Trust is built or destroyed by behaviors. Covey teaches 13 Behaviors of high-trust people and leaders worldwide. These behaviors will increase trust and improve your ability to interact effectively with people in every aspect of your life. Here are the behaviors that will help you build trust:
  1. Talk Straight: Be honest. Tell the truth. Let people know where you stand.
  2. Demonstrate Respect: Genuinely care for others. Respect the dignity of every person and every role.
  3. Create Transparency: Tell the truth in a way people can verify. Get real and genuine. Be open and authentic.
  4. Right Wrongs: Make things right when you’re wrong. Apologize quickly. Make restitution where possible.
  5. Show Loyalty: Give credit to others. Speak about people as if they were present. Represent others who aren’t there to speak for themselves.
  6. Deliver Results: Establish a track record of results. Get the right things done. Make things happen.
  7. Get Better: Continuously improve. Increase your capabilities. Be a constant learner.
  8. Confront Reality: Take issues head on, even the “undiscussables.” Address the tough stuff directly. Acknowledge the unsaid.
  9. Clarify Expectations: Disclose and reveal expectations. Discuss them. Validate them. Renegotiate them if needed and possible.
  10. Practice Accountability: Hold yourself accountable. Hold others accountable. Take responsibility for results.
  11. Listen First: Listen before you speak. Understand. Diagnose. Listen with your ears…and your eyes and heart.
  12. Keep Commitments: Say what you’re going to do, then do it. Make commitments carefully and keep them at all costs.
  13. Extend Trust: Demonstrate a propensity to trust. Extend trust abundantly to those who have earned your trust. Extend trust conditionally to those who are earning your trust.
Mastering the 13 behaviors requires a combination of character and competence. You can (and should) work to improve your abilities in each of these areas. Focus on the ones you consider to be your weaknesses and take the attitude that you will improve. Building trust is not something that happens overnight. As Warren Buffet said: “It takes twenty years to build your reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”


Study these principles, then master them. Study Covey’s book and practice the principles he so eloquently teaches. Every aspect of your life will improve.

The Product Management Perspective: Trust is the most important characteristic a product manager can possess. To effectively work with development, sales and other teams in your organization you must gain their trust. Trust is key to understanding your customers and your market. Trust is a two-way street: you need to carry out your tasks in such a way that the team members will trust you. You also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do. The 13 behaviors listed above provide an excellent roadmap to developing and extending trust with others.


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Trust and credibility

How do you effectively develop trust in your organization? Trust is built over time as you follow through with the promises you make. Your credibility — the quality or power of inspiring belief — grows in much the same way. The principles of trust and credibility are tightly linked and build on each other.

In his book The Speed of TrustStephen M.R. Covey defines the “4 Cores of Credibility” as foundational elements that make you believable, both to yourself and to others. The first two cores deal with character, the second two with competence:

Core 1: Integrity: Many equate integrity with honesty. While honesty is a key element, integrity is much more. It’s integratedness, walking your talk and being congruent, inside and out. It’s having the courage to act in accordance with your values and beliefs. Most violations of trust are violations of integrity.

Core 2: Intent: At the core of intent are motives, agendas and the resulting behavior. Trust grows when your motives are straight forward and based on mutual benefit — when you genuinely care not only for yourself, but also for the people you interact with, lead or serve.

Core 3: Capabilities: Your capabilities are the abilities you have that inspire confidence — your talents, attitude, skills, knowledge and style. They are the means you use to produce results.

Core 4: Results: Your results comprise your track record, your performance and getting the right things done. If you don’t accomplish what you are expected to do it diminishes your credibility. On the other hand, when you achieve the results you promised, you establish a positive reputation of performing, of being a producer.

Each of these cores is vital to credibility. They work together to build trust. The strength of your character and competence equate to the strength of your leadership.

The Product Management Perspective: Trust is vital to successful product management. Product managers create value for their co-workers on other teams (e.g. development, support, etc.) by clearly defining requirements, roadmaps and portfolios. Trust grows through meaningful interaction with your teams and consistent application of proven principles. Trust is a two-way street: product managers need to carry out their tasks in such a way that the team members can trust them. They (the PMs) also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do.


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Lead with integrity

One of the most important characteristics of leadership is integrity. Integrity is a “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.” It means you are true to your word in all you do and people can trust you because you do what you say.

The word integrity has deep meaning and is often intermingled with words like honesty and truthfulness. It connotes a deep commitment to do the right thing for the right reason, regardless of the circumstances. People who live with integrity are incorruptible and incapable of breaking the trust of those who have confided in them. Every human is born with a conscience and therefore the ability to know right from wrong. Choosing the right, regardless of the consequences, is the hallmark of integrity.

Integrity builds character, which creates the foundation of great leadership. Coach John Wooden said it well: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Live with integrity; lead with integrity.


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Leaders’ focus

Successful 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.

What do you feel are the most important things you should focus on? Where is your time as a leader best spent? Please leave a comment and let’s have a conversation on how leaders can best focus their time and attention.


The Product Management Perspective: For product managers, ‘focus’ can seem fleeting at times. More than just about any role at any company, product management requires interaction with and touches into every other department in the company. Focusing on deliverables can seem futile. However, to the extent you focus on the ‘soft stuff’ suggested by Mr. Peters, you will find your ability to complete your work will improve and will hasten. Working effectively with others leads them to trust you and to work harder and more effectively for your cause.


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The right people

One of the common threads throughout Lead on Purpose is that people are assets. Their skills, knowledge, intellect, character and integrity provide the primary value to their company. Every positive outcome that transpires in any organization is a result of efforts of the people therein. Technology and automation certainly improve the work people do; however, no tools or equipment will ever replace the people in a successful organization.

Recently I decided to re-read (actually listened to) to the classic business book Good To Great by Jim Collins where he discusses, among other things, the value of people. Collins makes an important distinction with regard to the people in an organization: you need to get the right people. He discusses five levels of leadership, focusing specifically on Level 5 Leadership and the value it brings to companies. All of the good-to-great companies had Level 5 leaders who focused on getting the right people into the company (“on the bus”) and into the right positions on the team (“right seat on the bus”). Collins identifies three practical disciplines for hiring the right people in your organization:

  1. When in doubt, don’t hire—keep looking
  2. When you know you need to make a people change, act
  3. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.

Hiring the right people into key positions in your company not only improves the value of the outcome in in those areas, but it also provides leverage to hire additional “right” people; this because successful people generally like to associate with other successful people. The decisions your organization makes about the people it hires will undoubtedly be among the most important.


The Product Management Perspective: The role of product management is a key role in every organization. If you have responsibility for hiring product management or product marketing professionals, take the time to find the right people. Be rigorous in your search and interview processes and put your best PMs on your biggest opportunities.

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