Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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How do you reduce the customer churn rate?

Guest post by Ryan Harrison

SaaS (software as a service) sales teams often focus on bringing in new clients; however, they often miss the key fact that existing clients pay more dividends in the long run. The blog ForEntrepreneurs.com reports that 5-30 percent of a business’ revenue comes from the initial sale. Renewals and upsells account for the other 70-95 percent. Businesses that struggle with a high churn rate lose out on these compound dividends.

Churn rate measures the number of customers leaving a business over a specified period of time. For any business with a subscriber-based service model, churn rate can mean the difference between profit and bankruptcy. Continue reading

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How to Foster Productive Communication with Employees

Guest post by Diane Pierre-Louis

The best leaders are nearly always excellent communicators. Clear and productive communication between management and staff is a great stage-setter for a successful and rewarding workplace environment. Whether you feel that you’re already communicating well with your employees or know this is an area that needs polishing, it’s always wise to review some common-sense strategies.

Listen with Intent

The art of meaningful listening requires effort and practice, but it is well worth the effort in the end. Generally, most of us are pretty lousy listeners. Although we might keep our mouths shut, we’re mostly likely just biding our time until the other person is finished and we can have our say. We think we know what our conversation partner will say next, so we plan our responses, which means we are not honestly listening. How can we possibly understand what someone means if our attention is silently focused elsewhere? Pay attention and be an active listener. And whatever you do, don’t interrupt.

Pay Attention to Tone and Body Language 

Body language is often more telling than the words that leave our mouth. As you’re listening to your employee, be an active observer as well as an attentive listener. Body language experts assert that 90% of how we communicate is nonverbal, so what we do with our body and facial expressions are as powerful as the words we speak. Practice using open body language that indicates you are receptive and willing to enter into a healthy conversation. This can include leaving your arms by your sides instead of crossing them and leaning slightly toward the speaker.

Tone of voice is also important. Unless we listen to recordings of ourselves regularly, it’s hard for us to relate to how our voice sounds. Be aware that your voice may indicate how tired, stressed, bored or irritated you are – even if your words indicate otherwise.

Follow up on Conversations

Don’t depart from a meeting without restating what you just heard. That will go a long way to eliminating the possibility of misunderstandings. Also, get into the habit of sending a quick email recapping what was discussed in a meeting or other work-related gathering. Often, employees bring up questions or concerns during a meeting, so a prompt follow-up addressing those issues is a valuable communication tool that lets your staff know you were listening and that you care.

Great leaders know that a company’s fortunes will rise and fall on the contributions of its employees. Creating an environment that promotes open communication among all employees and supervisors will foster the trust and collaboration necessary for long-term success.

Diane Pierre-Louis is a writer for Bisk Education and covers a variety of topics related to higher education and the workplace, including effective leadership and conflict management.

The Product Management Perspective: One of the best ways to show customers you care about them is to truly listen to them. Too often product managers hear the words coming out of a customer’s mouth and immediately start talking about how their product will solve the problem, rather than listening to find the root of the problem and seeking answers. Most product managers understand that customers are not always right. However, it is always in your best interest to listen to them and understand what they are saying.

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Leadership and listening

Positive and effective communication starts with listening. When you listen first and ask questions second, you come away with a much better understanding of what the other person wanted you to know. If you need to communicate something to another person, state it quickly and then listen to their response. When you participate in meetings, listen to what the others have to say. Fight the impulse to talk; listen attentively and you’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Recently I had an eye-opening experience with learning by listening. My son invited me to attend a session with renowned sports performance enhancement coach Dr. Craig Manning. The only stipulation from my son was…”you have to set back and listen, and not make any comments.” [Those who know me well know I like to chime in and share my wisdom, so this would be a challenge for me.]

I accepted. I went to the session and for a full hour I sat still and listened. It was an amazing experience. Even though Dr. Manning was teaching my son, I learned some remarkable things about myself. I discovered actions I can take to improve my life and my work. All of this came because I listened (not only to Dr. Manning, but also to my son).

If you want to be happier, work more effectively, or improve your leadership, take the time to listen. Don’t just hear what people say, pause and reflect on what they really mean. Ask questions that will help you to better understand what the other person is saying. Listen, and become a better leader.

The Product Management Perspective: You work with a lot of different people, most of whom have opinions about your product. A well-known mantra in product management is “Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.” While I agree the gist of this statement, I find value in listening to others’ opinions. The act of listening to others brings knowledge and enlightenment to us. Even if we end up doing something totally different from what the other person suggested, we all benefit from listening and considering alternatives.

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Leadership and effective communication

Effective communication is one of the most challenging aspects in life. Regardless of your role in any organization (company, family, church, etc.), understanding the intentions of others and communicating your objectives is trying at times, and occasionally downright frustrating. However, if you want to build strong relationships of trust, effective communication is absolutely critical. Here are five key considerations:

  1. Recognize the issue. In the majority of cases where poor communication is the problem, the primary issue is not recognizing poor communication. Too often it seems the problem lies with the other person, or they don’t listen, or they are just stubborn. More often they don’t understand your intentions. Step back and look at the bigger picture; you might be surprised by what you see.
  2. Look for solutions. Never try to pin the problem on the other person. Talk through the issues and look for signs of misunderstanding. Take the approach that you want to solve problems and the answers will follow.
  3. Exercise patience. It’s easy to get frustrated when you disagree with another person’s actions or behavior. Exercising (literally having or working out) patience is key to solving problems. Lead out in making things happen to improve your relationships. Be humble and open to things you did wrong.
  4. Forgive. Holding grudges and acting out of pride has brought down many companies, families and even nations. The simple solution is to forgive and move forward without holding grudges.
  5. Don’t wait. When you recognize an issue, don’t hesitate to act. The longer you wait the harder it is to approach the person and have the conversation. Act quickly and you will be surprised how much easier it is to resolve the problem.

Every relationship is worth the effort it takes to communicate effectively. Leaders, regardless of their role, need to focus constantly on assuring they communicate effectively and listen intently. Make it a habit; it will save you from having to face much bigger problems.

Did I communicate this message effectively? Please leave a comment with your ideas.

The Product Management Perspective: Communication is key to effective product management. Keep a close eye on all your relationships and make sure you are communicating effectively.


Essential Leadership Traits

Essential Leadership Traits in the Successful Small Business Owner — Guest post by Linda Forshaw

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John Maxwell

In the course of an ordinary working day, a small business owner might wear many hats, but rarely is there one as important as that of leader. All businesses, no matter their size, require a strong leader at the helm. The temptation of the small business owner may be to get “stuck in” and adopt a role as a pseudo employee. While there is merit attached to not being afraid to get your hands dirty, in essence to lead by example, the smart small business owner will place a greater emphasis on a wider leadership strategy.

Communication must be crystal clear
Having a clear vision is essential, but communicating that vision is an absolute must. Providing employees with a roadmap of where you want to be helps everyone to stay on the same page; to keep track of the bigger picture and work consistently toward achieving it. A lack of clarity filtered down from above will only ever lead to missed opportunities and ultimately spell trouble for the small business owner.

Strong relationships have a very long reach
Solid relationships lie at the very core of the operations of any successful small business. To listen to others is a vital skill, but it is also imperative to understand and to acknowledge what others are saying. People are the greatest resource in any business, so engaging in a meaningful dialog with employees, customers, and other persons of importance is a fundamental part of building relationships in the vein of strong leadership.

The best kind of culture comes from above
Most people will understand the destructive nature that can result from a culture that focuses almost exclusively on backstabbing and blame. The strong small business owner will set an example of trust and cooperation. The best place for a positive company culture to come from is from the top down. Passion, compassion, energy, and motivation – they are all an essential part of a solution-centric attitude that is best served from above.

Give them room to grow and you will prosper
As the old adage goes, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” To put it into a more modern context, the most successful of small business owners inherently understand the potential value of contributions that are made by others. The only way to benefit from such contributions is to allow them to happen in the first place. You never really know where the next great idea will come from, and if it comes from one of your employees, you want to be the one to hear about it first.

How will you lead today?

Linda Forshaw is a Business Information Systems graduate from Lancaster University in the UK. The leading contributor to DegreeJungle, she is a full time writer and blogger specializing in education, social media, and entrepreneurship. Contact her on Twitter @seelindaplay

The Product Management Perspective: Successful product managers build strong relationships with people, both inside and outside the company; clear communication is key. PMs, like small business owners, need to listen to others, and work with them to release successful products.


Developing Leadership Skills Early in your Career

Guest post by Caroline Ross

One thing that many young professionals don’t understand about the job market is that leadership plays a huge role in getting hired. As a former hiring manager and supervisor, I can say that the recent grads who have succeeded most in the workforce are those who’ve had intentional leadership experiences in college and after they’ve graduated. These are the types that succeed, so these were the types that I hired. If you’re worried about finding the right job early in your career, focus on leadership. Here’s how:

1. Don’t just join organizations; lead organizations
Many college students join various student organizations for the express purpose of padding their resume. They tend to do the same after college. When I see a laundry list of student or professional organizations on an applicant’s resume, this demonstrates to me that you aren’t very committed. Instead, join one organization that you’re truly passionate about, no matter what that organization is, and endeavor to become a leader within that organization. It’s much better to have one organization of which you were the president or chairman, instead of having several organizations on your resume that you were only semi-involved with.

2. Practice public speaking skills by joining Toast Masters or taking a speech course
Solid communication skills are important in every facet of the adult world, whether it’s during an interview, at work, or even in your personal relationships. A good, confident speaker, in my eyes, is a leader. As such, take the time to learn the basics of good public speaking. Most cities have at least one Toast Master’s chapter, and most schools also offer speaking courses, which you can still take as a continuing education course after you’ve graduated. Avail yourself of these opportunities to improve your ability to communicate and persuade.

3. Be involved at work and speak up
Every day, there are hundreds of hidden opportunities to develop leadership skills. One of the easiest ways to do so is to speak up during work meetings and be involved, even if you aren’t required to speak. Of course, offer your opinion in an appropriate manner so others will be receptive. You’ll not only learn the art of speaking, but you’ll also learn how to express your opinions in a clear and convincing manner, which matters a great deal in your future career. You can also practice leadership through greater involvement in other areas, like volunteering with a local organization.

Of course, you aren’t going to start your career off being the best possible leader that you can be. Leadership is an art that’s developed throughout your whole life. But if you take the time to practice early, you’ll be much more successful when it comes time to finding a job that suits your talents.  Good luck!

Caroline Ross is a freelance writer and entrepreneur. She particularly enjoys giving students advice about their future careers and personal development. Check out more Caroline’s writing at www.accreditedonlineuniversities.com. Caroline welcomes your comments below!

The Product Management Perspective: Learning is (or it should be) a life-long endeavor. Make learning and leadership development a focus in your work as a product manager and you will find new avenues of success in your career.

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Leadership and balance

We all have more things to do in a day than the time needed to do them all. The key to moving forward without caving under pressure is maintaining balance in our lives. Effective leaders always find a way to meet the priorities of their life and their business. Here are three actions you can take right now to keep balance in your life:

Be realistic: To have balance in your life you have to be realistic. We all have more things we could do than we have time to do them. To maintain balance, look carefully at all the things that are important (i.e. “at the top of the list”) and then be realistic about what you can do given all relevant factors.

Be decisive: Don’t wait for things to happen. When you need to make a decision, don’t hesitate. After you’ve made the decision, put all you energy into getting it done.

Communicate: Make sure you communicate effectively with everyone involved. A big part of keeping balance in your life is making sure everyone is aware of your priorities. Don’t keep things inside; communicate openly with all the key people (family, friends, coworkers, etc.).

As you integrate these three actions into your daily life you’ll find yourself getting things done much more effectively. The anxiety that comes with having too much to do will give way to a bright outlook on life.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers balance a lot of priorities. With the exception of the CEO/President, there’s not a functional role (in most organizations) that has to interact more with others in the organization than product managers. You need to be proactive and balance the demands that come from all over the organization.


Lead by Example

Five Ways to Be Influential and Succeed with Your Team

Guest post by Tess Pajaron

At my former job, I had a boss who would consistently tell people how important it was to leave the office on time and balance work and life. Then, he would text in the evenings, brag about how late he stayed after everyone had left and go into the office each weekend. He did not lead by example and it made the workplace confusing, uncertain and ultimately stressful.

Being a leader can be difficult. You may have some employees who communicate differently than others, conflicts to overcome within your team and roadblocks that can stunt creativity. But in the end, when you lead by example, you set the tone for your team and create a culture in your department and office.

Here are five ways you can lead by example and influence your team to innovate and succeed every time:

1. Communicate Effectively

Open communication is one of the most important aspects of solid team cohesiveness. Solid communication starts by listening. When you as the leader listen to your team members, you in turn lead by example and demonstrate them the importance of listening each and every time. This skill of listening can be a challenge for some teams, but when you set the example and create a culture of listening to various opinions, ideas and feedback you give your team a forum to feel comfortable expressing their ideas. This has been shown to improve innovation among teams. When each person shares their opinion openly, ideas come together and everyone plays an important role in the outcome of the project.

2. Practice What You Preach

Great leadership is done with integrity and honesty. When you practice the same good habits that you preach to your team members, you show integrity in your actions and become more trustworthy. Walking the talk goes a long way with employees when it comes to how much they respect what you have to say. When you do the opposite of what you request of them, for example not leaving the office on time and working weekends, your employees begin to doubt your leadership and wonder if they should be doing as you say or as you do. This can create a sense of confusion and quickly drive a team apart.

3. Empower Through Delegation

You brought your team together because you, or someone else in your organization, trusted in your employee’s ability to help your organization. Delegating out tasks hands over this trust and shows your team that you believe in their capabilities. If you do everything yourself, you are not leading by example but instead you are sending a signal that their input does not matter and that it is your way or no way. To have the most success, engage your team by providing them tasks to accomplish and lead by being a resource of information to help them accomplish what they are capable of.

4. Share Responsibility

A certain sense of humility goes in to leading a team well. When you discuss openly, you may find that you are wrong. Being able to admit that you are wrong for the greater good of the project and team success is a prime case of leading by example. When you can do this, you also allow your team to feel as if it is acceptable when they are wrong on an idea making them feel more comfortable with their creativity and idea generation. These ideas help fuel innovation, so sharing responsibility and being proactive in coming up with the best solution for the project as a group is essential.

5. Set Goals

Finally, having an end goal in sight that every member of the team is working toward will help you to lead toward that goal. This will allow you lead by example as you work hard toward the end goal. When your team sees you working hard toward the end goal, they in turn will do the same.

Leading by example can be difficult but using these five tips can make you a more influential leader. This is what will make you and your team a success.

Tess Pajaron is part of the team behind Open Colleges. She graduated in Business Administration with a major in Management. When not working, she loves to travel and discover new places and cultures. She can also be found on Cerebral Hacks, where she regularly contributes articles about psychology.

The Product Management Perspective: The five ideas above are all important aspects of successful product management. One of the key ideas from my perspective is building trust. Product managers who trust the other teams to do their job, and work/act in ways that allow others to trust them, have much more success with their products.


Guest Post: 3 Tips for Building Trust on your Team

By Susan Wells

Get to know your employees.

“People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – an old axiom, attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.

Showing your employees that you care about their well being is more than providing great benefits and insurance coverage. The corporation provides benefits, while individuals develop trustful and caring relationships.

People want to be inspired, and to really tap into the passion and enthusiasm that drives your employees, you will need to get to know them. Focus on uncovering their passions and goals. Even if these goals are unrelated to work, this knowledge will provide insight into the activities and skills that captivate your employees’ free time and energy.

Be active in your engagement. Don’t manage from behind a desk, but instead get out there and mingle with people when possible. If you think this could disrupt people’s work patterns, you can hold “office hours” in which your employees can chat with you about new ideas or problems.

Take the backseat.

When communicating ideas, the most important thing for a leader to do is listen. Speak last when possible. Provide a brief summary of what everyone has discussed, highlighting the key points. This will show everyone that you have listened, that you understand and appreciate their words and thoughts.

When it is your turn to speak, you will be able to compare and contrast your thoughts with what has already been said. This is a tactic that will allow others to be opinionated, and it will make them feel more involved in the decision making process. This is also known as letting other people think the decision was their idea.

Recognize when an idea is better than you own.

When I was in college, I worked as a customer service representative at a family-owned furniture store. It was a multi-million dollar business that was growing fast, and we often encountered problems that we weren’t sure how to solve. My boss gave me a lot of responsibility and a lot of credit. Sometimes, when I would get overheated with a problem, I would go to him for advice.

“I trust you to make the right decision,” he would say. “I’m only successful because I hire people smarter than me.”

Of course, he was a great businessman; but he recognized that he needed a team full of people who were better than him in certain areas. He recognized that his people were assets.

Preserving your ego can make you seem untrustworthy. Strong leaders don’t fear being proven wrong and they aren’t intimidated by the success of others. An ego that hoards credit will destroy trust, but generosity of spirit will strengthen it.

Susan Wells is a freelance blogger who enjoys writing about automotive and health news, technology, lifestyle and personal finance. She often researches and writes about automobile, property and health insurance, providing consumers with access to a trustworthy insurance quote guide and unbiased advice on purchasing. Susan welcomes comments.

The Product Management Perspective: Not new to Lead on Purpose is the adage that people are assets. Product managers who remember that one thing and act accordingly, have great results with their team and their products.


5 steps to remembering names (the first time)

Leaders interact with scores of people every day. Whether in company meetings, at conferences or on a plane, meeting new people and new faces is part of the game. For some, the sheer quantity of interaction with people can seem overwhelming.

One of the best ways to make an impression and gain the confidence of other people is to address them using their name. On the importance of using a name, Dale Carnegie said: “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Here are five steps to help you remember the name of everyone you meet:

  1. Hear the name: When you meet people for the first time, listen when they state their name – really listen and hear what they say when they say their name.
  2. Spell the name: Take a split second and spell their name in your mind after you hear them say it. This important step locks the name in your mind in a powerful way.
  3. Comment on the name: Make a brief comment using the name shortly after you hear it, such as “hi [name], it’s nice to meet you.” Depending on the circumstances you may want to do this non-verbally.
  4. Use the name during the conversation: Use their name once or twice during the initial conversation – this is an important step in remembering a name. It can be something very simple like “so [name], tell me a little more about….” Don’t go overboard or sound too obvious, but look for ways to repeat their name while you become better acquainted.
  5. Restate their name when leaving: Close your conversation using their name. For example, you could say “it was great meeting you [name]” or “[name], I look forward to working with you on the … [project, etc.].”

As you meet someone new and go through these steps, look carefully at the person’s face and other features that will help you associate the name with that individual. You will see noticeable improvements in your relationships and your ability to positively influence people.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you work with a lot of people. Make the effort to know them by name. It’s especially important to remember the names of customers you meet. Using these simple steps will help you establish positive relationships and work more effectively.


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