Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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How to Unlock Your Team’s True Potential

Chances are, your professional team is not working up to its full potential and because of this both valuable time and talent are being wasted. In a way, your team is your most valuable investment and it’s no surprise you want to get all the return imaginable. But don’t let these thoughts frighten you; there are, in fact, changes you can make regarding your leadership strategy to help unearth your team’s true potential. As you’ll see, effective leadership is the most important factor in motivating your team and having them perform to the best of their abilities. Continue reading


Great Leaders are Made, Not Born

Guest post by Allen Kors

While some may be born with an innate knack for great leadership skills like confidence, communication, and creativity, I’d like to argue that great leaders are made not born. Even if you are born with certain traits and talents, only through carefully developing those skills and talents can you learn to master the art of leadership. Being a great leader takes practice.

To develop great people skills, potential leaders need to learn how to become better listeners, how to accept critical feedback in a constructive way, and how to best display empathy and patience with other team members and colleagues. Continue reading


Five factors to inspiring team members

We all know people who inspire us, who encourage us—through their actions and example—to work hard, to persevere through difficult circumstances. What’s their secret? How do they persuade others to do great things? While every circumstance is different, leaders find ways to inspire the people they lead.

Here are five factors[1] that, if understood and applied, will increase your ability to inspire your team members: […]

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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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Three keys to leading under pressure

Think about the last time something went wrong that drove up your stress level. How did you deal with it? Did it ruin your day?

We all face high-pressure situations at different times for different reasons. The following three steps will help you get through any pressure-filled situation:

  • Assess the situation: Take a step back and evaluate what happened. Hone in on what’s causing the stress and do everything you can to understand the situation. Do not jump to premature conclusions; instead, consider your alternatives for moving forward.
  • Make a plan: Instead of just plowing forward with reckless abandon, make plans for what you can do to move forward and get through the difficult situation. Write your plans and take a positive attitude towards the situation. Reach out to trusted advisors to get their input on your plan, and humbly accept their advice even if it means you need to change.
  • Move forward with confidence: Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Carry out your plan with optimism and confidence. Don’t leave anything to chance; make sure to focus on carrying out your plan. Seek feedback from others as you work towards your solution.

The ability to move forward shows the mark of a true leader. Like it or not, difficult things will happen that cause your stress level to rise. When the pressure rises don’t shy away, face the situation head-on, deal with it and move forward.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers experience pressure in many aspects of their job. Product releases tend to cause stress, especially when R&D efforts are running behind. High-pressure situations will come; as PM you are in a key position to have a positive affect on the difficult situation.

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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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Three leadership questions

As another year comes to a close and a new year is on the horizon, it’s natural to look back at how things went in the past year and resolve to do better in the next. Here are three questions to ponder as you prepare to lead on purpose in 2013:

What are you doing to build trust with those you lead?

Building trust is a critical factor in leading others to success. Trust is a two-way street: you need to live and act so that others can trust you, and you need to trust others to do what they say they’ll do. Randy Conley points out a key factor in building trust: “Repairing broken trust can be a long and arduous process, and the best way to build trust with others is to not break it in the first place.”

How will you influence those you lead?

Great leaders have an uncanny ability to influence others. It’s important to focus your influence in positive areas that will build others. As Mike Myatt said in a recent post, “A leader simply operates at their best when they understand their ability to influence is much more fruitful than their ability to control.”

Are you confident in your ability to succeed?

Acting with confidence can feel like walking a tightrope: if you have too much of it you come off as cocky or arrogant, if have too little you’re seen as passive or weak. Yet developing confidence is a defining key to success. “Act confident even when you feel the opposite. If you know that you can look like a confident, capable person, eventually you’ll start to feel it, too.” This is just one of many excellent ideas on unleashing your inner confidence by Lolly Daskal.

While not all encompassing, spending time answering these questions – and taking steps to improve based on your answers – will get you off to a great start in 2013.

The Product Management Perspective: Leadership in product management is developed over time; however, certain skills accelerate that development. Building trust, exercising positive influence and showing confidence are key skills for developing successful products. Spend time developing these attributes and you will reap the rewards.


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