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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Guest post by Lewis Edward
It’s easy to want others to follow you. The hard part is making yourself the kind of individual people would actually want to follow, and not merely feel obligated to do so. Would you follow you?
By following these five easy but key steps, you can make yourself the kind of leader you need to be in no time:
Lead by example
Don’t be a “do as I say” kind of person. Instead, adopt the “do as I say and do” approach. You can’t expect those under you to work hard consistently if you don’t work hard yourself. Sure, they may work hard at first, especially if you’re holding one threat or the other over their heads; but sooner or later, not even fear or financial motivation are going to able to cut it.
At such times, inspiration has been found more often than not, to work best. And nothing inspires more than a leader who doesn’t just “talk the talk” so to speak, but actually “walks the walk” as well.
Be enthusiastic about what you do; be passionate
If you actually love the kind of work you do, this should come easily to you. Nevertheless, even if your work happens to be less than a delight, don’t despair. Not everyone can have their dream job. You can still be passionate about what you do, or at the very least appear to be passionate about what you do, by adopting the right approach to your work.
One good way to build up enthusiasm on the job is to always focus on the brighter aspects of your work (the happy smiles of satisfied customers, for instance). Being an enthusiastic leader is important because it serves as a dependable source of motivation for the other members of your team.
Believe it or not, just like dogs can smell fear in humans, so can followers sense hesitation, uncertainty, or panic in a leader. To be a confident leader, you need a healthy dose of courage.
Now being confident or courageous doesn’t mean you have to be the kind of person that doesn’t get scared, anxious, or worried; you only have to play the part and try as much as possible to hide such demoralizing emotions from the members of your team. After all, according to Ambrose Redmoon, “courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear”. And in this instance, what is more important than fear is making sure the work gets done.
More often than not, the efficiency of your team will be nothing more than a reflection of yours. So if you’re disorganized, your team will likely be disorganized; and if you’re organized, so will your team.
Learn to delegate
The true salt of a leader doesn’t lie in being able to get things done; it lies in making others get things done. This is why a person can be such an effective and efficient worker and still end up being a lousy leader. One salient reason why some business leaders fail at being leaders is because they refuse to, or simply don’t know how to delegate.
As a leader, there is no way you can do everything on your own. That is why you need to learn to allot duties to the members of your team effectively. In this regard however, a leader must take great care not to mistake proper and effective delegation for total absolution from responsibility on his/her part.
If you do not have any of these qualities it will be hard to replicate leaders from your life and from history. There is always a big debate as to whether leaders are born or made from their learning and environment. The truth is it is probably a combination of the two interacting. You cannot separate the effect of your environment on your genes. The truth is that it is our words, actions and behaviors that will inspire and motivate other people. By learning to do the right thing, and learning to behave like a leader we can become the kind of person we would follow into any battle.
Lewis Edward is one of the owners of TheOfficeProviders. He is a real estate investor with many interests in other sectors. Lewis researches and contributes various written features for TheOfficeProviders in areas regarding real estate, including office space for rent and flexible office space, and general business and economy matters. Lewis is experienced in the inner workings of both the traditional and flexible workspace industries and has developed close links with various figures in real estate circles, as well other circles.
The Product Management Perspective: Successful product managers know that to lead their teams (and products) effectively they have to be persuasive and optimistic. They need to find ways to lead people without being the boss. The five actions discussed in this post will help you become a better product manager, and hence a better leader in your company.
Guest post by William Lewis
A sound education in business is just one component of being a good leader; to truly take your company to the next level, you must also possess certain qualities that come from within. Think about some of the business leaders you admire – maybe it’s someone famous who has changed the world with their product or service; maybe it’s your own father or mother, someone you’ve grown up with in close proximity and had years to study. Whoever it is, successful business leaders are born and made, and chances are good they all possess the following traits, either naturally or through practice and acquisition. Even better for you, if you’re ready to become the true head of your company and embrace progress, it’s never too late for you to develop them with some concentrated effort and dedication.
Having the gumption to step into a leadership role (and stay there) takes courage right off the bat. But more than that, you must be brave enough to take chances, both on opportunities and people; you must be able to stand up to detractors from outside and within; and you need to be able to see past the minor bumps and have the wherewithal to pursue the future of your business despite the blockage of the present. Further, you have to be able to say and do the hard things, even though it might not make you popular, if it’s the right thing for the situation.
Knowing where you want your business to go and having goals for the both the short-term and the long-term are very important. It’s a lot like writing a term paper. You start with an outline of the entire essay, knowing that you want to get from point A to point B and knowing the essence of the message that you wish to convey. As you get into the nuts and bolts of actually writing the piece, you will add, delete, revise and edit, and maybe even the entire thesis will change, but every small part, every little paragraph, works toward realizing the greater whole. Staying on course is easier when you have a clear vision of where you want to go, even if it changes along the way.
People can tell when someone just doesn’t get them. More than that, they can tell when someone isn’t even trying to. And this makes them not want to work for them or do business with them. The show Undercover Boss on ABC helps illustrate, however unrealistic the situations actually are, that the people on top can sometimes lose touch with what’s important and real for the people they employ. Furthermore, in business dealings, you never know who you are going to meet, so keeping an open mind, educating yourself and trying to put yourself into the shoes of others will take you far.
The fact is, being unable to adapt means you will miss out on a lot of opportunities and your business will only suffer for it. Globalization has ensured that information and data spreads faster than you can click a mouse. Don’t be afraid of change and don’t stubbornly resist new ways of doing things. Listen to the people around you, absorb what they bring to the table, and be willing to try. Strategic thinking is an important aspect to all management training programs; if you can embrace that with an open mind, you will be able to analyze possibilities with a clear, unbiased head.
As the head of your company, you will shoulder a lot, and rightly so. You should also learn to shoulder the blame when it’s your fault. Human nature is such that we’re quick to point fingers and assign responsibility to others, but that’s a failing good leaders must overcome.
Not to be confused with arrogance, you have to believe in every aspect of your business: you, your partners, your employees and your product or service. If you don’t…who will?
None of these traits matter a whit if you don’t have the sincerity to back them up. Pretending and play-acting at understanding is obvious. Essentially lying to your employees about a job well done is both cowardly and a sure way to run your business into the ground. If you’re not feeling sincere, make the necessary changes and improvements until you are.
William Lewis is a contributing writer and MBA graduate who has successfully created and sold two businesses thus far, and who is currently heading his third. His influences include Bill Gates and his older brother, Paul.
The Product Management Perspective: Product managers act as the CEO of their products. Leadership is key to succeeding in this role. The principles discussed here will help you focus your efforts in the right areas to improve the success of your products.