Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Qualities of a Good Business Leader

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.

Courage

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.

Vision

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.

Understanding/Empathy

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.

Adaptability

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.

Responsibility

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.

Confidence

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?

Sincerity

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.


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Book Review: The Right Leader

“How we go about doing the things we choose to do or are called upon to do is what makes a leader the right leader.” In his book The Right Leader: Selecting Executives Who Fit, author Nat Stoddard (with help from Claire Wyckoff) investigates the complex topic of assuring smooth executive transitions, with their primary focus at the CEO level. When a CEO does not work out for a company — which usually happens within the first 18 months — the primary reason is rarely the individual’s lack of competence; most often the problem is a result of the wrong fit.

The first section of the book focuses on finding executives who “fit” the organization. The author presents a methodology to define, measure and clarify corporate cultures to gain a clear understanding the impact they will have on a new leader’s changes for success or failure. He discusses ways to determine abilities, personality and character and map those to the company’s need and corporate culture. He develops what he calls the “universal character traits of leaders”:

Traits of personal humility: Courage, caring, compassion, respect, acceptance, kindness, optimism, gentleness, teachability and patience. He groups these as ‘private traits’ of leadership.

Traits of professional will: Integrity, persuasion, knowledge, communication, discipline, honesty, self-control, fairness, responsibility and consistency. He dubs these ‘public traits’ of leadership.

Mr. Stoddard shows how leaders not only need to possess these traits, but also keep them in balance.

The author discusses at length the complex selection methods and provides insight into fixing flawed selection processes. He discusses succession planning in detail and provides structure and practice for reducing the risks of leadership failures and ensuring that new executives have the abilities, personalities and energy to match the business needs of the organization.

If you are in the position of vetting candidates for top-level executive positions this book is a must-read. You will gain ideas and insights into finding the right leader for your organization and preparing for the complexities of succession planning. If you are not in this position, you will learn much about what it takes to become the right leader. The book cites many references to the author’s company and consulting services, which at times seems more self-serving than helpful. However, Mr. Stoddard’s experience and frequent metaphors and parables provide readers with much to learn about improving their leadership skills.

A Perl of wisdom: “The ‘right leader’ is always a trusted leader.” Whether you’re a CEO or an intern, you have the opportunity to lead. The efforts you make to become the trusted leader in your organization will pay dividends in the future regardless of the position you hold.


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Guest Post: Watch Out for Flying Monkeys!

Today’s post comes from Jim Holland. Jim’s passion is product management and product marketing. With over 20 years of technology industry experience, he has a fresh and current perspective in leading product management teams and has a gift for taking conceptual ideas and turning them into strategic reality using methods based on market sensing best practices. Enjoy the post and don’t hesitate to tweet your comments to Jim.
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What images do you create when you hear the words, Flying Monkeys? Perhaps the creepy, winged creatures from the Wizard of Oz or the Broadway remix Wicked, the ones that are villains’ henchmen and carry you off to the inevitable showdown with the Wicked Witch?

flying-monkeysWhile leading a team of Product Management and Marketing professionals not long ago, I coined the term “Flying Monkeys” for all unsolicited requests from executive management on behalf of customers and prospects that surfaced while executive were on the road. Imagine you’re sitting in a product planning meeting with your favorite product team. You’re engaged in a lively conversation when all of a sudden, Flying Monkeys dive into the conference room via as vibrating Blackberry’s, urgent emails, flashes of instant messages and sigh of the onslaught – Flying Monkeys – Flying Monkeys announce the arrival. The monkeys quickly grab product management, marketing and development resources, and quicker than you could say, “there’s no place like home” three times, your product roadmap, release content, development resources and team are tossed into turmoil like a Kansas barnyard in a summer twister. As a leader and messenger of the market, how do you handle these disruptions?

In my previous guest post, I introduced the Yin and Yang of Product Management and how balance and interactions drive success. This harmonic balance is easily thrown off when Flying Monkeys appear. Pressured with executive leadership commitments (usually in front of sales and customers) your team begins ducking and dodging the monkeys while trying to focus on bringing the right products to market. As product management leaders; “How do you watch out for Flying Monkeys?”

Product management and its leadership have to be vigilant and plan for the ambush of Flying Monkeys. While product managers know they have all the responsibility and none of the authority, you must focus on what matters most, and be grounded in product management best practices that bring consistency and irrefutable evidence to any conversation. Leaders of product management have a responsibility to establish and maintain visibility into the executive team, and provide regular updates on strategy, delivery and financial success, using the product team to support all conversations.

If your executives regularly connect with customers and prospects, prepare them in advance, and let them know that you are available to discuss any topic in a separate meeting. Another avenue that many product management leaders fail to utilize is internal relationships. Maintaining a relationship with executive administrators, travel, finance, sales and development can provide valuable information on travel schedules, agendas and the details that will reinforce the emergence of Flying Monkeys.

In the series, How to be a Great Product Manager, Saeed Khan shares the four C’s of Leadership that each Product Management professional and leader should strive to embrace. The Four C’s include:

  • Credibility – leadership begins with credibility. If people aren’t willing to believe you and trust what you say, then there is no way you’ll be given authority to do anything significant.
  • Commitment – demonstrate commitment to your product’s success. In your current job as a Product Manager, have you bound yourself to the success of your product? Or are you just going through the motions and simply doing the job? People want to see that product managers truly care about product success and figuring out what is right and best for their product.
  • Communication – No amount of credibility can be retained if communication barriers exist between a leader and his/her followers. Leaders must be able to communicate their thoughts, ideas, visions and strategies clearly and succinctly, and in such a way that those listening are inspired to want to be part of the plans the leader is proposing.
  • Courage – the most challenging of the 4 Cs. The difference between a leader and a manager is the leader’s ability to take risks, blaze new trails, and have people follow him or her down those trails. Leaders can be praised when they succeed, but will be criticized roundly when they don’t.

How can Product Management and its leaders ground the Flying Monkeys? By creating credibility in their role and communicating effectively, and showing leadership they are committed and willing to stand by their beliefs and facts. As leaders of product management, it is your obligation to be the voice of reason and sound decisions.

If you like the post, please comment. If you’d like to connect with Jim, he may be reached on Twitter at jim_holland or drop him an email at jbhprivate[at]gmail[dot]com.


The Product Management Perspective (as Mike would say): As the messenger of the market, product management cannot be carried away by Flying Monkeys or allow the disruptions. Product managers and those leaders who manage them must establish and maintain credibility internally, in order to confidently communicate externally. When you create a foundation of leadership based on strong executive relationships, you eliminate the Flying Monkeys before they ever appear.


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Leader or pusher?

Leadership, by its nature, involves being out in front, cutting a trail through difficult surroundings and confronting problems as they arise. Leaders spot opportunities and through the combination of market evidence and intuition pursue the right course for themselves and their organizations. They figuratively walk ahead and make sure the surrounding conditions are suitable for their people and organization. They are involved in the day-to-day activities of those they lead.

The label ‘pusher’ is often associated with illegal drugs and is the opposite of leader; this behavior is bad and wrong by any stretch of its definition. The label ‘pusher’ can also be attributed to managers or others who goad their people to action for selfish or otherwise negative reasons. They are pushers in the sense of compelling their people to walk ahead and set off the business land mines so they do not get burned. They make their people do things that they are unwilling to do themselves. They are ‘too busy’ or feel they are above doing the ‘grunt work’ they expect their people to do.

Are you a leader or a pusher? Answer the following questions:

  • When times are tough, do you make decisions based on fear?
  • Do your personal motives drive your decision-making?
  • Do you feel your ideas and decisions are more important than those of the people who work for you?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you might be a pusher. There are obviously many degrees of ‘pusher’ and they are not all bad. However, generally speaking a pusher is the antithesis of a leader. The outcome of the actions of a pusher never turns out positive. The outcome of the actions of a leader always turns out positive (though not always how you’d expect). Pushers make you do things; leaders make you want to do things. Pushers force, leaders inspire.

To become a leader, practice these principles:

  • Courage: Leaders do not allow fear to direct their decisions. They possess the poise to make tough decisions, and they stand by the consequences. When times are tough they have the mettle to persevere.
  • Integrity: Leaders are consistent in their actions, values and principles. Integrity plays an important part in their work life and their personal life.  Their motives are aligned with their organizations and with their own internal beliefs.
  • Humility: Leaders are humble. They are not weak or spineless but they posses an inner confidence that guides their actions. They are not in it to glorify themselves but to lift others.The best leaders are confidently humble.
We all have tendencies to push at times when leading would produce much better results. Let us evaluate our thoughts and actions and make changes (where necessary) to become leaders.

The Product Management Perspective: The principle of leader vs. pusher applies nicely to product management. Product managers who push rather than lead do not succeed. Because you have to work with people you do not manage, it is imperative that you lead out and not try to push. Product managers who are leaders gain the respect and trust of their teams, and the quality and timeliness of the resulting products is evident.


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Winners Never Cheat

The first time I remember hearing the name Jon M. Huntsman was when I was a boy and he was talking with my father about leasing some land in the mountains of northern Utah. The deal never went through (I never did find out why), but Mr. Huntsman has sent my father a Christmas card every year since that time.

In his book Winners Never Cheat: Everyday Values We Learned as Children (But May Have Forgotten), Jon M. Huntsman writes about principles that build common people into leaders. The following are some of the values discussed in his book:

  • There are no moral shortcuts in the game of businessWinners Never Cheat
  • Attributes of true leaders include integrity, courage, vision, commitment, empathy, humility and confidence; the greater these attributes the stronger the leadership
  • Leadership is a privilege
  • Leadership is dictated by moral decisions; north is always north; south is always south
  • When a handshake is given, it must be honored—at all costs; your word is your greatest asset; honesty is your best virtue
  • In every walk of life we must believe we can succeed, or by definition we already have failed
  • It is courage, and not the title, that separates genuine leaders from the pretenders
  • Get mad, not even
  • Everyone wants to be valued, to know they count
  • Two rules in the Huntsman family: 1) Check your ego at the door. 2) Be a cheerleader for each other
  • All companies—public or private—must create a culture in which employees come first and are treated royally…they always return the favor
  • Giving enriches one’s heart and soul—and it’s contagious
  • Make the underpinnings of your life a string of f-words (at least, phonetically): family, faith, fortitude, fairness, fidelity, friendship and philanthropy

Mr. Huntsman demonstrates how living by these values lifts people to a higher level. As we help others and lift them up, we are lifted up in the process. His book inspires me to be a better man and a better leader. And while it’s obvious that Jon Huntsman’s life has been built around the principles he promotes in his book, he does it in a way that is not self-serving or arrogant. His book is great in so many ways.

What are your thoughts about this book? What other books have you read that teach principles of leadership? I’d appreciate you leaving a comment!

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