Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Becoming a decisive leader

“Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.”

Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath wrote the book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work with the following goals: “We want to make you a bit better at making good decisions, and we want to help you make your good decisions a bit more decisively. We also want to make you a better advisor to your colleagues and loved ones who are making decisions.”

The entire premise of the book is built around four principles the authors call the WRAP process:Decisive

  1. Widen Your Options
  2. Reality-Test Your Assumptions
  3. Attain Distance Before Deciding
  4. Prepare to be Wrong

To widen your options, ask yourself these questions: What are we giving up if we make this decision? What else could we do with the same time and money? Push for additional alternatives, for “this AND that” rather than “this OR that.” Find someone else who’s solved your problem, and learn from them.

To reality-test your assumptions, start by considering the opposite. Some companies have a formal process to prepare a case against a high-stakes proposal. Spark constructive disagreement within your organization. Find ways to bring real-world experience into your decision-making process.

As you make big decisions, take a step back and consider the larger impact. Use the 10/10/10 tool: how will I feel about the decision 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? What about 10 years from now? Look at your situation from an observer’s perspective. Focus on your core priorities and create a “stop doing” list to help you weed out time wasters.

No decision maker is perfect, so prepare ahead of time to be wrong. Consider a range of outcomes, from very bad to very good. Conduct a ‘pre-mortem’—“it’s a year from now, our decision has failed utterly. Why?” Do a ‘pre-parade’—“It’s a year from now. We’re heroes. Will we be ready for success?” Set ‘tripwires’—deadlines or partitions—to help you realize you have choices.

Finally, you have to trust in the process. “Bargaining”—horse-trading until all sides can live with the choice—will take more time up front, but it accelerates implementation. Making sure others are aware of your decision making process is key to team buy-in.

Decisive is a great read, filled with stories and examples of how to analyze things rapidly and make informed decisions quickly. I guarantee it will keep you interested and you will learn techniques for making decisions. The book is replete with great stories that will keep you reading and learning. Some of my favorites include:

  • David Lee Roth, lead singer of the band Van Halen, put an M&Ms clause in every contract. The clause demanded a bowl of the candy without any brown M&Ms backstage before every concert. Was he a spoiled rock diva or an operations expert?
  • What major decision did Andy Grove, president of Intel, make in 1985 that was a huge turning point for the company?
  • The CEO of Quaker (the oats company) made a major decision in 1983 that cost his company more than $1.5 billion by the time it all played out.
  • Why did Zappos, the online shoe store based in Las Vegas, offer its new employees $1000 (now up to $4000) to quit their job (at Zappos)? Why do they have one of the lowest employee turnover rates of any company?
  • Why did Kodak executives allow digital images to kill their company? What did the executives know years ahead of time that could have saved the company?
  • How did the product Rogaine emerge successfully from mistakes made in another product line?

If you read only one book this year, make sure it’s Decisive!


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers make decisions constantly. They get bombarded with figures and estimates all the time, and they need to make decisions and move forward. The book Decisive has opened my eyes to new, better ways of making decisions. This is a must-read for all product managers and product marketing managers.


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Book Review: The Fearless Mind

“When we learn how to cultivate a fearless mind, we can achieve whatever we set out to accomplish.” According to Dr. Craig Manning, author of The Fearless Mind: 5 Essential Steps to Higher Performance, a ‘fearless mind’ is achieved when we have cleansed ourselves of the barriers that prevent us from reaching our greatest potential. We do this by learning to accept what we have control over (and what we do not). When we understand this we are able to channel our energy into mastering those aspects that we have direct responsibility for, and not wasting energy (emotional, mental, or physical) on those things that are outside our control.

Dr. Manning played tennis throughout his youth, in college (on scholarship) and as a professional. However, through an interesting series of events – which he describes in the book – he discovered his true passion was helping others become masters of their sport. He’s helped athletes in tennis, skiing and track and field become champions. In the book he uses stories from sports to help people in any profession achieve much higher levels of performance.

The Fearless Mind helps you master those aspects of your life that you can control. Dr. Manning takes you through five steps to help you achieve higher performance:

Step 1 – Motivation: The will to keep trying, and the will to win are critical to success. Motivation is fixed in behavior, and behavior is rooted in one of two forms: task or ego. Task-oriented behavior is focused on performance, here and now. Ego-oriented individuals focus on how outcomes affect their self-worth. Motivation is guided by one of these two outcomes. Task-oriented behavior is the key to becoming a master.

Step 2 – Anxiety: Anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” When we don’t feel like we have control, anxiety increases significantly. Is anxiety bad? Not if we learn how to channel it positively. It can provide us with the energy to get things done much more quickly and efficiently.

Step 3 – Concentration: Concentration is referred to as “attention control” or the discipline to focus on what is relevant, and ignore everything that is irrelevant. Concentration is absolutely critical to becoming a championship athlete or master of whatever you endeavor to achieve.

Step 4 – Confidence: 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.

Step 5 – Decision Making: “No individual is destined for greatness. We achieve high performance only through hard work…and a fearless mind.” Making correct decisions is important at every stage of development, whether you’re an athlete or a CEO. Becoming disciplined at task-oriented behavior will instill within us the ability to make correct decisions at every point along the way. Disciplined decision makers become masters.

These principles will set you on the course to success. I highly recommend this book to help you gain mastery over your life. Dr. Manning’s five steps will help you focus on what you need to change to become a master. Don’t hesitate, get a copy of the book and begin developing a fearless mind.

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: Product managers deal with a myriad of tasks and distractions every day, and the sheer volume often seems overwhelming. Can you become a ‘master’ product manager? Yes, you can if you focus on the right things. The “right things” will differ from one product (or company) to another; the key is having a fearless mind and being a fearless leader. The five steps in The Fearless Mind will help you master the role of product manager. As a side note, I highly recommend Dr. Manning’s podcast on Live on Purpose Radio.

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