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: It’s Not Just Who You Know

“No business will survive long if it can’t make a profit; but no business deserves to survive at all if it can’t make a positive difference in the lives of its employees, customers, clients, and community.” This powerful statement comes from Tommy Spaulding in his new book It’s Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts into Lasting, Genuine Relationships. According to Spaulding, success — in business and in life — is tied directly to relationships. The most powerful relationships come when we focus on helping others.

Perhaps the most common measurement of business success is ROI — return on investment. When it comes to relationship economics, Spaulding introduces a different concept — Return on Relationships (ROR). According to Spaulding, ROR comes in many forms and should be as important to individuals and organizations as profits, revenues and ROI — because with out generating ROR, the ROI won’t matter. He cites as proof a 2007 Gallop Management Journal survey that estimates that “actively disengaged workers” cost the U.S. economy about $382 billion annually. Developing relationships drives engagement (in school, in work, in personal lives) that pays dividends.

Spaulding describes relationships in terms of a five-floor building. The deeper the relationship, the higher the floor. While relationships seldom fit into a nice, tight definition, the “Five Floor” plan provides definition and gives boundaries that define relationships:

  • First Floor: We meet and greet. We exchange business cards. It typically involves a transactional exchange.
  • Second Floor: We begin sharing more information, but it’s very basic information; the type dispensed out of social obligation or because it’s a job requirement, not because we’re offering some insight into who we are.
  • Third Floor: People develop an emotional comfort level that goes beyond facts and information. We learn about the lives of our co-workers, vendors and clients and other professional associates. We begin to understand something about who they are as people, even if we don’t agree with all their opinions.
  • Fourth Floor: These relationships take on a deeper, more significant meaning. We share common interests, goals, beliefs and causes. At this level we’ve learned to work through conflicts, and we respond in ways that show we value the relationship for its own sake.
  • Fifth Floor: These relationships go well beyond Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. In these relationships, vulnerability, authenticity, trust and loyalty are off the charts. They are relationships built on shared empathy — an intuitive understanding of each other’s needs, even those that aren’t necessarily expressed. We literally “feel” another person’s state of mind.
Building a relationship begins by focusing your genuine, sincere attention on the other person. It’s not about you. Find ways to move your relationships forward.

Success, in any endeavor, requires effective relationships. Leadership grows and develops through building effective relationships. I highly recommend It’s Not Just Who You Know as guidebook to building effective relationships and increasing your leadership potential.

The Product Management Perspective: Building effective relationships is absolutely crucial for success in product management. Product managers rely heavily on other people — engineers, sales people, support, etc. — to ship successful products. PMs that focus on building strong relationships experience more success. PMs who build consensus and inspire team members develop a high ROI on their products and ROR with their colleagues.

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