Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Focus on what’s most important

You get results based on the things you focus on most intently.

Most people are driven to increase their performance and expand their abilities. They understand the need to work hard in areas for which they have great passion.

Regardless of how many things you want to accomplish, you must focus on the most important and let other things — which in the right context may be very good things — go by the wayside. Tom Peters sheds an interesting perspective on focus with the following quote:

Leaders focus on the soft stuff — people, values, character, commitment, a cause. All of that was supposed to be too (indefinable) to count in business. Yet it’s the stuff that real leaders take care of first. That’s why leadership is an art, not a science.

Focus on what you want to achieve. The results will speak for themselves.


The Product Management Perspective: Product management takes complete focus. Recently a friend told me his company’s CEO decided that their engineering managers would also be responsible for product requirements and roadmaps. Their (few) ‘product managers’ will only focus on marketing their products.

It’s never easy to predict how things will turn out in the future, but if I were a betting man I would NOT bet on this move. They will lose focus on what the product means to the market/people who use it. For a product to succeed, you need to have someone—a product manager—completely focused on its success.


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Sharing the success

The word “sharing” is one you won’t find used very often in business. Competition has increased in every market and those who succeed have to spend time, money and effort to win. And winning itself has become the end game for too many people.

There’s nothing wrong with winning, and if you go into business (or anything for that matter), you need to focus on succeeding. However, success at all costs is not worth the price. If you place all your focus and desires on winning you will ultimately lose – friendships, relationships, and possibly even your sanity.

UNLESS you focus on helping other people win. You need to have the vision, and have a huge desire to succeed, and then help other people win as you go. You need to share your vision of success with others and help them find the desire and drive to succeed.

Here’s simple way to help others succeed: once a week for the next three months write a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn. Make sure your endorsements are meaningful and sincere, and be creative in the ways you give praise. You will make a lot of people happy and will help them in their careers. You will see the value you’ve created for others as they respond in kind.


The Product Management Perspective: Good product managers know their success depends on the work – and success – of others (dev, QA, support, etc.). One of the best (and easiest) things you can do is acknowledge the contributions of others on the team. Make sure the VP of engineering knows how much you appreciate the developers working on your products. Tell the VP of sales how the account manager helped you with a customer. You get the picture. Make sure you’re generous in sharing success with your teams.


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What matters in 2010?

With just a few weeks left in 2009 you have no-doubt spent time thinking about the events of the past year and the growth and changes that have resulted.

What matters in 2010? Seth Godin, marketing guru and thought leader, did a cool project where he brought together more than seventy “big thinkers” to write the ebook What Matters Now. His purpose: “Now, more than ever, we need a different way of thinking, a useful way to focus and the energy to turn the game around.” Here are a few of the thought-provoking ideas:

“If you make a difference, people will gravitate to you. They want to engage, to interact and to get you more involved.” -Seth Godin

“Leadership is more than influence. It is about reminding people of what it is we are trying to build—and why it matters. It is about painting a picture of a better future. It comes down to pointing the way and saying, ‘C’mon. We can do this!’” -Michael Hyatt

“Here’s the final measure of your success as a speaker: did you change something? Are attendees leaving with a new idea, some new inspiration, perhaps a renewed commitment to their work or to the world?” -Mark Hurst

“The road to sustainability goes through a clear-eyed look at unsustainability.” -Alan M. Webber

“After a decade of truly spectacular underachievement, what we need now is less management and more freedom – fewer individual automatons and more autonomous individuals.” -Daniel H. Pink

“The future belongs to people who can spread ideas.” -Guy Kawasaki (read Guy’s ‘ten things to remember’)

“You can earn attention by creating something interesting and valuable and then publishing it online for free.” -David Meerman Scott

“You’re probably trying to change things at home or at work. Stop agonizing about what’s not working. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What’s working well, right now, and how can I do more of it?’” -Chip Heath & Dan Heath

“You grow (and thrive!) by doing what excites you and what scares you everyday, not by trying to find your passion.” -Derek Sivers

“Winning businesses have a common trait, an obvious and divisive point of view. Losing businesses also have a common trait, a boring personality alienating no one and thus, sparking passion from no one.” -John Moore

“My eyes have been opened to the value of regularly closing them.” -Arianna Huffington (on the value of sleep)

“The secret learned by technology providers is to spend less time providing services for citizens, and to spend more time providing services to developers…This is the right way to frame the question of ‘Government 2.0.’ How does government become an open platform that allows people inside and outside government to provide better services to each other?” -Tim O’Reilly

“Declare war on passivity. Hush the inner voice that insists you’re over the hill, past your prime, unworthy of attaining those dreams. Disbelief is now the enemy, as is the notion of settling. Get hungry — hyena hungry. Get fired up. Find your backbone, and your wings.” -J.C. Hutchins

Seth and his coauthors are trying to get five million downloads of the ebook. Help them out; you will be the beneficiary. Read Seth’s post about the ebook here.


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Addressing the cause

I’m away this week, so I “pre-loaded” my blog with a link to a great post.

Too often we deal with the symptoms of a problem instead of dealing with the problem head-on; Seth Godin calls this “bear shaving.” If you are spinning your wheels and not making the progress you desire, perhaps you are focusing in the wrong place. Take a look at Bear shaving for more insight.


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Leaders’ focus

Successful people are driven to increase their performance and expand their abilities. They understand the need to work hard in areas for which they have great passion.

Regardless of how many things you want to accomplish, you must focus on the most important and let other things — which in the right context may be very good things — go by the wayside. Tom Peters sheds an interesting perspective on focus with the following quote:

Leaders focus on the soft stuff — people, values, character, commitment, a cause. All of that was supposed to be too (indefinable) to count in business. Yet it’s the stuff that real leaders take care of first. That’s why leadership is an art, not a science.

What do you feel are the most important things you should focus on? Where is your time as a leader best spent? Please leave a comment and let’s have a conversation on how leaders can best focus their time and attention.


The Product Management Perspective: For product managers, ‘focus’ can seem fleeting at times. More than just about any role at any company, product management requires interaction with and touches into every other department in the company. Focusing on deliverables can seem futile. However, to the extent you focus on the ‘soft stuff’ suggested by Mr. Peters, you will find your ability to complete your work will improve and will hasten. Working effectively with others leads them to trust you and to work harder and more effectively for your cause.


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Forward progress

A key axiom for today’s leaders is that forward progress comes through hard work and persistence. This applies not only to your progress as a leader, but also to the progress of the people you lead. The ups and downs of daily interaction can inspire or drain, depending on your attitude and perseverance. To make progress you have to look at each situation and determine what you can do improve to your success given the circumstances. As Tom Peters says so frankly, “Only those who constantly retool themselves stand a chance of staying employed in the years ahead.”

You need to look at your situation and determine whether you are progressing in the direction you want to go. If not, make the changes necessary and start moving in the right direction. The following quote by Frederick Williams provides additional insight: “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks that will help you move forward in the direction you want to go.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you need to focus on your products’ direction and success; you need to collect the right market input and turn it into great products. At the same time you also need to focus on your career and your personal progress. With the right attitude you can do both at the same time.


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Book Review: Find Your Great Work

Find Your Great Work“No one ever says: ‘My life’s just too interesting, too stimulating, too provocative, too fulfilling, too engaging…’” All things we do fit into three categories:

  • Bad work: A waste of time, energy and life. Doing it once is one time too many.
  • Good work: The familiar, useful, productive work you do and do well.
  • Great work: The work that matters, inspires, stretches and provokes.

Michael Bungay Stanier offers excellent tidbits of wisdom in his book Find Your Great Work. The book is written in an accessible format to illustrate that many great ideas were born on a napkin; it is about the size of a common napkin and has notes and illustrations drawn on napkins. The author uses maps to demonstrate how to find your great work, understand it and pursue it. He starts by stating five foundational principles:

  • #1: Things only get interesting when you take full responsibility for the choices you make.
  • #2: Changing your focus changes what’s possible.
  • #3: You need to make two choices: what will you say yes to? And what will you say no to?
  • #4: To do great work you must be willing to take a stand, ruffle a few feathers and reset an expectation or three.
  • #5: Great work is not a solo act. You need to welcome others on your journey.

After establishing the foundational principles, Mr. Stanier sets you on the path to finding great work by showing 12 maps. The first three help you figure your Greatness and clarify where you are now. The next three look at the choices you need to make and help you better weigh those choices. The next set of three helps you understand what possibilities you have before you, some of which you already know and some of which you do not. And the final cluster of three moves you to action, taking the next step forward towards your great work. Each map is illustrated in a simple format in which you can insert your own experience and information and it will lead you to understand and develop your work from — good to great.

The world is full of good work. If you want to make a significant contribution, you need to do great work. Finding Your Great Work is an excellent guidebook to help you move in that direction.

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