Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How to invest in yourself

Now that the hype of the New Year is behind us it’s a bit easier to look forward through a more realistic lens. Many resolution and goal-setting plans exist, and in that late December period, the number of offers can make your head spin. That’s why I like to get past the holidays so that I can think more clearly about my focus for the next year.  The following resources are making a noticeable difference for me this year and I want to recommend them for your consideration: Continue reading


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Why companies win by building relationships

For too many companies, business-to-business (B2B) customer engagement is dismally low. In most cases the people running the business don’t recognize the disengagement and don’t see it as a problem.

In his article B2B’s Win by Building Relationships, Not Selling on Price, author Marco Nink gives the following insight on the importance of building customer relationships:

Competing on price is a losing strategy, and Gallup research shows it’s an unnecessary one. B2B companies are more likely to be successful and secure in their customer relationships if they help their customers succeed. The more a B2B company helps its customers perform, the more essential it becomes. That kind of customer impact transforms B2B companies from vendors into vital partners.

To make a difference for your customers you need to help them improve performance and achieve their goals. Building solid relationships will not only help customers improve their performance, but will also increase their commitment to you. Listen to their feedback and build connections with the factors that drive their business.

Here are three simple tools that great leaders use to improve their working relationships:

  1. Listen: Leaders let other people talk and they pay attention to what they’re saying. They remove anything that would distract from their conversations and focus on what people are trying to convey.
  2. Understand: They appreciate what other people do and value their feedback. They know that taking the time to understand where people are coming from will pay dividends in the long run.
  3. Acknowledge: Leaders acknowledge the contributions of others. They are quick to give credit to others for their successes. They know that customers will be more motivated to use their products and provide value if they acknowledge their contributions.

Are you building effective relationships with your customers?


The Product Management Perspective: To effectively lead the product development efforts, product managers must build meaningful relationships with their customers. Listen to them, learn from them, put their feedback into the appropriate context, then move forward and make decisions that will improve the value of your products.


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Using smart goals and data-driven assessment

Smart goals and data-driven assessment help employees and managers map career advancement – Guest post by Danielle M.

Employees may start angling for a merit increase after a certain amount of time on the job, but discussions about advancement can get uncomfortable — and frustrating — if metrics are left out of the equation. Using metrics to measure progress toward certain milestones can make evaluations more valuable and help employees work toward their objectives.

Setting SMART goals

The SMART system works quite well for setting objectives and measuring performance. Here’s what the acronym means:

  • Specific: When an individual or team needs to tackle a large general goal, such as “Increase productivity,” it often helps to specify the desired action. Breaking down the job into smaller, more specific goals can also help. For example, “increasing productivity” may be clearer as “increasing number of items made per hour” or “decreasing the time it takes to solve problems.”
  • Measurable: How can an employee and manager measure performance on a specific goal? Often, when data is used to assess performance, a yes or no answer can ascertain whether a goal was accomplished. Did the individual meet production goals? Were all incidents of problems reported and resolved quickly?
  • Achievable: When setting goals, be sure that achieving the desired outcome is possible. A manager cannot increase productivity by taking away breaks, for example. But she may be able to implement a reward system.
  • Relevant: There’s no sense in creating a goal that doesn’t meet the needs of the company or department. Be sure to set goals that feed into larger goals for the team or organization.
  • Time-bound: Goals need to have an end date, even if it simply marks the beginning of the next phase. The timing aspect of a goal gives the employee and manager a window for evaluating progress toward the goal

Using metrics to assess workplace performance

Implementing the SMART system for performance reviews requires a certain amount of data collection. After all, tracking progress toward a specific and measurable goal is all about knowing how many of something happens according to a certain standard (often stated in terms of time). But the good news is that much of the information needed to evaluate performance can be collected automatically. Here are some examples:

  • driver log for professional truck drivers can track the number of miles that an employee has driven in a certain block of time and provide real-time updates on miles to go and any violations the driver has accrued.
  • Review metrics can report on a customer service agent’s customer-abandonment (hang-up or disconnect) rates as well as hold and total call time. If certain agents are consistently referring calls to a manager, the metrics may show a need for continued training.

To evaluate qualitative (non-numbers-based) goals, consider asking peers in the department to weigh in on an individual’s performance. Using information about how employees feel about their own performance and that of their peers may help identify problem areas, departmental strengths and weaknesses, and other data that doesn’t track easily on a quantitative scale.

Succeeding with a plan

Progress toward a new goal may seem slow, but removing personal preference and other subjective measures from assessments levels the playing field and ensures that the most deserving employees are rewarded.

Danielle M. studies marketing and supply chain management at the Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis, IN. She is a firm believer of Lean Manufacturing principles and lives for standardized processes. In her spare time she blogs about local music and takes care of her puppy Elwood.


The Product Management Perspective: The SMART system will help you manage your products more effectively. The more specific you are about your products’ goals, the better your team members will understand their role. Focus not only on building great products, but also on ways you can measure your progress more accurately.


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How to Encourage Team Members to Lead

Guest post by Lindsay Traiman

Leadership plays a vital role in every company. To have a successful business, it is important that every team member is prepared to step up and lead when necessary. Forbes.com defines leadership as “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” By encouraging others to lead, you can more easily achieve company goals and create a nurturing, supportive work environment. Use the following strategies to encourage your team members to lead.

Educate your staff — Not everyone has innate leadership skills, but these skills can be developed. Offer guidance and leadership training to give your staff the confidence and tools they need to lead and inspire others.

Encourage shared leadership roles — Leadership does not come naturally to everyone, which can make it a difficult and scary experience for some. Ease your staff into leadership positions by first allowing them to share the role with yourself or other team members. Allowing people to co-lead projects reduces anxiety and creates a more positive leadership experience by giving team members someone to lean on for assistance.

Define the goal — Unclear goals can create huge obstacles for those attempting to lead a project. Be sure that you clearly define the task, objectives and goals when assigning a project to assist your team members in their leadership efforts.

Listen – Listening is a very important part of effective communication. Always listen to what your staff has to say. By listening, you can gain more insight into the things that motivate individual team members while also learning what goals they have for themselves.

Lead by example – As a leader, your team members look to you as a role model. There is no easier way to encourage others to lead than by leading them effectively. According to a Dale Carnegie study, 62 percent of engaged employees said their managers set a good example. By practicing what you preach in all aspects of your business, your staff will grow to trust you. Employees who trust that their managers are taking their leadership role seriously are more likely to go the extra mile to support the organization’s goals.

Value your staff – Always let your staff members know how important they are to the company. When you see your staff actually taking initiative and utilizing their leadership skills, be sure to recognize them and acknowledge their efforts. Your employees must be reassured that their hard work and leadership is vital to the company’s success.  A study by Bersin and Associates states that companies that provide ample employee recognition have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover rates than companies that don’t. A little appreciation truly goes a long way.

While it may not be easy to develop leadership skills in others, it is essential to the success of your business. Encourage everyone on your team to lead in order to help your company succeed.

Lindsay Traiman writes on behalf of Dale Carnegie Training, a company founded on the principles of the famous speaker and author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Today, the company offers leadership training and helps businesses and individuals achieve their goals. Visit Dale Carnegie Training online to learn more about leadership training.


The Product Management Perspective: Many of the strategies described here are key to successful product management. Product managers need to educate others (especially sales) about their products. They need to listen to the market and learn what makes potential buyers want to buy their products. They need to communicate effectively, both inside and outside the company. Perhaps most important, product managers need to value their coworkers and build trust with their organization.


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Why Sports Builds Leadership

Guest post by Jordan Spindler

Leadership is a personal trait that often proves elusive to many people, however is intimately related to personal success. Leaders are at the forefront of their fields; they are respected and quite often wealthy. Leaders also foster social change, and most of our cultural, social and economic progress is the result of leadership.

It’s no surprise that many people would like to acquire this trait and would like to see their children develop strong leadership skills. While leadership remains easy to define and identify, a consistent summation of characteristics that make an effective leader remains elusive. So, too, does the way to impart leadership to an eager young mind.

There are many institutions that propose to teach leadership in different areas, with varying success rates. There are even people who speculate that leadership is an innate trait, and therefore can’t be learned. However, there seems to be something of a consensus regarding the relationship between sports and leadership, at least as acknowledged by governments and industry.

Not just any sport will do, however. Team participation is often cited as an important aspect in using sports to develop leadership skills. In fact, team participation is often more important than the physical component, as a search through the biographies of the captains of industry will show: few of them were High-School Quarterback. They all were on some team, however.

Sports are highly competitive, and their nature is to push enthusiastic participants to achieve more than their rivals. In fact, the basis of competitive sports is rivalry, and it is in this competitive atmosphere of team sports that pushes people towards “taking one for the team”, and fostering team spirit. It is within the cohesion of a team that a captain will stand out and acquire the position of leader.

This doesn’t mean that people who participate in relatively individual activities such as jogging or weight lifting can’t use their chosen sport to improve their leadership skills. For example, one of the benefits of indoor cycling is that you can communicate with fellow spinners while working out, and help build a team. Organizing teams will help motivate the members to get more out of their routine as well as provide leadership opportunities for the team.

Competition is one of the bases that produces leadership, which is why the University of California hosts Leadership Competitions along with other institutions that foster leadership, such as the Rotary Clubs. Competition is a motivating factor in human psychology, and one of the traits of leadership is the ability to motivate people to challenge themselves and meet goals.

Competitive team sports creates and environment where people have to work together in order to achieve their goals. Team spirit and the ability to work with others is an essential part of being a leader. An often overlooked part of leadership is the ability to work within a team, which also means listening to other people and understanding different points of view. Someone who can’t play for the team cannot hope to lead it.

The teams and competition of sports are an analogy of the teams of coworkers and competing businesses that leaders must face in the world. The skills learned in each are valuable in the other. If you’re looking to build your own leadership skills or those of your children, consider taking on an exciting and challenging sport today.

Jordan Spindler is a freelance writer and avid fitness enthusiast. His health and fitness articles have been published in a number of national news publications, including the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is a graduate of the University of California Riverside, and although his degree is in English, his passions are fitness and self-improvement.


The Product Management Perspective: The teamwork aspect of sports fits nicely with product management because product managers are usually very competitive. Use that competitive drive to not only become a great team player, but also the team leader.


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The Bright Side of Failure

Guest post by Matt Herndon

Most of us look at failure as a negative occurrence. Surely if we fail at something, that’s a sign of weakness. But even the most successful people in the world have had their failures. Remember when Michael Jordan decided to play baseball? While it wasn’t his greatest success, he was able to turn it into just another lesson learned during a long and prosperous career. To quote the basketball legend, “I can accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

No one likes to fail. When you put extensive time, energy and effort into attaining a goal, missing the mark can certainly smart. You can’t, however, always avoid failure. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you simply can’t reach that mark or accomplish that sought-after goal. It’s important to remember that while failure doesn’t bring with it the accolades and congratulations that accompany success, failure in and of itself isn’t a total loss. If, instead of allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity, you think critically about your failure, you can turn this seemingly negative situation into a valuable learning opportunity.

Goal Re-Evaluation
Particularly if you’ve failed not just once, but numerous times recently, failing once again could be just the prompt you need to re-evaluate the appropriateness of the goals you’ve set for yourself. For example, if you’ve applied for every job under the sun and keep getting the same “thanks but no thanks” response, it may be a sign that your goal isn’t a reasonable one. Perhaps if you still wish to reach your goal, you may need to look into earning a master’s degree or gaining a little more entry-level experience in the field. If you allow yourself to learn from this failure and use it as a cue, you’ll substantially increase your chances of making your next batch of applications more successful than the first.

Opportunity for Analysis
On some occasions, it isn’t that the goal you’ve set is unreasonable, but instead that your method of trying to reach that goal could use some work. Anytime you fail, you’re presented with a valuable opportunity to analyze the situation. To reap the benefits of this chance for careful analysis, consider specifically why you failed and try to determine what you could’ve done to eliminate this failure catalyst. The next time you find yourself working toward a similar goal, keep in mind what you’ve learned and modify your flight plan, improving your chances of enjoying a different outcome.

Character Building
Succeeding is great, but it doesn’t offer the same opportunity for becoming a better person that failure affords. Any time you fail, you’re presented with an opportunity to hone your character. Because failing gracefully requires you to employ self-restraint, class and dignity, not reaching a goal presents the opportunity to exercise these positive character traits, allowing you to become better at exhibiting a level of grace that will ultimately get you much further in life.

Sweeter Success
Just as you don’t appreciate the heat of summer as much without the cold of winter, you won’t really appreciate success as fully if you never feel the burn of failure. To ease the pain associated with failure, remind yourself that when you do ultimately reach your goal-–which you will if you continue to exhibit the dedication and focus that have already served you so well-–it will feel even more sublime than it would have had you reached it on your first attempt.

There’s no way to completely prevent failure. Instead of allowing unsuccessful attempts at reaching goals to leave you burned and jaded, view these misses as opportunities for learning and growth. In doing so, you can retain your positive outlook and hone your skills.

Matt Herndon (@Just_Matt_) lives in Indianapolis with his wife and children. He has been studying and writing about leadership development and organizational communication since he began his undergraduate work in Upper East Tennessee approximately 20 years ago.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are known widely as driven individuals. But as with any other job, not every product succeeds and not every release goes as planned. When failures happen (and we all know they will), we need to take Matt’s advice and learn from them. The more willing we are to learn from failures, the more success we will have with the next product or new release.


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Leadership traits

Who are the leaders you look up to? What are their traits? How do they do business? Who are their role models? What are their goals, priorities and key motivations? What do they do that makes you believe in them and want to follow them?

The following infographic profiles the leadership traits of three unquestionably successful CEOs. You may or may not like them, what they stand for or their styles of doing business, but their success merits a close look at their leadership traits:

(Infographic provided by Phoenix Training and Development)

Lead On Purpose does not specifically endorse any of the CEOs profiled above


The Product Management Perspective: Many of the CEOs in business today spent time in the ranks of product management. It’s a great learning ground for becoming an executive. Who are the CEOs you most value? Which of their traits are you trying to pattern your work after? I’d love to get your feedback; please leave a comment.


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Guest Post: 10 Secrets of Effective Leaders

By Maria Rainier

If you’re like most managers, you know how hard it can be to inspire and motivate your employees. What’s more, with so many different personality styles on your team, finding leadership tactics that work across the board can be a challenge. Fortunately there are a huge amount of resources out there that can help you become a more successful leader. Here are ten of the most proven tactics that have helped countless managers inspire their team to achieve greatness each and every day:

  1. Be a positive thinker. Every great manager knows that it’s impossible to create a positive work environment if they aren’t positive themselves. No matter how much pressure you feel as a leader, always make sure you think positive and visualize success. That way your team will be inspired to follow suit.
  2. Set clear goals. Making sure your employees understand what’s expected of them is your first step toward success. Set goals that are clear, reasonable and attainable. And stay committed to helping your team members achieve them.
  3. Grow your skills. Just because you’ve reached the management level doesn’t mean you’re done with your training. In fact, by keeping your skills fresh you’ll be able to engage more effectively with your employees who are out in the field. Take classes, attend seminars and join discussion groups to make sure your skills stay up to par.
  4. Be innovative. Following the crowd and being a “yes man” is one of the worst mistakes a manager can make. Be true to yourself and present your own ideas confidently. You’ll be seen as an innovator and not just someone who goes along with the group.
  5. Take responsibility for your failures. Yes, even managers are known to make mistakes. Never blame your failure on your team – you’ll lose integrity immediately. By showing that you’re just like everyone else, you’ll build trust with your group.
  6. Be analytical. As a manager, it’s vital that you have the facts before you make any big decisions. By analyzing the details, you’ll have the right amount of knowledge to set and attain achievable goals.
  7. Learn to communicate. Since there are so many different types of people on your team, it’s vital to know how to bring out the best in everyone. Learn who the introverts and extroverts are, and adapt your communication style to theirs.
  8. Lead but don’t manage. It’s vital to inspire your team to perform by example and not tell them exactly what to do. By enthusing and motivating your group, they’ll be passionate about achieving success on their own.
  9. Respect your team. A good manager always puts the needs of his or her team first. When you do this your team will know that you have their back and will go above and beyond to work hard for you. If there’s a performance problem with an individual, never call them out in public – and never pit employees against one another.
  10. Focus on the client. Since serving your clients is the most important part of your business, be sure you always put their needs first. This will help create a customer-driven organization and will help build longevity between your company and your client’s business.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching different social work degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

The Product Management Perspective: The ten actions above are important for successful product leadership. If you are leading a team of product managers, pay special attention to the following: #2: Goals point you and your team to the future. Product management focuses on releasing the right products to the right markets at the right time; set both financial and operational goals for your product line. #4: Being innovative ties closely with understanding your markets; be the market expert for your product line. #9: it’s all about relationships; your team needs to know, without any hesitation, that you have their backs and will do everything you can to help them succeed. Build relationships of trust.


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Guest Post: The “General” Manager – Soldier Lessons for the Business Battlefield

By John Durfee, Gulf War veteran and Marketing Manager at Airsplat

You’re about to enter a known enemy compound and your heart is beating in your ears. The temperature is dropping quickly in the desert night. As you wait behind the door, you hear your team line up, boots scuffing the ground, weapons cocked. You open the door and see a burst of light. Gunshots? No, just a small fire burning in the center of an open courtyard. Behind you, your unit fans out providing covering fire and yelling out what they see, “Right Clear!” “Left Clear!” “Windows Clear!”. You find that the compound empty; the enemy must have left before you arrived. However, one fact remains clear to you; your men did well, they performed as they were trained, and if they were to have encountered the enemy, they would have done well.

Whether you’re the platoon commander of an Army Infantry Patrol, or the Director of Human Resources, you’re still a leader. You still set goals for others to follow and make sure everyone performs to the best of their abilities. Both positions need to have the same sense of vision, drive, and planning, in order to make their teams survive and thrive. In today’s economy, a sense of battle in the marketplace is apparent as competition for customers and profits is high. Here are some pearls of wisdom from the military world that are relevant in the business world of today:

COAST GUARD CREED

“I will always be on time to relieve, and shall endeavor to do more, rather than less, than my share.”
This is a fine line to walk as a leader. If you micromanage, you’ll have employees that wait for instructions every step of the way and will not use their own resources. However, if you don’t give enough direction, and you’ll be wasting time and resources having to delegate and do work over. Not every person in an office can be led the same way. Some may need specific instructions and constant follow up, whereas others are able to work independently and take initiative. Know where to apply your energies and you’ll be working faster and more efficiently. In fact, a great way to increase productivity in a workplace is to cross-train employees across departments. This lets employees understand each other’s role and promotes communication between departments.

ARMY DRILL SERGEANT CREED

“I will lead by example, never requiring a soldier to attempt any task that I would not do myself.”
To be a strong leader, you need to show an unshakeable work ethic. Your team is only as great as you show them to be. It’s a tough example to live up too, but by leading by example you show, rather than tell, what’s to be expected of them. You set the bar of potential through your own work ethic, but you also have to shore up your defenses and patch up any weaknesses. This means that when discipline needs to be applied, it must be consistent and without hesitation. In the military, failures come with consequences. You might not necessarily do it on the first offense, but you need to let employees know you will reprimand those not accomplishing what’s expected of them. This may seem harsh, but an office succeeds and fails as a whole, and all the individuals need to be responsible for the overall success of the company.

INFANTRYMAN’S CREED

“I forsake not my…..my mission, my comrades, my sacred duty. I am relentless. I am always there.”
Growth happens when you are challenged. Maintaining an even keel means you’re giving someone else the chance to advance beyond you. This can be giving another company a chance to rise up past you. No position is entitled, so you must keep fighting and proving yourself to your superiors. If your team becomes relied upon, you’re seen as the hardest working, producing the most value for the company, and therefore you’ll make a name for yourselves. The simple hard and constant application of firepower and force on your goals will keep you competitive. Bill Gates is the master of staying ahead of the pack in the business world. He says, “In this business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.” Those who aren’t growing are falling behind – if you’re not shooting, you’re the one being shot at.

John Durfee is a Gulf War veteran and the marketing manager for Airsplat, the nation’s largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.


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Seeds of success

Everyone wants to succeed, but where does success start? We all have a deep desire to move forward and see our dream become reality, but how do we make it happen? The venerable “Dean of Personal Development,” Earl Nightingale, put it in these terms: “Success can be defined as the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” In other words, you become what you think about.

Nightingale compares the human mind to fertile land. The land doesn’t care what types of seeds the farmer plants, it will return what it’s given. The mind, in much the same way, will return either success or failure depending on what we have planted. The key is to set specific goals for what we want to achieve (plant the seed) and then work hard and nurture those goals. Believe in your ability to achieve them.

The people at Simple Truths put together an excellent three-minute video that describes the seeds of success. If you were a fan Nightingale’s Our Changing World radio program you’ll be delighted to hear his voice again. If (like me) you have no recollection of that program, you’ll still benefit from the great message. Take a few minutes and watch this video.

Decide what you want and “plant” the goal in your mind.

The Product Management Perspective: Product success usually starts the same way as personal success: someone has an idea. The rules that apply to personal success also apply to product success (with some adaptations): discover the value of ideas for new products by doing market research; understand the personas, the potential users and buyers of the products; then “plant the seeds” of the product by writing clear requirements and designs. The process takes time and multiple iterations; it requires vision and hard work. Be the leader in discovering and cultivating great ideas.
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