Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How you can inspire others to do great things

I’ve been thinking lately about how to motivate people and inspire them to step up, to take action, to do great things. I see so much opportunity for people, and yet so little motivation to make a difference.

So what is the root cause of the lack of inspirational leadership? Too many people are afraid to take a risk, to step outside of their comfort zone, to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. The focus on what they can do within their comfort zone, not on why they do it and why they can make a difference.

Simon Sinek describes this beautifully in a famous TED talk: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe, to sell to people who believe what you believe. Continue reading


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Five factors to inspiring team members

We all know people who inspire us, who encourage us—through their actions and example—to work hard, to persevere through difficult circumstances. What’s their secret? How do they persuade others to do great things? While every circumstance is different, leaders find ways to inspire the people they lead.

Here are five factors[1] that, if understood and applied, will increase your ability to inspire your team members: [...]


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Are You Leading… or Just Managing?

Guest post by Adrienne Erin

Something interesting happens in a lot of organizations. A good worker gets promoted to manager, and maybe goes through a little management training. After a solid performance, that manager will be promoted to a leadership position, under the assumption that their management skills will make them good leaders. They won’t.

Too many organizations operate on the idea that great managers make great leaders, and vice versa. But if you look at what’s required to fulfill each position, the skill sets don’t line up very well; in fact, some skills needed for one function may actually be counterproductive in the other. So are you a leader or a manager? Answer these questions to find out.

Do you look ahead or live in the here and now?

Managing a company means you’re making sure tasks are being completed and your team is running smoothly, while leading it means looking ahead what you want to do next. If you’re more interested in the future than the present, you might be a leader.

While managers can find ways to operate more effectively, their main focus is keeping everything on track, working their project management magic, and dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T’. Leaders, on the other hand, have a big-picture view of their organization; they keep one eye on where the business is now, and the other eye on where they want it to go.

Do you inspire or inspect?

Both leaders and managers are in charge of one or more groups of people, but they interact with them very differently. If you know how to motivate your teams to perform at their best, you’re probably a leader, but if you sometimes have to coax them to do it, you might be a manager.

The most successful leaders know how to inspire people to follow them towards their goals. Moguls like Steve Jobs and Donald Trump are recent examples, as are non-business figures like George Patton and Abraham Lincoln. If you want to lead your teams, put away your checklists and evaluations and lead them with passion and inspiration instead.

Do you lead out front or from behind?

Even if a leader isn’t a natural extrovert or particularly sociable, he or she learns how to fake it to bring people on board with his or her vision. Being a good manager involves some dynamic speaking, but more often it’s about keeping your eyes on your calendar, people and the bottom line.

You don’t have to be loud and obnoxious to be a good leader — you just have to be bold and confident in presenting your ideas. Unlike managers, who can keep their businesses afloat from their offices, leaders have to be in the public eye selling their ideas to customers, investors, and other stakeholders.

Managers don’t always make the best leaders, nor are the best leaders necessarily good managers. Understanding the difference between the two, and figuring out whether you fall into one camp or another, is key to defining your leadership style and driving great results.

Adrienne Erin is a writer and career development professional who worked in a college career office for four years before striking out on her own as a freelance writer.


The Product Management Perspective: Reading this article may cause you to wonder whether the title “product manager” really fits. Ultimately you are the “product leader” more than the manager. The statement “the most successful leaders know how to inspire people to follow them towards their goals” hits on one of the most important aspects of successful product management: the need to inspire and motivate the team to produce winning products. Keep that top-of-mind as you move forward.


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Five rules for executive product leadership

The original idea for starting Lead on Purpose was a recognition that product managers have the need to lead (inspire, motivate, guide) people who do not report them. Their success depends, to a large extent, on people in other parts of the organization. The PMs who take a leadership approach to their job have the most success.

The leadership role of the product team (PM, PO, PMM, UX) is critical to the success of any organization. Much has been written about where product management should report. The most common departments for product management reporting are marketing, engineering/development and directly to the CEO. Different factors such as the size of the organization  play a role in where the product team reports.

Regardless of where the product team reports, the leader of the product team (the “product executive”) plays a key role in the success of the company. They play a crucial role in enabling their teams to succeed at leading product direction. Here are five rules that will help product executives effectively lead their teams:

  • Build the people on your team: First and foremost, the product exec needs to develop the people in his or her organization. Hire competent people who can do the work effectively. Give them opportunities to grow. And most importantly, support them in their endeavors to not only produce successful products but also to grow and develop in their careers. Work with them to set goals and measure their progress. Understand what motivates them. This takes time and effort, and it’s definitely not easy, but it’s the most important part of a product executive’s job.
  • Develop trust: Tied closely to building your team is developing relationships of trust with the people on the team. Team members thrive when they know their efforts are appreciated and their work is meaningful. They step up to greater challenges when they know someone has their back. They will go beyond what they thought they could do and have greater results when they know their work will be appreciated and rewarded. Building trust is the key to building a great team.
  • Represent the product team: As the product exec you need to promote the interests and needs of the product team to the rest of the company. Make sure your team has adequate budget to do their work (somehow this aspect seems to get overlooked; PM never has enough budget for travel and other key responsibilities). Be their advocate to the executive team, the sales team and others both in and outside of the company. Gaining a seat at the executive table (i.e., having key influence in the company) should be a high priority for product executives.
  • Cultivate stability: Creating great products takes time and consistency. The best way to build an effective team is to create an environment where people want to work. Spend time with your team both in and outside the office. Travel with your team members; the best relationships are built on the road. As the leader of the product team, make sure they know that the team is your first priority. Show it by your words and by your actions.
  • Remove roadblocks: Every team runs into problems. Effective product executives look for ways to remove or lessen the impact of problems that arise. Do everything you can to make sure your team members are working effectively.

The product executive is key to the product team’s success. A team with a capable product leader will create great products and generate success for their organization. Lead on purpose at the executive level.


The Product Management Perspective: Product leaders can and should exist at all levels of the organization. Regardless of your role, work and behave like the “product executive” and you will be pleased with the results.

Special thanks to Jim Holland for his contributions to this post


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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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Leadership and Product Management

The key to successful product management is working well with other teams. Product managers hold a unique position in the company: they depend on people from other groups, but they do not have managerial authority over those people (in most cases). Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the other team members to do great things. Therefore, a product manager must earn the trust of people in the organization and influence them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Product management — at every level — is a leadership role within the organization.

Here are the key roles that are crucial to your success as a product manager, and why they are important:

  • Engineering/QA: The relationship with the engineering/development team is paramount for product managers. Product managers need to provide direction for how a product should be built, and through your understanding of the market, give them assurance they are building the right product. Give them what they need, then take a step back and trust them to deliver.
  • Customer support: They form the front line to the customers and are always the first to know when things go wrong. They get the most up-to-date, critical information from customers of any group in the company. Work closely with the support team to assure your products meet customer needs.
  • Marketing: When most people hear the word ‘marketing,’ the duties of PR and marcom are how they usually interpret it. It’s crucial for product managers to work with marketing to ensure they understand the new product and know what it’s capable of doing. With this information marketing communicates the product effectively to customers and the market in general. Their questioning and probing of a product’s value is important to its success.
  • Product Marketing: This group is responsible for outbound product communication — i.e. they tell the world what the product is, the features it has and the reasons for making the purchase. Product marketing helps product management understand how the product will be received. Working together, product marketing and product management understand the market, build the right product(s) and effectively communicate to the people in the market.
  • Sales: Without a solid sales team the company will not succeed. The relationship between sales and product management is important (though somewhat difficult a times). The sales people who “get it” will feed critical information back to product management to improve the products, but they will not expect things to change overnight or for their next sale. When the PM makes a concerted effort to have a strong relationship with sales, their product success will increase.
  • Accounting/Finance: This group is often completely ignored by product management. Smart product managers know the value of having allies in the CFO’s office. At the end of the day, if the product doesn’t make money, nothing else matters.
  • Executives: A product manager’s relationship with executives varies depending on the size of the company; the larger the company, the more removed. In big companies product managers need to work effectively with the directors and VPs of the groups listed above. They should know these leaders personally and be able to walk into their office and have a discussion. The same holds true for the CEO and executives at smaller companies. The PM needs to work closely with them and provide solid evidence regarding product direction. You need to evangelize product management to executives and show them — with data and continual successes — the importance of sound product management practices.
Product managers who can work successfully with these (and other) groups in their companies will release great products and have success throughout their careers.

What other roles are important for success in product management? What have you found to be important in your organization? Please leave a comment and let me know about your experience working with other teams.


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Success is not a zero-sum game

In game theory and economic theory, zero-sum describes a situation in which one person’s gain is exactly balanced by another person’s loss. In games like chess, one person wins and the other loses. The win (+1) added to the loss (-1) equals zero.

Life in the business world at times feels like a zero-sum game. As you move up the ladder of success the number of positions decreases and the pressure to succeed increases. The situation can leave you feeling like the only way you can succeed is if someone else fails. While this sentiment may be common, it is wrong. In fact, most successful people freely admit they achieved their success with the help of others. The following resources substantiate my claim that success is not a zero-sum game:

According to Steve Farber — author of Greater Than Yourself — the only way for knowledge to truly lead to power in a person’s life is for that person to give it away. The reason this principle works is seemingly simple: “Everyone will want to work with you. And because of that you’ll be able to accomplish anything you set out to do.” Invest in relationships with other people and be clear on your intentions to make a difference in the lives of others. Promote their welfare, fortunes, success and capacity for achievement. Give away your knowledge, connections, experience, advice, life lessons and confidence. Hold others accountable for their commitments.

In his book The Speed of Trust, author Stephen MR Covey discusses the value that comes from trusting others. Trust is the very basis of the new global economy, and he shows how trust—and the speed at which it is established with clients, employees and constituents—is the essential ingredient for successful people and organizations.

Chris Warner and Don Schmincke, the authors of the book High Altitude Leadership describe what happens when people do not work together. The act of placing a higher priority on one’s own desires or “needs” than on the desires and needs of other people defines the word ‘selfishness.’ Selfish behavior robs companies of profits, reduces job satisfaction and weakens organizations’ culture. Overcoming selfishness is critical to effective leadership. This is done by crafting a compelling saga — language and actions that inspire passion for a strategic result. The compelling saga drives performance, inspires value-based behavior and provides strategic focus.

Author and blogger Art Petty offers 8 suggestions to improve your team’s problem solving skills. Problem solving takes teamwork, and in the process, everyone involved grows and improves. Art writes: “The best learning opportunities in the workplace occur when individuals or teams come face to face with a vexing problem.  These situations provide outstanding growth opportunities and a great chance to generate and implement innovative and creative solutions.”

What examples have you seen where working together and helping others leads everyone involved to increased success?


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers rely on others to help them succeed. The most successful products and services come from organizations where teams collaborate effectively. Product managers are (or should be) the catalyst for this success.


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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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The LOVE of leadership: Experience

The practice of love in the context of leadership is both powerful and necessary. Steve Farber describes this clearly in his audio book Extreme Leadership: In Pursuit of the OS!M. What does it mean to love the people you lead? My definition for the acronym LOVE embodies the actions necessary to cultivate positive behaviors that lead to successful results:

  • L – Listen
  • O – Observe
  • V – Value
  • E – Experience

The word experience functions as both a noun an a transitive verb. Among the noun definitions is: direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge. The verb definition includes: to learn by experience. Both emphasize the need to engage in the activities and efforts of others. They imply action. The act of experiencing connotes an exertion of effort on the part of the leader to work on a level that the people they lead (or manage) will see them functioning at their level. This will help them gain confidence in the motives that drive their leader.

Trust is a key factor of success in every organization. As a leader you need to conduct yourself in a way that the people whom you lead will trust you. By the same token, you need to trust the people you lead to do what they say they will do. As you experience their work you will gain insight into what motivates them to do great things and they will trust you and discern your integrity.

practical-lessons-in-leadership1Leaders who spend time with their people get to know their them on a deeper level. This goes both ways. In their book Practical Lessons in Leadership, the authors Art Petty and Rich Petro provide excellent insight into what attributes make a great leader. Among the most important is getting to know your team. You come to know what your people want. They start seeing you as someone who cares about their ideas and careers. They want to work for you and will give their best effort.

Noting that many managers do a lousy job of spending time with their associates, Petty and Petro point out the importance getting to know them:

Nothing is more important (after understanding your mission) than providing quality time to your associates in both group and one-on-one settings. Your willingness to meet with your team and to invest your time in listening to their ideas, issues and concerns is an important tool for building your leadership credibility. The perception that ‘you care’ is powerful and priceless (p. 80).

Your ability to experience ‘a day in the life of’ the people you lead will differ depending on the size of your organization. In large organizations the CEO cannot meet with and know every employee. However, with new technology and honest effort, leaders can communicate their concern and connect with everyone who works for them.

Take action to experience life on the floor or in the cubicles of the people in your organization. Gain a deep understanding of what they do and what motivates them. Your efforts to feel what your people feel will result in unity of purpose and energy in your organization.

This is the last post in the series The LOVE of leadership. Your comments, critiques and analysis are welcome. Please leave a comment with your take on the role love plays in leadership.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers work closely with people from different parts (i.e. teams) of the organization. When you interact with other teams, make the effort to experience what they do and why they do it. Work diligently to understand how things look from their vantage point. And when you make decisions, keep in mind how the results will influence other people. Love the people you work with and inspire them to succeed.


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Leaders are mentors

One of the key tenets of leadership is the need to pass on the knowledge and experience to others. Most great leaders throughout history have made it a priority to grow and develop other leaders who can come in, take the reins and lead more effectively.

A mentor is a trusted counselor or guide, a tutor, a coach. A mentor cares more about helping others than getting credit. A mentor seeks to make the world better through helping individuals and inspiring them to help others. In the context of helping others, a mentor seeks to:

  • Guide: Mentors teach others how to learn, how to find ways to do things themselves. When you ask your mentor questions, he or she does not give you the answers, but guides you to find the answer yourself. They teach you how to be successful by helping you become self-successful.
  • Inspire: Mentors motivate. They have high optimism and a love for life. Their energy is contagious. Mentors lead people to succeed through their own success and by encouraging others to believe they can also succeed. They set a pattern to follow.
  • Build: Mentors develop others. They provide opportunities and direction. They create structure and process to channel the growth and development of those they lead. Their goals are “other” oriented; not wanting the glory or limelight themselves, they foster the growth and success of others.

Make it a priority to find someone for whom you can be a mentor. Your efforts will help that person learn and grow. Giving your time and knowledge to others will help you develop your leadership skills.

Leaders are mentors. Mentors are leaders.

The Product Management Perspective: A key opportunity (if not specific job requirement) of a product manager is to inspire people on their team to be successful. They build products that delight their customers. They do not simply see themselves as the keeper of requirements, but the leaders of teams and causes which tie directly back to their products.

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