Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Does loving your job make you a better leader?

I recently attended a keynote address by Dr. Craig Manning, sports performance coach and author of The Fearless Mind. He talked about how 10% of our brain is the conscious, and 90% is the subconscious. As we practice and perform, the things we learn in our conscious mind flow into our subconscious and result in our naturally doing what we train our mind to do.

What struck me the most was his emphasis on the importance of loving what you do, and focusing on what you love. That is the key to becoming great at your chosen vocation.

This experience made me think of a blog series I called The LOVE of Leadership. Here the word ‘love’ is used as an acronym that describes the behaviors that, if practiced, bring out the best in the people you lead:

As you strengthen these competencies—so they come out naturally from your subconscious—you will see a noticeable improvement in the success of your people and your organization.

To learn more about the science behind these powerful principles I highly recommend Dr. Manning’s book The Fearless Mind.


The Product Management Perspective: Most product managers I know love their job. This helps them work more effectively with people from other teams. Your love for your job and products will communicate a positive message to the teams you work with and the customers who use your products.


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Guest Post: How to Encourage Your Team Members to Stand Up and Lead

By Andrea Gordon

To be successful in today’s market, team members need to step up and be ready to take a leadership role. It is not easy to develop leadership skills in others, however, so it’s very important to understand that some people do not share your goals and aspirations. Keep an open mind and learn to use varied techniques to inspire different team members to stand up and lead. 

1.    Challenge – Issue a challenge. (In today’s market environment, you probably have many challenges to issue!) Some people need a specific challenge to motivate them. By laying down a challenge, you also create a very clear and measurable goal for a staff member to achieve.

2.    Appeal to noble motives – Many employees think that their work does not make a difference. By appealing to a team’s noble motives, you can increase morale while also setting higher standards for your staff members.

3.    Be sympathetic – Never tell someone that they are wrong. Even when you disagree, listen and be empathetic to another person’s ideas and desires.

4.    Evidence – Back up your ideas with proof. By providing evidence, you can give instant credibility to your ideas. If you have evidence, even staff members who have a different perspective will take notice.

5.    Listen – Listen to what your staff members have to say. Some employees may not want to reach top corporate positions; instead, they may simply be content if their opinions and ideas are valued.

6.    Ask questions – Instead of giving direct orders, ask questions to guide your staff members to think through the issues and come up with their own solutions.

7.    Value your staff – Make your staff members feel genuinely important. Faced with the market challenges today, your employees must be reassured that their contribution and leadership DOES have a huge impact on the company’s survival, stability, and growth.

Andrea Gordon and Dale Carnegie Training want to contribute to the online conversation about leadership and business management with the blogging community. Dale Carnegie Training was founded in 1912 by one of America’s most influential speakers and leaders. Today the company continues to work with individuals and businesses to build leadership, public speaking, and management skills that result in success.


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Leadership is a relationship

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary lists several definitions for the word relationship. The term is generally used to denote family ties, but it’s also used as a state of connecting or binding participants. Actions that bring people together and bind them in a common cause are key to building effective relationships.

I was first introduced to the statement ‘leadership is a relationship’ in the book The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. The authors go into great detail about the importance of building camaraderie among the people you are leading. When you have a meaningful relationship with another person you work more effectively together. You have a common goal and a consistent purpose. Your efforts are channeled toward the same common outcome.

Effective leaders recognize the importance of building solid relationships. They spend time focusing their efforts in key areas that will build connections with the people they lead. Here are three simple tools that great leaders use to improve their working relationships:

  • 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.
  • Understand: They appreciate what other people do and value their contributions. Leaders are not only open to new ideas but are also eager to learn new things. They know that taking the time to understand where people are coming from will pay dividends in the long run.
  • Acknowledge: Leaders acknowledge the contributions of others. They are quick to give credit to others for their successes. They celebrate achievements and delight in the accomplishments of their team. They know that people will be more motivated to work hard and try new things if their leader acknowledges their efforts.

What are you doing to build effective relationships?


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers depend on others in engineering, marketing, sales, etc. for their success. This dependence makes building relationships essential. People are assets; the only way to effectively work with others is to build positive, effective working relationships. Listen to them, consider their circumstances, show empathy, then move forward and make decisions that will be beneficial for everyone in your organization.


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Book Review: Lead Well and Prosper

lead-well-and-prosper“‘I don’t have time’ is the most frequently used excuse for incompetence.” According to Nick McCormick, author of LEAD WELL AND PROSPER: 15 Successful Strategies for Becoming a Good Manager, by focusing on specific strategies you will use your time more effectively and improve your leadership capabilities.

Nick points out that management is in a state of crisis. Regardless of the numerous books on leadership and management, “we managers can’t seem to get it right.” This problem has lead to a cottage industry built upon ridiculing management — a comic strip, a TV show and numerous other outlets.

The book highlights 15 successful strategies to help managers improve their effectiveness:

  1. Adopt a serving attitude
  2. Teach
  3. Provide honest and timely feedback
  4. Share information
  5. Listen
  6. Treat people like human beings
  7. Set goals, plan and execute
  8. Learn
  9. Do the right thing
  10. Embrace the uncomfortable
  11. Clean up your own house first
  12. Persist
  13. Do what you say you’ll do
  14. Always follow up
  15. Plan your week

Lead Well and Prosper is a quick read with valuable information. The strategies are not new and have been written about in much more detail by numerous authors. However, the book’s organization makes it a valuable tool to help struggling organizations improve the capabilities of their management teams. If your organization is mired in mediocrity, your people will benefit by reading this book.

The book is organized into short chapters by strategy. Each chapter opens with dialog from fictional characters that help the reader understand how not to apply the topic for that chapter. At the end of each chapter is a concise list of “dos” and “don’ts” that apply to the strategy, and immediate actions the reader can take to apply what was taught. With these iconic helps you can easily grasp the main themes in under an hour.

The Product Management Perspective: Like other leadership books reviewed here, Lead Well and Prosper provides useful direction for product managers working hard to lead their teams to success. Nearly all the strategies can be applied to making you more effective in your work as a product manager, and building your credibility as a leader. It’s worth a self-evaluation to assure you are doing the basics (as described in this book) well.


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The LOVE of leadership: Observe

As discussed in a previous post, it might make some uncomfortable to use the word ‘love’ in the context of leadership. However, 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, and includes the following actions:

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

tuned-in2A key to success in any vocation is gaining deep insight into the market(s) you are serving. Product managers and marketers know the importance of understanding their market. In their book Tuned In, authors Craig Stull, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott offer the following advice:

Product managers, executives, and marketers regularly meet with people in the marketplace and observe how those people do business or go about their lives. These observations provide insight into the full scope of the problems and the usage requirements and significant obstacles to adoption of any proposed solution. The most important thing they do is to live in and observe the prospect’s world.” (Emphasis added)

In the context of leadership, you want to gain a deep insight into the people you serve. Observing behaviors and actions leads to understanding. These observations come during meetings, at events, and by spending time one-on-one with the people in your organization. A tight correlation exists between listening and observing. As a leader, the two actions combine to strengthen relationships and build trust among those whom you lead. When you observe others, practice the following actions:

  • Learn specifics: Watch how people act. Determine why they do certain things in a given circumstance. Learn as much as you can about what drives people to the successful behaviors promoted by your organization. The more you learn the better prepared you are to increase success.
  • Show intent: Be honest in your desires to learn about the people you serve. The last thing you want is for anyone to think you have ulterior motives. Fix in your mind the end goal of truly understanding the people and let that behavior show through during your discovery process.
  • Develop trust: Take action that will show others you mean what you say. Encourage them to share their feelings and ideas and show genuine interest in who they are and what they believe in. Show confidence in their ability to do what they say. Be true to your words so they will trust what you say and what you do.

Successfully observing others and understanding what drives them will require effort. Your love and appreciation for them will increase, your organizational effectiveness will increase, and your bottom line will grow.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to love their customers. One of the best ways to understand what motivates customers is to observe how they use your products. Watch what they do, listen to what they say and use that information to improve your products. Remember this great advice from Greg Strouse: don’t fall in love with your products or technology. Love your customers and what you can do to help them succeed.


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The LOVE of leadership: Listen

As discussed in an previous post, it might make some uncomfortable to use the word ‘love’ in the context of leadership. However, 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? Many applications exist and all are important. My definition for the acronym LOVE embodies the actions necessary to cultivate positive behaviors that lead to successful results, and includes the following actions:

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

The action word listen holds the key to understanding other people. By listening to others you appreciate what they are going through and in time learn to identify with them. When you listen with real intent, people start to trust you and they open up. Listening opens up the portals of communication and exchange through conversation.

Crucial Conversations

The book Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high — written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler — provides excellent direction on the importance listening has on effective dialog. They advocate the following actions to improve the effectiveness of listening:

  • Be sincere: To discover important facts and stories you need to invite people to open up. When you invite people to share their views, you have to be sincere. When you ask people to open up, be prepared to listen.
  • Be curious: Regardless of the behavior others exhibit, you need to show interest. If they are mad, ask questions (in a nice way) to try and get to the root of the problem. When tensions are high let curiosity, not adrenaline, shape your behavior.
  • Be patient: As a leader you encounter many different personalities; some are easier to get along with than others. Exercise patience when dealing with other people. Encourage them to share their feelings and ideas and show genuine interest in who they are and what they believe in.

Effective listening requires effort. It’s an important step in understanding others and convincing them you truly care. The 2:1 ratio fits nicely: listen twice as much as you talk, and listen with twice as much intent.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to love their customers. One of the best ways to show customers you care about them is to truly listen to them. Too often product managers hear the words coming out of a customer’s mouth and immediately start talking about how their product will solve the problem, rather than listening to find the root of the problem and seeking answers. Most product managers understand that customers are not always right. However, it is always in your best interest to listen to them and understand what they are saying.


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The LOVE of leadership

The English word ‘love’ has at least four different meanings: strong affection, warm attachment, attraction based on sexual feelings and a score of zero in tennis. Compared to many other languages, the English word ‘love’ is passive. The Greek word agapé (noun) describes a more unconditional love rooted in behavior toward others without regard to their due; more action-based than the English word. The Greek definition most closely describes the feelings and actions leaders engage in; the other meanings can no doubt be pursued on other blogs.

It might seem odd to speak of love in the context of leadership. However, if you have ever read or listened to any of the works of Steve Farber you will understand the connection. Several years back Steve released an audio book called Extreme Leadership: In Pursuit of the OS!M. In this excellent recording Steve delves into the details of what it means to be a leader. He describes extreme leadership as “the dynamic interplay of fear and love, two of the most powerful forces in the human experience.” Extreme leadership is something you choose on purpose, with the intent of accomplishing something beyond what most people are willing to do. As you consider the word love in this context you will come to appreciate its importance to leadership.

What does it mean to love the people you lead? What are the behaviors or actions you should practice to bring out the best in the people you lead? After listening to Steve’s Extreme Leadership and contemplating what I have observed in leaders, I developed an acronym that embodies the actions necessary to cultivate positive behaviors that lead to successful results. These concepts are not new but are hopefully organized in a way that will be easy to remember and use in your daily activities. The acronym LOVE stands for the following actions:

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

These attributes promote a healthy environment and motivate people to their best and most productive activities.

Rather than writing an extremely long blog post to address these actions thoroughly, I will deal with each individually in upcoming posts, and will include the links to each post here. Please leave your comments and let me know the attributes you have seen in great leaders.

[Update]

The LOVE of leadership: Listen

The LOVE of leadership: Observe

The LOVE of leadership: Value

The LOVE of Leadership: Experience


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to love their team and customers. Sure, it sounds weird, but in the context of the way love is described above, it makes perfect sense. You need to spend time with the people in development, sales, operations and other groups that share responsibility for the success of your products. You need to value your customers, work to understand their needs and anticipate their future buying habits (this applies to non-customers as well). The efforts you put forth and the actions you take will send a strong message to others about who you really are as the product manager and how you feel about them.

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