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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Leaders take action

Great leaders understand the responsibility of doing things right, making sure they’re accomplishing the goals they’ve set out for themselves and their organizations. Doing things right is a core to success. However, if you focus too much on planning, and don’t get to work making things happen, you might miss the bigger opportunity.

General George S. Patton summed up this concept nicely when he said: “A good plan executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Planning is a good thing and it’s always necessary. However, if you focus too much on planning you will never achieve the success you’re really looking for.

Steve Johnson – strategic product management coach and storyteller – wrote about the importance of getting things done in a recent post: “There’s doing it right, and there’s doing it perfectly. You want to focus on the former and not the latter.”

Take a look at how you plan, and then take a hard look at how you execute. If you focus more on the planning than the executing, make it a priority to change, to focus on the latter.


The Product Management Perspective: Agile development has become an important software development methodology. While it doesn’t make sense for every product development group to use Agile, the idea of iterating between planning and development can (and should) be applied regardless. If writing a lengthy PRD makes sense, do it, but do it quickly and get it to development so they can start working on it. Don’t get caught up in having the “perfect PRD” – it doesn’t exist. Take time to plan, but get moving quickly. Your customers will be the beneficiaries.


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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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Creating value in 2011

Every New Year brings new opportunities. Something about turning over the calendar causes people to take a hard look at what they can do to improve on their current situation. Ultimately, we all want to create more value — for ourselves, for the organizations we associate with and for the people we care about. 

The word value has many meanings. The one most applicable to this discussion is “relative worth, merit or importance.” The more we improve in these areas, the more value we create. Our efforts will build over time and improve our self-confidence. Now that we’re off and running in 2011, let’s explore a few ways to increase our value:

  • Improve skills and knowledge: Instead of hunkering down and running below the radar, take specific actions to improve your skills. Look for opportunities for training. Read books. Read blogs. Make an effort to learn new skills and practice them as much as you can in your current job. Remember these cogent words of Eric Hoffer: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
  • Help others: One of the best antidotes to self-pity and fear is to help other people. When you make the effort to assist someone else to become better at what they do, you become better yourself. When you help others your confidence grows and you increase your value to those around you.
  • Develop trust: People naturally want to surround themselves with people they trust. Developing trust takes time and consistent effort. Trust goes two ways: you need to behave in such a way that people will trust you will do what you say. And equally important, you need to trust others. Developing relationships of trust increases your value.
  • Believe in yourself: As your skills increase, you gain more confidence; you begin to understand your significance to your organization. Trials and difficult circumstances can diminish these feelings, but they should not. Believing in yourself, your skills, and your ability to succeed — without becoming arrogant — is a good thing. Confidence is key. Never forget the people who have helped you increase your value along the way.
  • Work yourself out of the job: This one may not make sense at face value. If you work yourself out of the current job, what will you do? The idea is to work effectively and close the loop on what you are doing. Think in terms of projects: each one has a beginning and an end. You plan what you are going to do, work at it and when it’s finished you move on to the next project. When your project is successful, it’s easier to land the next project. Jobs are the same way. Make your work so effective and make it run so well that anyone could step in and take over. As you do that you will automatically make yourself more valuable to your company, and they will have no choice but to promote you or find something more challenging for you to do.
If you’ve been hunkered down over the past year, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone in 2011. Let’s get out there and create value!


The Product Management Perspective: Jim Holland has a great article about making 2011 the year of product management. As a product manager you are in a unique position to create value. The PM role lends itself to working with many people in different parts of the company and with customers and others external to the organization. Practicing the five actions listed above will increase your value to your company and accelerate your career growth. And when you work yourself out of the product management position, perhaps you’ll find yourself in an executive seat.


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Five questions to ask each week

I ran across a great audio blog post by Mark Sanborn where he poses five questions we should ask ourselves at the beginning of each week. These questions serve as a guide to live by design and not just react to things as they come. They will improve your personal and professional situation.

Here are the questions:

  1. What will I learn this week? Identify what you need to learn, want to learn and how you will learn it. Growth and development rarely happen accidentally.
  2. What relationship will I improve? What relationship needs repair or nurture? Think in terms of both who and how.
  3. What problem will I address or avoid? Look for a problem that is looming on your horizon and head it off.
  4. What opportunity will I seize? Too often we’re fixated on our problems and miss our opportunities. Look for opportunities in the midst of challenges, struggles and difficulties; they’re out there.
  5. How will I increase my value? Think in terms of what you can do to increase your value to your employer, your customer, to your family. Providing more value than you consume makes you a producer.

To improve your business or life, ask yourself these questions and then act on the answers. “Do business by design rather than by default.”


The Product Management Perspective: We will improve our effectiveness and our ability to work with others by giving careful thought to these questions. As product leaders we need to plan and then move forward with focus and energy.


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Battle of the bloggers

Tomorrow I have the opportunity to speak at the AIPMM Battle of the Bloggers and tell the people why Lead On Purpose is the top product management blog. Given the level of competition among the participating bloggers and the many other great blogs “out there” it’s a daunting task to say the least. In preparing for my brief (~5 minute) speech I’ve come up with a few reasons why Lead On Purpose is important to the product management community:

  • Promoting leadership in product management: The blog was started with the intent to promote leadership practices that will help product managers work effectively with people: customers, partners and most especially, their co-workers on whom they depend for success.
  • On Purpose: Product managers have to be leaders (in the true sense of the word) because they have the responsibility on their shoulders to get products out the door on time, with high quality and under budget. BUT, they do not manage or have authority over the people they depend on for success. Therefore, they need to be leaders and do it on purpose.
  • Features of the blog: The success of Lead on Purpose comes from its focus on the need for strong leadership principles. The Product Management Perspective applies the leadership principles taught (in a given post) to product management. Guest bloggers have added tremendous value. I continue to learn from books I read and share that knowledge in book reviews. In January I started the PM Pulse, a separate blog where I post interviews with the thought leaders in product management and marketing.
  • Perl of wisdom: The thing that keeps me writing is a love for learning. My favorite quote on leadership is this from Eric Hoffer: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” The effort, time and money we spend on learning and filling our minds with new opportunities will benefit us exponentially.

Blogging can be a lonely proposition; you put yourself “out there” for the world to see and judge, never knowing for sure what people really think. But then you get that comment or link or direct message from a reader who appreciates what you’ve written – then it’s all worth it.

Thank you — readers of Lead On Purpose — you are the reason I write.


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Don’t hesitate

Just do itThe famous Nike advertising campaign taught us to just do it! When an opportunity arises, it’s a wise person who takes advantage.

Why does it seem so difficult, so risky at times to jump at new opportunities? Perhaps it’s the fear of what we might lose or what might happen if we take a risk. Dr. Wayne Dyer, prolific author and speaker, shared this insight into personal opportunity:

You’ll seldom experience regret for anything that you’ve done. It is what you haven’t done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. Do it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savor it. Value your present moments. Using them up in any self-defeating ways means you’ve lost them forever.

This same philosophy also applies to companies and organizations. Leaders who understand the markets they sell to and take advantage of new opportunities will receive the same rewards Dr. Dyer expresses for individuals. Leaders must be wise; however, those that look for and take advantage of new, favorable-looking circumstances will reap the rewards.

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