Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Leadership and perspective

Having the right perspective creates opportunities. It gives you the ability to see things you hadn’t seen and understand people in ways you hadn’t thought about. It helps you focus on new ways to be more effective.

I read an interesting article by former NFL quarterback Steve Young about the perspective of a 6-foot quarterback. He talks about the difficulties of finding open receivers (to throw to). He remembers being sacked for a loss. His coach said, “Steve, Jerry Rice was open. You were protected. Why didn’t you throw the ball?” Steve said, “I didn’t see him” to which the coach replied, “you’d better start seeing him.” Steve goes on to state the following on perspective:

It was really all about perspective, or lack of perspective, and how I had to learn to throw it blind. I wasn’t going to grow. I couldn’t put springs on my feet. T/here were no stilts, no high heels. The perspective was what it was. So I dealt with it by saying to myself, ‘I just saw Jerry Rice. I know where he’s going. I’m going to throw it anyway.”

He learned to trust his receivers to go where they needed to go and trusted in himself to throw to where the receiver was expecting the pass. As a leader you rarely can see the future clearly, but you still need to make decisions and move forward trusting they will work out for your benefit.

It’s important to review your perspective on issues and make sure it’s aligned with what you want your organization to achieve.


The Product Management Perspective: I added this section (more than four years ago) for the purpose of linking leadership principles to product management best practices. Effective product management is intricately tied to leadership; in the absence of effective leadership, product managers rarely succeed at getting the right products to the right markets at the right time.


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Guest Post: A Leader’s Perspective on Failure

By Tim Eyre

Our culture has become increasingly obsessed with perfection. You see it everywhere. It’s pervasive in the entertainment industry, as depictions of celebrities contribute to an unattainable idea of what beauty really is. It also permeates the culture of higher education, as applicants vying for spots in prestigious graduate business programs are often made to feel that an A- in Economics 101 might as well have been an F. But in the business world and beyond, employers and employees alike should abandon their traditional notions of success and embrace the idea that an “F” every now and then isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact (dare I say it?), failure can even be a good thing.

Leaders today are well served to appreciate the positive aspects of failure. The following tips can help us adjust our mindsets and accept failure as a part of the process of success, rather than a defeat:

  1. Shifting Focus: As mention above, in many facets of our society, the prevailing point of view equates success with perfection. By those strict standards, Edison could have been derided as a colossal disappointment based on his initial attempts (and, thus, you very well might be reading this article etched on paper by candlelight). As Edison aptly recognized, if we ever want to move forward, we have to take chances. Invariably, by taking chances, the best of us will fall flat our faces sometimes. When we do, we have to stand up straight and move forward, taking note of why the last process didn’t work, why the last strategy was not well received, or why the last device didn’t function properly. The lessons learned through focusing on the process rather than just the end result can help you emerge as a risk taker and leader in innovation.
  1. Get Management Onboard: Particularly in the business world, managers should take the lead in creating a culture where employees are encouraged to explore their creative impulses. If the boss appears to embrace a trailblazing working style, employees will feel comfortable taking risks. But if employers adopt a less enthusiastic approach to innovation, employees will adhere to the status quo, thereby possibly missing opportunities for advancement. An environment where managers furnish employees with freedom to be creative, freedom to take their time and explore all the nuances of the problem, and freedom to think outside the box will undoubtedly translate into fertile ground for progress. Sure, employees who have been freed from the constraints of our perfection-obsessed society may suffer some scrapes and bruises along the way, but if we think of these obstacles as minor setbacks instead of defeats, we can revolutionize the way some companies do business.
  1. Reward Good Failures: Not only should managers permit employees to experiment in finding solutions to problems, they should also reward creative thought. Even if an inventive idea does not lead directly to the answer to the question, awarding provocative thought can create a whole culture of progressive workers.
  1. Punish Bad Failures: While managers should reward employees when they fail in pursuing a new idea in a smart, calculated manner, all failures do not deserve praise. To be sure, all failures are not created equally. Failures that result from a lack of proper planning are unacceptable. Failures that involve an abuse of resources should not be tolerated. And employers should take action when an employee’s failure results from recycling old theories that have already been dis-proven. A real leader must understand the difference between a good failure and a bad failure.
  1. Take Time to Reflect: True leaders don’t just accept failure and move on. Instead, they take time to consider the implications of the failure and why the idea did not work. Never losing sight of the ultimate goal will help you conceive a perspective that views these bumps in the road as a part of the process and as motivation to keep going.

In his role in the self-storage industry, Tim Eyre helps customers care for their cherished belongings that must be put in storage. Tim regularly visits his facilities including a San Jose self storage center. He also was recently meeting customers and staff at the San Bernardino self storage center.


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Book Review: Greater Than Yourself

greater-than-yourself“The real pay-off comes in the giving of the knowledge, not the keeping of it.” The long-standing saying ‘knowledge is power’ has been used in many contexts. According to Steve Farber — author of GREATER THAN YOURSELF: The Ultimate Lesson of True Leadership — 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.”

Greater Than Yourself follows the increasingly popular genre known as the “business parable.” What sets this book apart from others in the same genre is the main character: Steve Farber himself. Steve wraps himself and his love of guitars into the story from the beginning in combination with a cast of fictional characters that add color to the story. He draws you in to his adventure of finding the original owner of his new guitar, and through the adventure teaches you the power that comes from helping another person to become greater than yourself. The story is so compelling it keeps you reading and the combination of real and fictional characters helps you learn how to apply the principles to your own life.

The story gives character and life to a principle of truth that has existed for centuries: the more you lift others the higher you will go. This concept comes to life through the greater than yourself (GTY) framework and is fleshed out through several examples of GTY projects. The following elements combine to create the GTY framework:

  • Expand yourself: “You expand yourself in order to give yourself to others.” Shift your perspective from isolated to connected, from alone to interdependent, from me to us. Take a personal inventory of the things you do well, experiences and life-lessons that have taught propelled you to your current position and determine what you can to improve the quality and depth of your current knowledge.
  • Give yourself: “Act instead of just watching others act or hearing about it in the news.” ‘Philanthropize’ your life. 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.
  • Replicate yourself: “Pay it forward, and demand that those you teach pay it forward, as well.” Ensure that your GTY efforts expand far beyond your own relationships. Challenge everyone you know to practice GTY in their professional and personal lives. Share your successes and failures with others so they can learn from your experience.

Greater Than Yourself combines a interesting story backed by a compelling idea that will absolutely make a difference. The story inspires you to keep reading and the principles come to life in such a way that you can truly grasp how to apply them in your own life. If you want to “lift all the boats” around you, read Greater Than Yourself, apply its principles personally and make someone else greater than yourself.

You can follow Steve Farber’s own GTY project at greaterthanyourelf.com, and if you’re brave enough you can add your own story to the site.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers become leaders by helping others. Using Greater Than Yourself as a model, product managers can truly build peers and people on other teams, resulting in great products that people want to buy.


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Book Review: Work The System

“If it is true ‘a life’s mechanical functioning is a result of the systems that compose it,’ then getting what one wants in life lies in continuously improving those systems.” This is the heart of the book WORK THE SYSTEM: The Simple Mechanics of Working Less and Making More.

Work The SystemEarly in his career the author, Sam Carpenter, worked 100+ hour weeks at his telephone answering service company, was struggling to support his family (in multiple ways) and was on a potentially devastating downward spiral. At one point he and his two teenage sons lived in his work office because they could not afford another place to live. Then he reached a point where he did not know how he was going to make payroll and keep his business going.

He lay awake one night, nearly at the end of his rope, and two simple questions came to him: “What have I been doing wrong all these years?” and “Since the end is coming, what is there to lose if I abandon past assumptions and look at things from a completely different angle?” This is when it struck him that his company (Centratel) was nothing more than an assemblage of sequential systems. Through this experience Carpenter developed a set of processes and methods that drastically reduced the amount of time required at work and significantly increased his income.

When you stop and think about it, life is a system of systems. The body is comprised of many systems that work together. Automobiles, computers and other machines are composed of smaller sub-systems. Nature contains many systems working together, sometimes with powerful results. Work The System helps you see life through a different lens and see the possibilities in a new light:

You will see life for what it is, a collection of individual linear systems; then in this clarity, you will extract and perfect these systems one by one before re-inserting each back into your life. The huge and wonderful irony of these machinations is that peace and prosperity silently enter through the side door….”

After a significant introduction to the principles, Carpenter delves into specific processes and methods that help you apply the principles. He describes three key documents, the Work The System Documentation:

Strategic Objective: A one-page document that provides overall direction for your business and your personal life. “Caution: this is not a job for a committee. It’s a job for you, the leader.” This document gives direction and reduces churn, both individually and within an organization.
General Operating Principles: A two or three page document that provides guidelines for decision making. Carpenter’s (Centratel’s) document contains 30 principles that form the basis of the things they do every day. “These principles are what you believe, and they will crawl out of their hiding places unannounced.”
Working Procedures: A longer document; a specific collection of protocols that outline how the systems of your business or your job will operate. Carpenter cites the specific example of their check deposit process as one procedure. With this working procedure, Centratel drastically reduced the time it takes to process payments.

The book contains a well-though-out combination of quotes, perceptive side notes and end-of-chapter stories that weave the principles into clear, actionable steps. Carpenter drives home a philosophy he call “outside-and-slightly-elevated,” taking a step back and looking at looking at a problem (or opportunity) from a different perspective. This perspective helps you understand how to apply the principles to your own situation.

The book’s third section covers varied topics such as not becoming too pedantic, exercising quiet courage, increasing consistency and using the “prime time” of your day effectively. It is a complex book; not an easy read. You will need to spend more time reading and thinking on this one than the average business book. Some parts will challenge you to keep going. However, it is well worth the read overall. The time invested in improving (or working) your systems has the potential to change your life significantly.

My favorite quotes from the book: “Procrastination–the lack of quiet courage–will ruin your life if you let it” p191.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers face an interesting challenge: they are (usually) responsible for the success of their products, yet the people they rely on to get their products successfully out the door do not (usually) report to them. This situation lends itself to planning and preparation. It probably does not make sense for the product manager to write the documents described here for his/her team. However, the principle herein will help every product manager improve his/her effectiveness.


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The product management perspective

You have probably noticed during the last month the new feature at the end of each blog posting called “The Product Management Perspective.” I’ve added this new feature for the purpose of linking leadership principles to product management best practices. Effective product management is intricately tied to leadership; in the absence of effective leadership, product managers rarely succeed at getting the right products to the right markets at the right time. So the product management perspective section with each post will continue to highlight principles that connect the main point(s) of each post with effective product management.

Since this post IS about the product management perspective it would seem redundant to add the feature this time. Instead I want to highlight a few of the great posts from other bloggers to give you additional perspective on product management:

  1. Career Growth and Product Management by Art Petty. Art writes consistently great posts on leadership, and this post decribes key skills that product managers must focus on if they want to “crack into the ranks of senior leadership,” namely: leadership, strategic thinking, communication skills and mastering the art of diplomacy. This is a great post for any discipline, but especially for product managers.
  2. Lack of complaints does not equal success by Jeff Lash. In his distinctive form, Jeff poses a statement of how a bad product manager acts and then contrasts it with how a good product manager handles the same situation. This post suggests that good product managers seek out feedback rather than wait for complaints.
  3. The Product Management Question Corner by Ivan Chalif. Ivan has added this new feature to his Productologist blog where he interviews a product management professional to get their opinions, insights and experiences on a wide variety of product managment topics.
  4. Is the SaaS Market Broken, or Just Efficient? by Scott Sehlhorst. Scott discusses the impact SaaS is having in the software world. He conludes that although there are inherent risks with SaaS, smart companies (and product managers I would add) will seize SaaS as an opportunity “to build a better moustrap.”
  5. Agile/Scrum – Reality Check by Saeed. This is an in-depth look at the world of Agile and Scrum through the eyes of a product manager. If your development teams have moved to Agile/Scrum, or if they are thinking about it, you need to read this post and its links.
  6. Friday funny: Robin and the car that wouldn’t start by Steve Johnson. This is a flat-out funny. In his characteristic way, Steve relates a funny story with a principle incredibly important to product management: communication. It will make you think about the way you listen to and communicate with customers and colleagues.


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Blog update

Several weeks ago I ran across The Tuned In Calculator, a tool developed to grade blogs (and webs sites with RSS feed) on how tuned in they are to their audiences. It was developed based on principles promoted in the book Tuned In and scores sites on a 0 – 10 scale based on the language used on the blog. The more “I, we, me” focused language the lower the score. The more “you, your, their” and otherwise customer-focused language used, the higher the score.

After rating my blog with the calculator, and comparing them to others I read regularly, I decided it was time for an update. Consequently, over the past weekend I updated the About page to more clearly state the blog’s focus. I also added a more complete personal biography to give you a better idea who I am what drives me. I also added a Resources page and a Contact link. These new resources will more clearly set the focus moving forward.

I want to call out a few of the bloggers’ biographies from which I picked up ideas: Jeff Lash, Art Petty, Peter Ganza, Kirk Weisler, Dr. Paul Jenkins, Steve Johnson, Ivan Challif, David Meerman Scott, Stewart Rogers and Gopal Shenoy.

My blog has posts focusing on leadership and others directed at product management, with a number that focus on both. Moving forward it will continue to focus on leadership principles that are generally applicable, with a new summary feature called The Product Management Perspective, where I will apply the principles directly to product management.

Disclosure: As you’ll see in my bio, I’m now working with Ryma as a Product Management Consultant and now have a working relationship with Peter Ganza and Stewart Rogers. While I’m confident the ideas expressed in this blog are in concert with the Product Management View, the views and opinions are mine and the Lead on Purpose blog is independent.


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Leader or manager?

Almost every organization has managers; people who are responsible for maintaining the structure of the organization and who focus on the bottom line. They are typically responsible for the day-to-day efforts and errands, and keep things moving along. Having great managers is critical to the success of any organization.

Most organizations also have leaders. They are often the founders of the company or are in positions of high visibility. They are the innovators and the people who are up on stage at conferences talking about new ideas and new ways of doing things. They have a long-range perspective.

Can the manager and the leader be the same person? I found a post by George Ambler that discusses the topic of leaders vs. managers…are they different? George has compiled a compelling list of ideas and information that helps to clarify leadership and management.

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