Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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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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Forward progress

A key axiom for today’s leaders is that forward progress comes through hard work and persistence. This applies not only to your progress as a leader, but also to the progress of the people you lead. The ups and downs of daily interaction can inspire or drain, depending on your attitude and perseverance. To make progress you have to look at each situation and determine what you can do improve to your success given the circumstances. As Tom Peters says so frankly, “Only those who constantly retool themselves stand a chance of staying employed in the years ahead.”

You need to look at your situation and determine whether you are progressing in the direction you want to go. If not, make the changes necessary and start moving in the right direction. The following quote by Frederick Williams provides additional insight: “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks that will help you move forward in the direction you want to go.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you need to focus on your products’ direction and success; you need to collect the right market input and turn it into great products. At the same time you also need to focus on your career and your personal progress. With the right attitude you can do both at the same time.


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The LOVE of leadership: Value

As discussed in a previous post, 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 ‘value’ has many meanings and is often used as a noun, suggesting worth, importance or significance. In the context of the love of leadership, however, ‘value’ is a verb, meaning the act of appreciating, respecting or esteeming others. It connotes a desire to understand others and give regard to the qualities they possess, while at the same time having patience with their shortcomings.

think-big-act-smallIn the context of leadership, you need to show appreciation for the people you serve. Attaching importance to their positive traits and actions becomes a powerful motivation for progress. The book Think Big, Act Small by Jason Jennings provides great insight into specific actions that help companies keep the start-up spirit alive. “We think big but we act small. When big companies start acting big they get in trouble.”

The principles espoused in this book remind us of the great importance of getting the right people in the company and ensuring they feel appreciation, respect and value from their leaders. Mr. Jennings states:

While studying the nine companies that do a better job of growing revenues than all other companies, we were constantly reminded that each has taken on the modest and humble personality of its leadership. These are truly inspired, collegial, group endeavors where the momentary accomplishments of individuals are overshadowed by the consistent, long-term achievement of a team that’s gently and deftly kept on course by a humble leader (p. 25).

The actions of these leaders inspire great results from the people in their organizations. Do your actions elicit similar behavior?

Value the people in your organization — who they are, what they do and why they give so much — and in turn those people will create great value for your organization.


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 understand what they do and why they do it. Value their efforts. When they feel that you care about their contributions they will trust you and will work hard to achieve a common goal. Love the people you work with and inspire them to succeed.


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Moving forward

People go through many stages in their lives. Nobody is immune from difficulty. One of the key traits of great leaders is their ability to move forward despite the difficulties they face. Not only are they inspired to move forward themselves, but they also inspire others to advance with them.

Many methods exist to help people improve. Art Petty writes about the importance of creating a Personal Quality Program as a compelling way to make real progress in your business and personal life. In his post Art gives a brief history and definition of a Personal Quality Program and how it helps people become better individuals as well as leaders. After implementing this program, a group of MBA students came up with three conclusions, one of which resonates in this context:

Identify processes from your personal and professional life that you would like to improve.  These processes should be measurable and with purpose.  Process improvement should ultimately benefit you and/or your customer[s].  Focus on no more than 10 of these processes at a time.

The act of moving forward (progressing) requires action and effort. Putting together a plan — to help you progress to the next level — is a smart way to get started.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers almost always have more work than hours in the day to do it all, yet the pressure to release quality, market-driven products on time never ceases. To ensure that you continually progress as a product manager — meeting both the needs of your company and your own personal growth objectives — you should create specific objectives, write them down and abide by them. Think of it as a roadmap for your career.


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Leadership and learning

A recent post on the HubSpot blog, Rick Burns suggests the most important internet marketing skill is learning. Rick makes a point that no one is an internet marketing expert yet, but the ones who are trying and learning along the way are quickly becoming the experts.

Leadership and Learning

If you were to choose the most important characteristic or aspect of leadership, what would it be? Is it possible to determine the (single) most important aspect of leadership? The answers to these questions will no doubt differ from one person to another, and from one leadership guru to another. However, like Rick points out in the context of internet marketing, one thing that seems to be a common trait in great leaders, regardless of the time or place they have lived, is a penchant for learning.

The pace of progress in the world today requires that leaders be learners. The following quote by Eric Hoffer speaks volumes: “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 salient idea in Ricks post is the importance of not being afraid to make mistakes. Becoming a leader does not happen over night. You will make mistakes along the way; everyone does. The key to your progress is losing the fear of making mistakes. Success requires making mistakes. According to Conrad Hilton, “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” Persistence is the key to leadership.


The Product Management Perspective: The subject of learning should course through every product manager’s agenda.  Just when you think you understand a market or a product or a buyer persona, it changes. To keep up with the evolution of product management, you need to understand where it’s at and where it’s headed. Read blogs, books and magazines. Make it a point to be a learner. Talk to your teams about what you are learning; you will gain respect and be seen as the leader.

Image: Courtesy of Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics


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How to get along

There seem to be a lot of stories flying around the media about people bickering, fighting or otherwise not getting along with each other. While such situations might help spark a political campaign, they do nothing for people trying to progress and become more successful. It’s especially important learn how to get along with your boss and co-workers. On his Great Leadership blog, Dan McCarthy writes about 10 ways to get off on the right foot with your new manager. He makes the assumption that the new manager is a good, competent leader and not a jerk. Here’s the list of ten (without detail; check out Dan’s post for the meat):

  1. Be good (both doing good things and good at what you do)
  2. Be proactive about introducing yourself
  3. Exhibit behaviors that are appreciated (enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, initiative, and good judgement)
  4. Clarify expectations up front
  5. Help your new manager learn
  6. Try to minimize how many times you say “we tried that before and it didn’t work”
  7. Be VERY open to change
  8. Learn about your new manager
  9. Watch your manager’s back
  10. However….. don’t be a blatant suck-up.

Working for a new manager/boss/leader provides a great opportunity to shine, to model things (including your career) the way you’ve always wanted them to go. Take the opportunity to form new relationships and make most out of new circumstances.


The Product Management Perspective: Dan’s advice is significant for product managers. They not only have to manage up to their boss, but also horizontally, with managers of other teams on whom they depend for success. The ten steps listed above work equally well in both cases.

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