Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How leaders create happy customers and great results

How do leaders create sustained growth and make an obvious improvement to the bottom line of their company? Is it really possible for one (or a few) people to make a major difference in the results of a big organization? The answer, of course, is ‘yes’—if they take the right approach.

When leaders engage with their employees and gain their trust, the employees in turn provide a positive experience for the customers. Delighted by their experience, customers come back. They not only come back, they tell their friends who buy products and services. The bottom line grows and, if practiced consistently over time, the company has long-term, sustained growth.

Michael Hyatt describes how influential leaders improve customer focus and make a major difference: Continue reading


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Key elements of leadership and product management

Most technology companies are comprised of people and teams that discover, define, design, develop and deliver products to the market. Their success depends largely on how well these teams work together to produce great products and services. The role of product manager has become increasingly important to the success of the products and the companies; it has become increasingly strategic.

One aspect of the role of product management that makes it both enjoyable and difficult is the fact that, in most companies, the people on whom product managers depend to successfully release products do not report to them. Product managers have to act as the catalyst to drive unity and direction on the team without having management authority over the people (from other teams) they depend on for their success. This situation requires product managers to be leaders.

The following quotes by great leaders — while not written specifically to product managers — shed a light on key elements of leadership and product management:

Customer visits: ”A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” – John Le Care

Product direction: ”Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” – General Colin Powell

Responsibility: “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” - John Maxwell

Team leadership: ”All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common; it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people…. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

Time management: “Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.” - Dee Hock

Not all product managers will one-day lead their company in an executive roll. However, to increase the likelihood for success (with both products and careers), product managers should work diligently to become leaders in their organizations.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you have the opportunity to build great products and have a very positive influence on your overall organization. Your influence can go a long way to building a great company.


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Taking leadership to the next level

I am admittedly a creature of habit. I like to run and when I do I listen to books, podcasts and talks. This is a great time for learning and really letting things sink down deeply in my understanding. I also (as a creature of habit) find myself going back to books I’ve listened to in the past. In recent days I’m re-listening to Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Though I love every part of this book, I’m most impressed with the chapter on Level 5 Leadership. Collins’ definition is simple: “Level 5 leaders blend the paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.” This is, as Collins puts it, a “study in duality.” The following are among some of the phrases Collins uses to describe the duality of a Level 5 leader:

Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation. Creates superb results, a clear catalyst in the transition from good to great.

Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate. Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.

Channels ambition into the company, not to self; sets up successor for even more greatness in the next generation. Sets the standard of building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less.

Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors or bad luck. Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company – to other people, external factors and good luck.

So can you and I become a Level 5 leader? Collins was asked this question and after stating he wasn’t sure (because their research didn’t delve into that topic) he said there are two categories of people—those who don’t have the Level 5 seed within them and those who do.

The first category consists of people who could never subjugate their own needs to the greater ambition of something larger and more lasting than themselves. The second category consists of people who could evolve to Level 5; the capability resides within them, perhaps buried or ignored or simply nascent. Under the right circumstances—with self-reflection, a mentor, loving parents, a significant life experience, or other factors—the seed can begin to develop.

This inspires me and should give all of hope that we can lead teams and products and companies to success.


The Product Management Perspective: Product management provides a great opportunity to nurture leaders at your company. If you have responsibility for hiring product management or product marketing professionals, take the time to find the right people. Be rigorous in your search and interview processes and put your best PMs on your biggest opportunities.


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Trust in Leadership – 5 Key Practices to Earn Trust

Guest post by Daniela Baker

One recent article in Forbes magazine examined the interesting phenomenon behind a shift in today’s leadership principles. The article’s author asserts that old leadership models were based on power because business was essentially about competition.

Today’s more collaborative, creative business models, on the other hand, require leaders with high emotional intelligence – business leaders who can build trust among their colleagues and employees.

The bottom line: if you want to make it as a real leader in today’s business culture, you’ve got to earn trust from those above, below, and beside you. Here are five key practices to help you do this:

1. Be vulnerable

On some level, trust comes from authenticity. If your people see you as an authentic, open, vulnerable human being, they’ll be more likely to trust you.

There’s a fine line to walk here, though. You don’t want to be naïve and set yourself up to be taken advantage of, but you do want to own up to your failures and be honest and humble. One way to do this is to let some of your personal life into your work – though, again, there’s a fine line to walk here. Another way to do this is to admit past or current mistakes, especially when mentoring your team members.

2. Don’t pass the buck

President Harry Truman was famous for the wooden sign on his desk reading “The Buck Stops Here.” One of the reasons Truman was able to build trust in those around him was that he wasn’t afraid to take responsibility for his decisions.

This should be one of your mottos as a trust-building leader. Yes, there will be times when other people will mess up, and you’ll have to deal with that. But if a decision ultimately comes down to you, make the choice, and then stand by the consequences – good or bad. If your team knows that you aren’t going to try to pass the blame to someone else, they’ll trust you more.

3. Stop micro-managing

Micro-management in the work place is a great way to tear down trust. That’s because trust is a two-way street. In order to feel trust for you, your team members also need to feel that you trust them. And if you’re constantly micro-managing their processes, they won’t feel that you trust them.

If you think you might possibly be a micro-manager, talk to others about this. Then, learn to step back and let your team members do their work. This may mean leaving room for failure, but it also means leaving space for others to learn from their mistakes.

4. Allow room for confrontation

As a leader, people will trust you more if they feel that they can bring up negative points about you, your team, a project you’re working on, or whatever. You don’t want to seek out confrontation, but you should leave space for healthy, professional confrontation that, in the long run, improves relationships.

You can create this culture by not shying away from the hard conversations with your team members. And you can create space for negative feedback by meeting with your team members on a regular basis. If you are confronted about a mistake, a choice, or something else a team member is unhappy about, listen to their complaints, take them seriously, and handle the confrontation as professionally as possible.

5. Tell it like it is

Talking in circles or constantly using subtext in your professional life is another way to break down trust. To build it up, practice telling it like it is. Open up; write a blog that others can see. For instance, we publish a blog for small business owners to help us earn trust from partners, small business owners, and our fellow team members.

This doesn’t mean you need to be tactless, but you do need to be direct and honest. If you have a reputation for directness and honesty, others will learn to trust what you say about yourself, your team, and your work.

Remember, building trust takes time, and it’s a very relational thing. You can have a great reputation for trust company-wide, but if you break trust with one person on your team, you’ll have to work hard to rebuild that person’s trust in you. This takes time and effort, but if you consistently put these five habits into practice, you’ll be a more trustworthy leader in general.

Daniela Baker from CreditDonkey is a small business blogger and social media advocate.  She studied journalism and new media. She has lived on three continents and collaborates closely with a select group of international publishers. One of her favorite quotes is: “Decisions are made by those who show up.”


The Product Management Perspective: Trust is the most important characteristic a product manager can possess. To effectively work with development, sales and other teams in your organization you must gain their trust. Trust is key to understanding your customers and your market. Trust is a two-way street: you need to carry out your tasks in such a way that the team members will trust you. You also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do. The five key practices listed above provide an excellent roadmap to developing trust with your teams.


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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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Leadership and accountability

In today’s world too many people avoid accountability for their actions. When things go wrong they find someone or something else to blame. Look around you…I’m sure you’ll see examples.

Too often leaders of organizations take the credit when things go well, but they find ways to avoid responsibility when they get unexpected results. This behavior will not work in the long-term; accountability is too important for leaders avoid. They need to make every decision with the resolution that no matter what the outcome, they will take responsibility for the results.

So what does ‘accountability’ look like? Leadership expert and author Michael Hyatt summed it up nicely in his article How Real Leaders Demonstrate Accountability:

First and foremost, it means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you—both good and bad. You don’t blame others. And you don’t blame the external environment. There are always things you could have done—or still can do—to change the outcome.

In the article Mr. Hyatt gives a great example of a leader truly stepping up to his accountability (pay particular attention to the opening paragraph in the summary report).

Leaders will not succeed in the long run if they are not accountable in their personal lives. My friend and mentor Dr. Paul Jenkins is the expert in personal accountability. In his recent video he describes two paradigms that shape individual’s lives. Watch this video – it will change your life for the better:

Take responsibility for your actions. Be accountable as an individual and as a leader. I promise you will achieve more success in everything you do.


The Product Management Perspective: The way in which product managers see their world – their ‘paradigm’ – influences their effectiveness as a leader. They can take the ‘victim’ approach or the ‘agent/hero’ approach. If they blame others and wonder why things don’t work out, they are taking the victim approach. If they take accountability for their actions and do whatever it takes to succeed, they become agents of positive change. They become heroes to those whom they lead. Not ‘hero’ in the sense of super heroes, but in the sense of someone who does more than they are expected (and probably paid) to do.


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Leaders Who Follow Rules

Leaders who follow rules have subordinates who do – Guest post by Jack Meyer

Great leadership skills are those that are developed over time. Although textbooks and classes can help you improve the kind of leader you want to be, it takes real-life practice and implementation to make you great. A successful leader has the trust of those under him or her and is supported by those subordinates. Without the respect of those who follow you, there will never be real greatness to your leadership. Developing that trust can take time, but once it’s developed there is nothing the whole cannot accomplish.

1. The Boss – Many people will have an attitude that they can do whatever they want because they are the boss. Although it may be true, it doesn’t mean that it’s the most productive way to act. Resentment among your subordinates can cause dissension within the ranks and can cause irreparable damage to the unit.

2. Realistic – Rules and guidelines need to be realistic for your subordinates. You don’t want to set them up to fail, but you don’t want to be too lax either. You’ll need to establish a firm set of rules without making the task too difficult to follow. Being hard on your subordinates doesn’t always work out for the best. However, you don’t want to be too lenient on what is expected of your team.

3. Respectful – Being respectful to your subordinates is an easy way to have respect reciprocated. Fear-mongering and power abuse don’t earn respect…they create fear. Many individuals will confuse one for the other, and it could create a hostile environment. Respect is earned from being a leader, not given from leading the unit. If you respect the boundaries of those under you, they will respect yours in kind.

4. Bending the Rules – Sometimes, being the leader has its advantages of being able to bend the rules to fit a certain circumstance. Although bending the rules can potentially improve the productivity of the unit in those circumstances, you don’t want to bend them too often. If a leader is seen as bending the rules on a regular basis, the subordinates will begin to do it as well. If everyone is bending the rules, then it begins to create chaos within the environment.

5. Set in Stone – Rules don’t have to be set in stone. Periodically, a revamp of the rules may be necessary to encompass technologies, living environments, and anything else that can cause contradictions within them. If more organizations took a yearly look at their rules for conduct, many issues could be avoided. One suggestion is letting the subordinates assist in create the new revamp of the rules. It gives them a sense of empowerment and shows that you trust their judgment. However, don’t give them too long of a leash. Let them assist you, but don’t let them do it for you.

6. Passing Responsibilities – Assigning a protégé to act as your team leader could help you keep order among your subordinates. If your organization is larger than five or six people, having a buffer may help keep the team focused. Like you, your team leader needs to be an example. You’ll need to have someone who can follow the rules and enforce them just as you would.

A true leader will guide subordinates by example. Following your own rules can set the tone of how your subordinates view you. They are more likely to follow the rules if they see that their leader has done so. Act as how you’d like your subordinates to act and a well-organized team can develop.

Jack Meyer is a freelance writer and regular contributor at www.nannybackgroundcheck.com/. He has a passion for various subjects like education, career and technology, Parenting etc.  If you have any questions email Jack at jackmeyers08 [at] gmail.com


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers play a key role in forming productive teams. Lead out in being realistic and respectful to your team members, and they will happily follow.

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