Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How to Become Successful in Business

Guest post by Sarah Brooks

Successful business leaders emerge from a variety of circumstances, each finding a unique path to the top. But the cream of the crop shows some similarities across its members. Certain habits lead to success in business. Whether you work for yourself or an employer, these five tips will help you succeed in business: Continue reading


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Do you show gratitude?

No matter what you are facing in life right now, there are things for which you can (and absolutely should) be grateful. Showing gratitude to others helps you see the world as a better place and move forward more effectively during the tough times. You should be thankful for the people who make your life better. Albert Schweitzer said it well: “Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”

Leaders know their success depends on the united efforts of others. Showing gratitude will make you a more effective leader and will strengthen you in the following ways: Continue reading


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How to lead without blinders

Several years ago I wrote that you can’t fake leadership. Becoming a leader requires a careful combination of confidence and humility. Leading an organization requires focusing intently in key areas. Successful leaders lead with their eyes wide open.

In my “day job” as a product manager I create software products that help companies fight against internal fraud. I was recently given the honor of publishing an article in Wired Innovation Insights—Blinders at the C-Level Can Cost You Billions—which discusses the perils of the “not-in-my-company” attitude, and the importance of incorporating active risk-management strategies to mitigate the insider threat. Though it focuses mostly on insider fraud, the article has valuable lessons for all leaders about focusing on the right things and not getting blindsided by the vulnerabilities your organization faces.

You can’t fake leadership, especially if you’re wearing blinders!


The Product Management Perspective: One of the best ways product managers can avoid getting caught with their blinders on is to proactively listen to your customers.


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Why companies win by building relationships

For too many companies, business-to-business (B2B) customer engagement is dismally low. In most cases the people running the business don’t recognize the disengagement and don’t see it as a problem.

In his article B2B’s Win by Building Relationships, Not Selling on Price, author Marco Nink gives the following insight on the importance of building customer relationships:

Competing on price is a losing strategy, and Gallup research shows it’s an unnecessary one. B2B companies are more likely to be successful and secure in their customer relationships if they help their customers succeed. The more a B2B company helps its customers perform, the more essential it becomes. That kind of customer impact transforms B2B companies from vendors into vital partners.

To make a difference for your customers you need to help them improve performance and achieve their goals. Building solid relationships will not only help customers improve their performance, but will also increase their commitment to you. Listen to their feedback and build connections with the factors that drive their business.

Here are three simple tools that great leaders use to improve their working relationships:

  1. 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.
  2. Understand: They appreciate what other people do and value their feedback. They know that taking the time to understand where people are coming from will pay dividends in the long run.
  3. Acknowledge: Leaders acknowledge the contributions of others. They are quick to give credit to others for their successes. They know that customers will be more motivated to use their products and provide value if they acknowledge their contributions.

Are you building effective relationships with your customers?


The Product Management Perspective: To effectively lead the product development efforts, product managers must build meaningful relationships with their customers. Listen to them, learn from them, put their feedback into the appropriate context, then move forward and make decisions that will improve the value of your products.


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Successful companies are “nice”

“There’s no way to institutionalize or “corporatize” niceness…. It has to come from the top, and from there it will filter down…”

We live in a world where information travels quickly and powerfully. Nothing happens—good or bad—without the world knowing it. In his book Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management is over—and Collaboration Is In, author Peter Shankman shows how famously nice executives, entrepreneurs, and companies are setting the standard for success in this new world. He goes in-depth with nine hallmarks of effective leadership:

Nice CompaniesTrait #1—Enlightened Self-Interest: Creates a system where people feel secure but also accountable; where everyone feels confident enough to say, “I made a mistake.”

Trait #2—The Accessibility Factor: Shows commonsense respect and openness for and with colleagues, direct reports and rank-and-file workers and establishes a feeling of workplace equality.

Trait #3—Strategic Listening: Makes sure they understand what someone is saying instead of taking words and forgetting them later. Acts on what they see and hear in the marketplace.

Trait #4—Good Stewardship: Seeks, first and foremost, to be a good neighbor; chooses stewardship that fits with and reflects well on the business.

Trait #5—Loyalty: Allows for and encourages professional growth of employees; provides flexibility for motivated, productive workers; lets employees fail and ensures that everyone learns the lessons within the failure.

Trait #6—Glass-Half-Full POV: Acts enthusiastically about the possibilities, but is not blind to the problems. Is action-oriented, takes time to consider all options and makes timely decisions.

Trait #7—Customer Service-Centric: Practices what he or she preaches; gives the team permission to solve customer problems; knows the audience—it’s not about who you think you are, it’s about what your customer thinks.

Trait #8—Merit-Based Competitor: Observes the marketplace and examines data for competitive insights; provides customers with new reasons to return; finds new, fun ways to make change work.

Trait #9—Gives a Damn: Makes decisions based on shareholder value and impact on corporate integrity; does what’s right even if it’s not obviously profitable; accepts ultimate responsibility.

Mr. Shankman shows how leaders like JetBlue’s Dave Needleman, Andrew Taylor of Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Ken Chenault of Amex practice these traits to build productive, open, innovative and positive workplaces for the benefit of customers, employees, stockholders, and the bottom line. Your organization’s growth and success will increase as you apply these principles.

This book has scores of stories that illustrate how nice people and companies finish first. It’s a must-read for every leader who wants to create a successful, long-term organization.


The Product Management Perspective: It goes without saying that nice product managers have more success. Your success depends on others doing their work in the best way possible. Take Mr. Shankman’s words to heart as you take your next product to market.


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Are you building a great organization?

Whether you lead a classroom of school children or a major corporation, you should frequently ask yourself the question “am I building a great organization?” Why should you try to build a great organization? Because doing so is, for the most part, as easy as building a good one (see Good to Great chapter 9).

Here are five posts from Lead on Purpose that will help you build a great organization:

1. Taking leadership to the next level

2. The pursuit of something better

3. Developing a climate of trust

4. Leadership and collaboration

5. Becoming a decisive leader


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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Celebrity Leaders

Guest post by Al Gini and Ronald M. Green

As a species, we are fascinated by the concept of leadership and the conduct of individual leaders. But while we are enthralled by leaders, we are sometimes uneasy in regard to our relationship to them. We alternatively love them, hate them, desire them, despise them, seek them out, shun them. Yet, despite our confusion, we are constantly in search of the latest candidate for fame, the newest model off the assembly line, the next great hope.

Today we accord movie star status to many of our leaders. Some of them become national icons and cultural role models. For example, the president of the United States is, arguably, the most photographed person in the world. Barack Obama’s first inauguration was the most reported event of its time. Former President Bill Clinton is a celebrity. The media have tracked every turn in the life of business leaders like Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs. Where once saints dominated our imagination and were looked to for guidance, political and business leaders now play that role.

Why is leadership such a fascinating topic? Why are we so enthralled by leadership and curious about the private and public lives of leaders? Anthropologist Joseph Campbell argues that all cultures, all societies, and, by extension, all organizations (political or otherwise) are engaged in a “hero quest.” All cultures search for a unique, larger-than-life, gifted person or for a singular idea, belief, or iconic symbol that helps to organize, explain, and give meaning, purpose, and direction to life. Where once it was saints or royals who performed the hero role, today it is our political, business, or cultural icons.

Campbell believes that the “hero quest” is in effect a “leadership quest.” The hero, like the leader, imposes order, offers a moral compass, and defines the geography of life for everyone. For Campbell, leadership and the quest for a leader are anthropological constants, necessary conditions for collective/communal existence. According to Barbara Kellerman of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, putting aside the notion of type (democratic or despotic) and effectiveness (successful or unsuccessful) of a particular leader, our collective fascination with and pursuit of a champion on a white horse are part of who we are.

Ronald M. Green, Ph.D. Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, Dartmouth College. A member of Dartmouth’s Religion Department since 1969, Professor Green served from 1992-2011 as director of Dartmouth’s Ethics Institute. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Brown University and received his PhD in religious ethics from Harvard in 1973. In 1996 and 1997, Prof. Green served as Director of the Office of Genome Ethics at the National Institutes of Health. He is the author of eight books, co-author or editor of four, and has published over one hundred fifty articles in theoretical and applied ethics. In 2005, Prof. Green was named a Guggenheim Fellow. His most recent book is 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders: Leadership and Character, co-authored with Al Gini of Loyola University, Chicago

Al Gini is a Professor of Business Ethics and Chair of the Department of Management in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.  He is also the co-founder and long-time Associate Editor of Business Ethics Quarterly, the journal of the Society for Business Ethics.  For over twenty-six years he has been the Resident Philosopher on National Public Radio’s Chicago affiliate, WBEZ- FM.  His books include: My Job My Self: Work and the Creation of the Modern Individual (Routledge, 2000); The Importance of Being Lazy: In Praise of Play, Leisure and Vacations (Routledge, 2003); Why It’s Hard to Be Good (Routledge, 2006); Seeking The Truth of Things (ACTA, 2010); The Ethics of Business with Alexei Marcoux (Rowan & Littlefield, 2012).  10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders (Riley & Blackwell, 2013). 


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers can and should play a key role in the “leadership quest.” Be the hero to the people you work with.


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Are you a passionate leader?

Successful leaders possess a deep passion for their work and other activities in which they participate. They find ways to engage their people to go faster, work harder and improve their results. They don’t push or drive people, they inspire, they cause people to dig deep and give their best effort.

In describing how leaders demonstrate passion, Erika Andersen gave the following advice in her Forbes.com article Passionate Leaders Aren’t Loud, They’re Deep:

True passion requires honestly committing to something about which you feel deeply, and staying committed through difficult circumstances.

When a leader is passionate, people feel a deep sense of being led in a worthy direction by someone who is committed to something more important than his or her own individual glory.

Passionate people work hard to make things happen. I recently met Nitin Julka, who is passionate about product management. He reached out to see if I would be willing to give him some pointers on how to become a successful product manager. We scheduled a call, and within five minutes I could tell he’s eager to learn and excited for the opportunities he’s pursuing. Nitin shared with me his Passion Circle—things that drive his passion such as integrity, optimism and hard work.

What you do is less important than how you do it. Do something you love and do it with passion. What are you passionate about?


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers play a key role in the success of their products. They make sure everyone on the team is working effectively and see that all the parts come together properly. Passion is key to building consensus and motivating team members to do great things. Let your passion show through in everything you do as the product leader.


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Are You Leading… or Just Managing?

Guest post by Adrienne Erin

Something interesting happens in a lot of organizations. A good worker gets promoted to manager, and maybe goes through a little management training. After a solid performance, that manager will be promoted to a leadership position, under the assumption that their management skills will make them good leaders. They won’t.

Too many organizations operate on the idea that great managers make great leaders, and vice versa. But if you look at what’s required to fulfill each position, the skill sets don’t line up very well; in fact, some skills needed for one function may actually be counterproductive in the other. So are you a leader or a manager? Answer these questions to find out.

Do you look ahead or live in the here and now?

Managing a company means you’re making sure tasks are being completed and your team is running smoothly, while leading it means looking ahead what you want to do next. If you’re more interested in the future than the present, you might be a leader.

While managers can find ways to operate more effectively, their main focus is keeping everything on track, working their project management magic, and dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T’. Leaders, on the other hand, have a big-picture view of their organization; they keep one eye on where the business is now, and the other eye on where they want it to go.

Do you inspire or inspect?

Both leaders and managers are in charge of one or more groups of people, but they interact with them very differently. If you know how to motivate your teams to perform at their best, you’re probably a leader, but if you sometimes have to coax them to do it, you might be a manager.

The most successful leaders know how to inspire people to follow them towards their goals. Moguls like Steve Jobs and Donald Trump are recent examples, as are non-business figures like George Patton and Abraham Lincoln. If you want to lead your teams, put away your checklists and evaluations and lead them with passion and inspiration instead.

Do you lead out front or from behind?

Even if a leader isn’t a natural extrovert or particularly sociable, he or she learns how to fake it to bring people on board with his or her vision. Being a good manager involves some dynamic speaking, but more often it’s about keeping your eyes on your calendar, people and the bottom line.

You don’t have to be loud and obnoxious to be a good leader — you just have to be bold and confident in presenting your ideas. Unlike managers, who can keep their businesses afloat from their offices, leaders have to be in the public eye selling their ideas to customers, investors, and other stakeholders.

Managers don’t always make the best leaders, nor are the best leaders necessarily good managers. Understanding the difference between the two, and figuring out whether you fall into one camp or another, is key to defining your leadership style and driving great results.

Adrienne Erin is a writer and career development professional who worked in a college career office for four years before striking out on her own as a freelance writer.


The Product Management Perspective: Reading this article may cause you to wonder whether the title “product manager” really fits. Ultimately you are the “product leader” more than the manager. The statement “the most successful leaders know how to inspire people to follow them towards their goals” hits on one of the most important aspects of successful product management: the need to inspire and motivate the team to produce winning products. Keep that top-of-mind as you move forward.


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Becoming a decisive leader

“Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.”

Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath wrote the book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work with the following goals: “We want to make you a bit better at making good decisions, and we want to help you make your good decisions a bit more decisively. We also want to make you a better advisor to your colleagues and loved ones who are making decisions.”

The entire premise of the book is built around four principles the authors call the WRAP process:Decisive

  1. Widen Your Options
  2. Reality-Test Your Assumptions
  3. Attain Distance Before Deciding
  4. Prepare to be Wrong

To widen your options, ask yourself these questions: What are we giving up if we make this decision? What else could we do with the same time and money? Push for additional alternatives, for “this AND that” rather than “this OR that.” Find someone else who’s solved your problem, and learn from them.

To reality-test your assumptions, start by considering the opposite. Some companies have a formal process to prepare a case against a high-stakes proposal. Spark constructive disagreement within your organization. Find ways to bring real-world experience into your decision-making process.

As you make big decisions, take a step back and consider the larger impact. Use the 10/10/10 tool: how will I feel about the decision 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? What about 10 years from now? Look at your situation from an observer’s perspective. Focus on your core priorities and create a “stop doing” list to help you weed out time wasters.

No decision maker is perfect, so prepare ahead of time to be wrong. Consider a range of outcomes, from very bad to very good. Conduct a ‘pre-mortem’—“it’s a year from now, our decision has failed utterly. Why?” Do a ‘pre-parade’—“It’s a year from now. We’re heroes. Will we be ready for success?” Set ‘tripwires’—deadlines or partitions—to help you realize you have choices.

Finally, you have to trust in the process. “Bargaining”—horse-trading until all sides can live with the choice—will take more time up front, but it accelerates implementation. Making sure others are aware of your decision making process is key to team buy-in.

Decisive is a great read, filled with stories and examples of how to analyze things rapidly and make informed decisions quickly. I guarantee it will keep you interested and you will learn techniques for making decisions. The book is replete with great stories that will keep you reading and learning. Some of my favorites include:

  • David Lee Roth, lead singer of the band Van Halen, put an M&Ms clause in every contract. The clause demanded a bowl of the candy without any brown M&Ms backstage before every concert. Was he a spoiled rock diva or an operations expert?
  • What major decision did Andy Grove, president of Intel, make in 1985 that was a huge turning point for the company?
  • The CEO of Quaker (the oats company) made a major decision in 1983 that cost his company more than $1.5 billion by the time it all played out.
  • Why did Zappos, the online shoe store based in Las Vegas, offer its new employees $1000 (now up to $4000) to quit their job (at Zappos)? Why do they have one of the lowest employee turnover rates of any company?
  • Why did Kodak executives allow digital images to kill their company? What did the executives know years ahead of time that could have saved the company?
  • How did the product Rogaine emerge successfully from mistakes made in another product line?

If you read only one book this year, make sure it’s Decisive!


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers make decisions constantly. They get bombarded with figures and estimates all the time, and they need to make decisions and move forward. The book Decisive has opened my eyes to new, better ways of making decisions. This is a must-read for all product managers and product marketing managers.

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