Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How to lead with integrity

One of the most important characteristics of leadership is integrity. Integrity means you are true to your word in all you do and people can trust you because you do what you say.

The word integrity has deep meaning and is often intermingled with words like honesty and truthfulness. It connotes a deep commitment to do the right thing for the right reason, regardless of the circumstances. People who live with integrity are incorruptible and incapable of breaking the trust of those who have confided in them. Every human is born with a conscience and therefore the ability to know right from wrong. Choosing the right, regardless of the consequences, is the hallmark of integrity.

In a recent Forbes article, Karl Moore and Chatham Sullivan discuss what integrity means and why it’s so important:

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How do you build the right culture in your company?

People in countries, organizations and companies tend to behave in similar ways. The term culture has come to represent this idea: the way people think, behave or work. The culture of a company can have a major effect on the value—in terms of products and services—that a company provides to its customers.

A recent Gallup study analyzed data from more than 30,000 employees in various industries to determine what characteristics led to companies creating a high-performance culture that improves top- and bottom-line business metrics. The analysis revealed six crucial components on which companies should focus: Continue reading


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Why leaders need a long-term vision

Why are you in business? What drives your daily activities—your long-term vision or making the numbers this quarter? If you’re a board member, do you incentivize your executives to make a long-term contribution for the company or to keep the shareholders happy this quarter? If these questions cause you any discomfort, your priorities might be out-of-line with your core values.

In a recent interview with McKinsey & Company, Bill George—Harvard Business School professor and former Medtronic CEO—said the following: Anyone who’s willing to postpone the long-term strategies to make the short-term numbers is in route to going out of business.

In the full interview—Bill George on rethinking capitalism—Mr. George discusses important topics including insisting on the long term, managing expectations and creating lasting value. I recommend you spend a few minutes listening to Bill’s interview; it’s well worth your time.


The Product Management Perspective: One of the key aspects of product management is creating a long-term vision for a product/portfolio. Some are uncomfortable putting too much effort in looking to the future because things change. The core of this discomfort is not so much that things might change, as it is that they will be perceived as being wrong.

Don’t let the possibility that you’ll be wrong stop you from looking towards the future. Regardless of whether you end up right or wrong (or anywhere in between), the efforts you put into planning for the future will pay off. You will learn things you would have missed had you not tried. Be the leader—the CEO—of your product and create a long-term vision of how it will create value for 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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Three ways to be more influential at negotiating

Guest post by Kurt Smith

Your palms start to sweat. You’re thinking about this quarter’s benchmark. You can’t remember what your purchasing agent said about your most recent vendor, but you know that you need this sale. Actually, you need the next couple of sales. Negotiation – that’s how you’re going to succeed. Your prospects want to pay less than your sticker price. You want them to pay at least that much. How can you make a deal that results in both parties walking away winners?

Understand Your Value

If you don’t come to the negotiation table with some type of value, you’re already dead in the water. You have to know why your product or service is valuable to your prospect. For example, maybe you sell computer software that automates a company’s accounting processes. The company you’re meeting with is hesitant to buy anything from anyone because they believe accounting needs that “human touch” and discretion to be effective – that accounting isn’t just numbers on a screen.

Why would your software be valuable? Perhaps it doesn’t completely eliminate human beings from the equation. By automating the actual accounting processes, it frees up the accounting team to focus on qualitative problems instead of quantitative ones.

Computers are fully capable of doing math. But they can’t think – this is the value in your product. Your software allows your prospect to be more creative with its finances. That, in turn, will allow it to become more productive – which results in a better bottom line.

To this end, you could design a presentation to show how your product fosters creativity, productivity, and profit.

Listen To Your Prospect

Becoming a better negotiator isn’t about talking him into a sale. Often, listening is what will give you the edge. Knowing which questions to ask is often far more powerful than knowing what magical phrase will make him buy. In most circumstances the prospect already knows what he needs to do.

He just wants to see if you’re paying attention – he wants to know if you have the solution. There’s this delicate dance that goes on during negotiations. The prospect wants to know that you understand his problems; that you are listening.

Listening also provides you with clues as to how to present your offer. For example, if the prospect happens to mention that his company just spent a lot of money building out a new department, then it might not be the right time to ask for a lump-sum of cash. Maybe your prospect can finance the purchase of your product instead.

Learn To Become A Problem-Solver

Inevitably, prospects will throw up walls to block a sale when they just don’t feel like they can buy from you right now. How do you overcome this? You learn to be a problem-solver. Let’s assume that your prospect can’t make a move for 30 days because they’re waiting on financing for some other project. You don’t want to just leave the room with a “maybe” or “come back in 30 days.”

You might lose the sale. Instead, you could confirm that the prospect does indeed need your product or service, and have them sign a contingency form – they agree to buy from you now for a discounted price. You get commitment now. All you have to do is invoice them in 30 days. Problem solved.

Kurt Smith has extensive experience in sales and marketing. Originally from Austin Texas, Kurt recently he has taken on a role as a sales team leader for a telesales firm in Manchester in the UK where his wife is from. In his new role he finds he often needs to keep the team’s morale high and he is always researching ways to improve their day. On weekends he enjoys mountain bike riding and going for walks with his wife, Linda and their basset hound Dusty. His articles mainly appear on business blogs. Visit the NextDayLenses.com website to see how they use it to offer solutions to potential customer service issues.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers negotiate all the time. Learning how to sell your ideas effectively will increase the value of your products, as well as your value to the company. You won’t win every time, and that’s not a bad thing, but initiating more dialog will improve your products overall appeal.


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Does loving your job make you a better leader?

I recently attended a keynote address by Dr. Craig Manning, sports performance coach and author of The Fearless Mind. He talked about how 10% of our brain is the conscious, and 90% is the subconscious. As we practice and perform, the things we learn in our conscious mind flow into our subconscious and result in our naturally doing what we train our mind to do.

What struck me the most was his emphasis on the importance of loving what you do, and focusing on what you love. That is the key to becoming great at your chosen vocation.

This experience made me think of a blog series I called The LOVE of Leadership. Here the word ‘love’ is used as an acronym that describes the behaviors that, if practiced, bring out the best in the people you lead:

As you strengthen these competencies—so they come out naturally from your subconscious—you will see a noticeable improvement in the success of your people and your organization.

To learn more about the science behind these powerful principles I highly recommend Dr. Manning’s book The Fearless Mind.


The Product Management Perspective: Most product managers I know love their job. This helps them work more effectively with people from other teams. Your love for your job and products will communicate a positive message to the teams you work with and the customers who use your products.


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Guest Post: How to Encourage Your Team Members to Stand Up and Lead

By Andrea Gordon

To be successful in today’s market, team members need to step up and be ready to take a leadership role. It is not easy to develop leadership skills in others, however, so it’s very important to understand that some people do not share your goals and aspirations. Keep an open mind and learn to use varied techniques to inspire different team members to stand up and lead. 

1.    Challenge – Issue a challenge. (In today’s market environment, you probably have many challenges to issue!) Some people need a specific challenge to motivate them. By laying down a challenge, you also create a very clear and measurable goal for a staff member to achieve.

2.    Appeal to noble motives – Many employees think that their work does not make a difference. By appealing to a team’s noble motives, you can increase morale while also setting higher standards for your staff members.

3.    Be sympathetic – Never tell someone that they are wrong. Even when you disagree, listen and be empathetic to another person’s ideas and desires.

4.    Evidence – Back up your ideas with proof. By providing evidence, you can give instant credibility to your ideas. If you have evidence, even staff members who have a different perspective will take notice.

5.    Listen – Listen to what your staff members have to say. Some employees may not want to reach top corporate positions; instead, they may simply be content if their opinions and ideas are valued.

6.    Ask questions – Instead of giving direct orders, ask questions to guide your staff members to think through the issues and come up with their own solutions.

7.    Value your staff – Make your staff members feel genuinely important. Faced with the market challenges today, your employees must be reassured that their contribution and leadership DOES have a huge impact on the company’s survival, stability, and growth.

Andrea Gordon and Dale Carnegie Training want to contribute to the online conversation about leadership and business management with the blogging community. Dale Carnegie Training was founded in 1912 by one of America’s most influential speakers and leaders. Today the company continues to work with individuals and businesses to build leadership, public speaking, and management skills that result in success.


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Sharing the success

The word “sharing” is one you won’t find used very often in business. Competition has increased in every market and those who succeed have to spend time, money and effort to win. And winning itself has become the end game for too many people.

There’s nothing wrong with winning, and if you go into business (or anything for that matter), you need to focus on succeeding. However, success at all costs is not worth the price. If you place all your focus and desires on winning you will ultimately lose – friendships, relationships, and possibly even your sanity.

UNLESS you focus on helping other people win. You need to have the vision, and have a huge desire to succeed, and then help other people win as you go. You need to share your vision of success with others and help them find the desire and drive to succeed.

Here’s simple way to help others succeed: once a week for the next three months write a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn. Make sure your endorsements are meaningful and sincere, and be creative in the ways you give praise. You will make a lot of people happy and will help them in their careers. You will see the value you’ve created for others as they respond in kind.


The Product Management Perspective: Good product managers know their success depends on the work – and success – of others (dev, QA, support, etc.). One of the best (and easiest) things you can do is acknowledge the contributions of others on the team. Make sure the VP of engineering knows how much you appreciate the developers working on your products. Tell the VP of sales how the account manager helped you with a customer. You get the picture. Make sure you’re generous in sharing success with your teams.


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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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Embrace, then apply

What was the last training or career development session you attended? How long did it take to put into practice the things you learned? Conversely, how long did it take to forget the details of the information conveyed in the training?

No matter how good a training session or how compelling the information conveyed, if you do not apply what you have learned the value will be lost. The concept of embrace, then apply is critical to the practical application of any training or educational programs. To convince participants to embrace the ideas taught in a training session, the instructor has to deliver compelling content that is applicable to their daily lives. The presenter must establish credibility with the attendees and deliver the content effectively, thus creating a need for them to adopt it.

Once participants have embraced the concepts taught they need to apply them to their work; the more quickly the better. If possible the company or people responsible for the training should have a follow-up mechanism through which they can provide additional services and direction. Many companies are skilled at delivering compelling training, but lack the resources or abilities to help their customers implement the training they have received. In such cases the participants are left to their own to implement what they have learned or to find another company/person who can help them implement it. Helping others implement what they have learned presents a great opportunity for individuals and services companies to increase the value of their training.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers play a key role in helping their teams to embrace product vision and direction. In many cases they also have to help executives do the same. They must learn to present their roadmaps with passion and work to convince their teams they are headed in the right direction. When the teams are on board they will apply their efforts to creating and launching successful products.

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