Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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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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Are You an Effective Business Leader?

Guest post by Mike Gardener

With the economic climate as tough as it currently is, leadership qualities are the main cornerstones of success when it comes to virtually all kinds of businesses. But what are the most important qualities when it comes to effective business leadership? And what are the essential characteristics of leaders that can inspire others to succeed in challenges that would otherwise seem impossible?

Good Judgment

First of all, every business leader that wants to be successful in his or her field needs to know the field inside out and understand even the smallest details, which are sometimes the most important factors in business projects. With good judgment, business leaders will be able to delegate all the task properly and to the right workers, meaning that everything will be done as efficiently as possible and without any wasted time or resources. To find out more about the topic, read this HBR article.

Dedication

Second is the dedication factor. It is of the utmost importance that the person who wants to lead is also the person that is the most dedicated to the goal at hand. Without dedication, there is no chance of having the entire team come together and remain inspired to do well. Success might come nonetheless, but it will be completely random and it will depend on many unrelated factors.

Responsibility

To make things even more complicated, all business leaders that have ambitions to succeed in their fields need to be able to take responsibility for their decisions and actions. That might seem like a very straightforward thing to do, but it often turns out to be one of the issues that many simply cannot overcome. The thing is that it is usually very easy to take responsibility whenever things are going according to the plan. Accepting responsibility for failures, however, is a much more difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most essential challenges that business leaders need to face (and professional responsibility is obviously not the only thing to care about, social responsibility is yet another thing that has to be accepted). Honesty and willingness to accept defeats can go a long way – and, together, they can help leaders turn a bunch of skilled workers into a true team.

Creativity

Finally, leaders that want to succeed also need to be creative to overcome all the difficulties that might arise at any given moment. Original plans are worth sticking to and they will work in the majority of cases – but, from time to time, it is also quite important to innovate and change strategies at a moment’s notice. And that is when creativity will be crucial to the overall chances of succeeding. Successful business leaders will recognize those occasions and won’t be afraid to change strategies in order to find a way around the obstacles that might be found along the way. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is also possible to find schools that emphasize creativity in business leadership.

Uniting Through a Vision

There is, however, a bottom line to all these things. Namely, there is one ability that every effective business leader simply has to have – the ability to unite everything under one clear vision. You might be a leader that knows his or her business field inside out and still remain relatively unsuccessful if you are unable to present a vision that others could follow and a goal that others could strive for. The fact that the most successful business leaders (check this list for a good idea about how visions and businesses are related to each other) are also often regarded as true visionaries is definitely not accidental. The very opposite of that is true – it shows exactly what are the most important qualities when it comes to business leadership.

Mike Gardener is one of the owners of TheOfficeProviders.com , a company that provides office space for all kinds of businesses. Visit their website in order to find a suitable office space for your own business or just to learn more about the company itself.


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Essential Leadership Traits

Essential Leadership Traits in the Successful Small Business Owner — Guest post by Linda Forshaw

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John Maxwell

In the course of an ordinary working day, a small business owner might wear many hats, but rarely is there one as important as that of leader. All businesses, no matter their size, require a strong leader at the helm. The temptation of the small business owner may be to get “stuck in” and adopt a role as a pseudo employee. While there is merit attached to not being afraid to get your hands dirty, in essence to lead by example, the smart small business owner will place a greater emphasis on a wider leadership strategy.

Communication must be crystal clear
Having a clear vision is essential, but communicating that vision is an absolute must. Providing employees with a roadmap of where you want to be helps everyone to stay on the same page; to keep track of the bigger picture and work consistently toward achieving it. A lack of clarity filtered down from above will only ever lead to missed opportunities and ultimately spell trouble for the small business owner.

Strong relationships have a very long reach
Solid relationships lie at the very core of the operations of any successful small business. To listen to others is a vital skill, but it is also imperative to understand and to acknowledge what others are saying. People are the greatest resource in any business, so engaging in a meaningful dialog with employees, customers, and other persons of importance is a fundamental part of building relationships in the vein of strong leadership.

The best kind of culture comes from above
Most people will understand the destructive nature that can result from a culture that focuses almost exclusively on backstabbing and blame. The strong small business owner will set an example of trust and cooperation. The best place for a positive company culture to come from is from the top down. Passion, compassion, energy, and motivation – they are all an essential part of a solution-centric attitude that is best served from above.

Give them room to grow and you will prosper
As the old adage goes, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” To put it into a more modern context, the most successful of small business owners inherently understand the potential value of contributions that are made by others. The only way to benefit from such contributions is to allow them to happen in the first place. You never really know where the next great idea will come from, and if it comes from one of your employees, you want to be the one to hear about it first.

How will you lead today?

Linda Forshaw is a Business Information Systems graduate from Lancaster University in the UK. The leading contributor to DegreeJungle, she is a full time writer and blogger specializing in education, social media, and entrepreneurship. Contact her on Twitter @seelindaplay


The Product Management Perspective: Successful product managers build strong relationships with people, both inside and outside the company; clear communication is key. PMs, like small business owners, need to listen to others, and work with them to release successful products.


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Qualities of a Good Business Leader

Guest post by William Lewis

A sound education in business is just one component of being a good leader; to truly take your company to the next level, you must also possess certain qualities that come from within. Think about some of the business leaders you admire – maybe it’s someone famous who has changed the world with their product or service; maybe it’s your own father or mother, someone you’ve grown up with in close proximity and had years to study. Whoever it is, successful business leaders are born and made, and chances are good they all possess the following traits, either naturally or through practice and acquisition. Even better for you, if you’re ready to become the true head of your company and embrace progress, it’s never too late for you to develop them with some concentrated effort and dedication.

Courage

Having the gumption to step into a leadership role (and stay there) takes courage right off the bat. But more than that, you must be brave enough to take chances, both on opportunities and people; you must be able to stand up to detractors from outside and within; and you need to be able to see past the minor bumps and have the wherewithal to pursue the future of your business despite the blockage of the present. Further, you have to be able to say and do the hard things, even though it might not make you popular, if it’s the right thing for the situation.

Vision

Knowing where you want your business to go and having goals for the both the short-term and the long-term are very important. It’s a lot like writing a term paper. You start with an outline of the entire essay, knowing that you want to get from point A to point B and knowing the essence of the message that you wish to convey. As you get into the nuts and bolts of actually writing the piece, you will add, delete, revise and edit, and maybe even the entire thesis will change, but every small part, every little paragraph, works toward realizing the greater whole. Staying on course is easier when you have a clear vision of where you want to go, even if it changes along the way.

Understanding/Empathy

People can tell when someone just doesn’t get them. More than that, they can tell when someone isn’t even trying to. And this makes them not want to work for them or do business with them. The show Undercover Boss on ABC helps illustrate, however unrealistic the situations actually are, that the people on top can sometimes lose touch with what’s important and real for the people they employ. Furthermore, in business dealings, you never know who you are going to meet, so keeping an open mind, educating yourself and trying to put yourself into the shoes of others will take you far.

Adaptability

The fact is, being unable to adapt means you will miss out on a lot of opportunities and your business will only suffer for it. Globalization has ensured that information and data spreads faster than you can click a mouse. Don’t be afraid of change and don’t stubbornly resist new ways of doing things. Listen to the people around you, absorb what they bring to the table, and be willing to try. Strategic thinking is an important aspect to all management training programs; if you can embrace that with an open mind, you will be able to analyze possibilities with a clear, unbiased head.

Responsibility

As the head of your company, you will shoulder a lot, and rightly so. You should also learn to shoulder the blame when it’s your fault. Human nature is such that we’re quick to point fingers and assign responsibility to others, but that’s a failing good leaders must overcome.

Confidence

Not to be confused with arrogance, you have to believe in every aspect of your business: you, your partners, your employees and your product or service. If you don’t…who will?

Sincerity

None of these traits matter a whit if you don’t have the sincerity to back them up. Pretending and play-acting at understanding is obvious. Essentially lying to your employees about a job well done is both cowardly and a sure way to run your business into the ground. If you’re not feeling sincere, make the necessary changes and improvements until you are.

William Lewis is a contributing writer and MBA graduate who has successfully created and sold two businesses thus far, and who is currently heading his third. His influences include Bill Gates and his older brother, Paul.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers act as the CEO of their products. Leadership is key to succeeding in this role. The principles discussed here will help you focus your efforts in the right areas to improve the success of your products.


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Defining Your Leadership Role

Guest post by Kyle O’Brien


Leadership and motivation are practically synonymous in certain sectors. If one’s not holding their end of the bargain, the other side may suffer. A disconnect of communication, more or less. As a leader, you need to direct in a confident manner and push yourself and the business model with every bump in the road that may come your way.

A leader must always be on point with their influence onto others and also be willing to adapt accordingly if things are veering off in another direction. As technology seemingly changes with every passing day, so too must one’s willingness to react and lead for the better.


Speaking in a business sense, leadership can be defined in a number of ways. Whether you’re revered or reviled is up to you.

You Can Be Authoritative And Fair-Minded

In some circles, people may view descriptors like “authoritative” and “balanced” as needing to be placed in separate corners. Being fair and balanced in one’s decision-making shouldn’t be labeled as being weak or that you’re somehow catering to the masses and will eventually be taken advantage of down the road. The same notion that being authoritativeputs you out as unfair and disconnected from the company culture is hogwash as well.

Once more, saying the two mentalities cannot coexist with one another is false. Leaders are those who have the courage to be authoritative when the time calls for it, but at the same time leadership is reflective of having an open mind to any and all business decisions, whether crucial or inconsequential.

Take Employee Motivation To Heart

Motivating your employees isn’t a one-shot mindset in just assuming they’re going to be motivated for the sake of it. There are numerous studies out there, speaking just to attention spans alone, that indicate otherwise. You need a plan in place that allows for employee feedback on how and why their productivity is constrained. Maybe it’s the office environment and how their cubicle makes them feel disconnected from their fellow employees? Or it could be a lack of trust within their department and how they feel their opinions have no bearing with a project?

Leadership is about listening and reacting. It’s about constructive criticism within the ranks and determining which issues and concerns may be more problematic than others and dealing with those in a timely manner. The sooner you accommodate, or at least entertain, employee views of their standing within the workplace, the more likely you’ll end up cultivating a company culture almost everyone can appreciate.

Admitting Mistakes And Faults

One of the biggest character statements to be made is when you’re able to admit fault and fix the issue. Every business has had flaws at one time or another. It could be poor training habits for new hires, not tracking how and when projects are carried out, not dealing with post-mortem project proceedings such as following up with customer reviews, concerns and so forth, or maybe it’s not realizing you’ve created a “boiler room” effect with your company where employees feel the need to walk on eggshells at all times. The latter may subsequently label your business as a high turnover destination, which even if it results in moderate profits, can hold back long-term scalability to try creative outlets for products or other extensions.

Again, admitting your mistakes isn’t a weakness. It’s a leadership attribute that sends a clear message to your staff that changes need to be made. And if there’s ever a time to put aside hubris, it’s for the well-being of your company vision.

Hiring And Promoting Positive Thinkers

I’ve never liked pessimism. It’s one of the cheapest cop-outs to practically any decision. Saying, “It’s too hard”, “We’re gonna fail come deadline time”, “What’s the point in hearing that person out?” and [fill in the blank]. Pessimism is a virus to any co-worker within earshot because the more negative feedback gets passed around, the easier it is for others to pick and prod the same notions.

Not that everyone will fall prey to it. Strong minds can think past the fog.

It’s clear pessimism should be misdirected elsewhere. And as a leader, you must first instill optimism in yourself and your company beliefs. To see that through, it should be a no-brainer to build up departments with employees and managers who carry positive thoughts and proactive actions day in and day out. And that doesn’t imply that you need a whole army of “yes men/women” alongside. You want free thinkers who aren’t afraid to give input and are not shy from taking criticism on a project. As long as it’s done in a respective and constructive manner, the bond forged as a result is something money can’t buy.

I’m sure there are plenty other characteristics that help define leadership. How do you define yourself as a leader? What drives you to never rest on your laurels?

Kyle O’Brien is a freelance writer covering many facets of the business industry, from basic employee motivation tips to understanding company structure and how to improve it. He has consulted for ej4, a performance improvement company focused on creating unique e-learning videos for businesses in the form of off the shelf training, project management, various business book summaries and much more.


The Product Management Perspective: The common thread that runs through Lead on Purpose is leading regardless of your role in the organization. As a product manager you are a key leader in the organization (or at least you should be). You set the direction for your product(s) – the key assets that drive revenue. Take stock in principles discussed above and use them as motivation to improve your leadership influence in your organization.


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Guest Post: The New Psychology of Leadership

By Lauren BaileyThe vast majority of leadership advice — whether it’s relayed in leadership books, management conferences or discussed casually in blogs — focuses on the qualities of individual leaders. From examining the lives of different noted leaders to distilling specific personality traits that researchers think constitute sound leadership, the emphasis is always on the individual. In a relatively new book called The New Psychology of Leadership: Identity, Influence, and Power, the authors take a completely different approach. Instead of focusing on the leader, they focus on the followers.

The authors, Drs. Alexander Haslam, Stephen Reicher, and Michael Platow, all social psychology professors, argue in their book that leadership literature has paid too much attention to “I-ness” to the detriment of “we-ness”. They note in their book’s introduction:

In order to understand leadership properly, our gaze needs to extend beyond leaders alone; in particular it needs to consider the followers with whom they forge a psychological connection and whose effort is required in order to do the work that drives history forward…We need this broad gaze because the proof of leadership is not the emergence of a big new idea or the development of a vision for sweeping change. Rather, it is the capacity to convince others to contribute to processes that turn visions and ideas into reality and that help to bring about change. For this reason, leadership is always predicated on followership, and the psychology of these two processes is always inextricably intertwined.

This, in a nutshell, is the jumping off point from which the professors explain their conception of leadership. Drawing largely from social identity theory, a set of social psychological theories that sets out to determine how people behave in groups, the book explains that what constitutes a great leader is how he or she is able to fashion a group identity of which the leader is a part, not above. The authors explain:

Followers can only be moved to respond enthusiastically to a leader’s instruction when they see the leader as someone whose psychology is aligned with theirs when he or she is understood to be ‘one of us’ rather than someone who is ‘out for themselves’ or ‘one of them’

Sounds like a simple enough explanation, but the authors go into a great deal of detail as the book unfolds. Best of all, although the book is written by academics, it is written in a straightforward, easy to understand way, making use of relatable historical examples and trends.

The first part of the book largely focuses on a far-reaching overview of previous leadership psychology the “old psychology of leadership” to which this new psychology ostensibly opposes. However, the authors don’t claim that the old psychology, the one in which the “cult of personality” was a recurrent theme, is wrong per se. Rather, they hold that its emphasis is flawed because it is derived from a romantic, outdated notion of the “great man.” As the book progresses, the authors explain the need for this new psychology then go on to describe what a leader is in terms of their new theoretical coordinates. Chapters from this point in the book are “leaders as in-group prototypes”, “leaders as in-group champions”, “leaders as entrepreneurs of identity” and “leaders as embedders of identity”.

Essentially, “The New Psychology of Leadership” progresses through a systematic and very well-researched idea of what, precisely a leader does and how he functions on a social level. Considering that we are now in an age in which “social” is an important buzzword in the corporate as well as political and private realms, this book has much to offer in terms of rethinking old ideas.

As noted in a The Higher Education Times review:

It is a must-read for those seeking a different approach to the ‘five ways to success as a leader’ type of book. Mark Twain summed up real leadership in a way these authors would surely agree with: ‘Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can somehow become great.

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, a freelance writer, who writes for online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99 [at] gmail.com.


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Five myths about leadership

True leadership principles endure the test of time regardless of the economy or world affairs. The more you practice them the more they become part of your life.

One of the best ways to understand principles is to understand their opposites. John Maxwell — author of the book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership — does a masterful job of explaining the leadership principle of influence through the five myths about leadership:

  1. The Management Myth: Management focuses on maintaining systems and processes. Influential leadership is about influencing people to follow.
  2. The Entrepreneur Myth: People may be buying what somebody is selling (or saying), but they are not necessarily buying into his leadership or vision.
  3. The Knowledge Myth: Mental superiority does not necessarily equate to leadership.
  4. The Pioneer Myth: The one in front is not necessarily the leader. The leader is the one with the vision that people want to follow.
  5. The Position Myth: The greatest misunderstanding about leadership is that people think it’s based on position. Maxwell quotes Stanley Huffty, “It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position.”
If you want to increase your influence, understand these five myths and practice their opposites.

Update: A good friend of mine pointed out that the myths I list are actually facts — the myths should be falsehoods. He’s right, I wrote the statements as facts, not myths. Here’s Take 2 on my interpretation of Maxwell’s five myths (written as myths):
  1. Leading and managing are one and the same
  2. All entrepreneurs are leaders
  3. Those people who possess knowledge or intelligence are leaders
  4. Anyone who is out in front of a crowd is a leader
  5. Leadership is based on position
The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to understand each of the five myths and practice the opposite behaviors. Perhaps the one that comes most naturally is the management myth: product managers rarely manage the people or processes necessary for their products’ success. To succeed you need to build consensus and exert positive influence on the teams you work with.


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Creating a vision statement

Looking into the future and thinking about what might happen is a scary proposition for many people. Some look to the future with excitement and anticipation. The difference between these two feelings often comes down to the degree to which the individual has planned for the future.

A simple tool to help you plan for the future is a vision statement. Last night I attended a PMCNW meeting in Seattle where Carol Vecchio from CenterPoint spoke about taking control of your career. She led the group through a process of creating an individual vision statement. It was a revealing exercise. To create an inspiring vision statement you need to:

  • Visualize success: If you want to succeed you need to see yourself doing the things that meet your definition of success.
  • Write in present tense: Describe the vision you have for yourself as if you are living it today. This helps you to envision the outcome.
  • Inspire yourself: Picture yourself doing something you truly love, then write in in a way that will inspire you to pursue your dream. Don’t let fear stop you from achieving what will truly make you happy.

Creating a vision statement takes time and effort, both of which will pay off as you move forward with anticipation for what lies ahead.


The Product Management Perspective: As the product manager, you own the vision for the success of your product(s). Your leadership will, to a large degree, determine whether your product team looks forward with fear or excitement. Your ability to inspire your team will improve significantly when you have a clear vision of where you are headed. Create and use your vision statement as a tool to strengthen your leadership.


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Envision the outcome

What attribute most distinguishes leaders from non leaders? According to James Kouzes and Barry Posner it is “being forward looking — envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future.” Their article To Lead, Create a Shared Vision — published in the January 2009 Harvard Business Review — derives its conclusions from extensive research through surveys and interviews. Their survey asked what traits people look for and admire in a leader and what traits they look for in a colleague.

The number one requirement of a leader, honesty, was also the top-ranking attribute of a colleague. But the second-highest requirement of a leaders was that they be forward looking. They need to present a vision for the future that not only embodies their view of the outcome, but also includes reflects the aspirations of their constituents (i.e. the followers). Therefore, leaders must spend time reading networking with other leaders — developing and absorbing ideas as they grow — and also mingling with constituents, taking their feedback and making them a part of the outcome.

My friend Greg Strouse sums it up nicely: “Here’s your lesson. Education is nice. Experience is nice too. As for me I’ll bet on the person with vision, passion and that magic touch every single time.” Vision, passion and the “magic touch” allow leaders to look into the future and provide direction while at the same time including the people who will be most affected by their decisions. (Note: Greg’s quote comes from his post Remembering Bonnie, a moving tribute to his wife who passed away in September ’08.)


The Product Management Perspective: By its nature product management requires a high degree foresight. As the leader of the product it is the product manager’s responsibility to envision the outcome. In the process you include people from other teams in decisions and invite them (by your actions) to share in the results.


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Leadership and vision

The word vision has several meanings and is used in many different contexts. Even within the context of leadership you will find varying meanings; things like goals, objectives, mission statements and motivation to name a few. While they are all important and have meaning in their particular contexts, the foresight of leaders might be among the most important combination of leadership and vision.

Steve Farber released an audio CD set — called Extreme Leadership — that is packed with great information about taking leadership to a higher level. Referring to leadership and vision he states: “the role of the leader is to make the vision meaningful.” Companies can have a ‘vision’ or a vision statement, but if it’s not meaningful to the people it will fall flat. To truly provide a vision for the company (or organization), the leaders need to understand, communicate and instill a sense of what’s important: to the company, to the customers, to the employees, to the company leadership. Steve says: “Real leaders take us to places we’ve never been, turn nothing into something, transform good into great, help us grow as human beings and change the pieces of the world that they touch for the better.” It has to be real and true; flattery or insincerity will not fly.


The Product Management Perspective: Leaders make decisions regularly. Successful product managers understand their markets and provide the foresight and direction for their products. They accept the responsibility to make tough decisions and communicate them effectively. They make choices and stand behind them. Ultimately they create a vision that leads their teams and their products to succeed.

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