Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Guest Post: 3 Great Leaders and Their Unlikely Successes


By Anna Miller

We often study the principles of leadership in order to become leaders ourselves. However, as helpful as reading about leadership from a conceptual angle can be, the most effective way to learn is by example. Here are a few well-known leaders who are perfect examples of the saying, “Great leaders are made, not born.”

1. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, celebrated CEO of Apple, didn’t start out with his vision of innovation that is the hallmark of his wildly successful company. He dropped out of college, and first worked a small-time job at Atari in order to save money to make a trip to India seeking spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps the greatest lesson leaders can learn from Jobs is that developing an ability to anticipate future needs is central to leadership. Jobs famously said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” This ability of anticipating future needs can only be developed by actively working on relationships in order to know people on a deeper level.

2. Henry Ford

Henry Ford is the quintessence of a great leader. Ford made affordable cars a reality with his model T, he pioneered the idea of assembly-line production, and eventually became one of the most successful industrialists to date. Like all great leaders, Ford was not afraid to take risks. He was sharply criticized for his offering $5 per day wage during the Great Depression. Nobody thought that doubling workers’ wage could possibly reap more profit for a company. But it worked; there was less employee turnover, the best workers from the nation flocked to his company, and as a result, less training was required, cutting costs enormously. Another leadership quality that Ford emphasized was life-long learning. Ford had various interests and actively cultivated each one. He once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning is young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

3. Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, among thousands of other useful inventions, failed spectacularly many times before finally being successful. And it was his attitude toward failure that kept him persistent. Edison once said, “I have not failed, I’ve only found 1,000 different ways that won’t work.” Edison is thus a perfect example of that one quality that all great leaders possess — accepting failure as part of the process that leads to eventual success. Where others become disheartened by failure, leaders use it to fuel their motivation.

There are millions of examples of successful leaders out there, and not all of them are as famous as the ones presented here. The key thing to remember about leadership, as evidenced by these inspiring lives, is that persistence in the face of failure, ridicule, or just regular old stagnation, and above all, trust in one’s self and others, is what separates leaders from followers.

This guest post is contributed by Anna Miller, who writes on the topics of online degree.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: anna22.miller [at]gmail.com.

The Product Management Perspective: These three leaders provide good examples of leadership in product management. Steve Jobs is a great (perhaps the best) example of understanding your markets. He understands his customers perhaps even better than they understand themselves. He is the master at anticipating future trends and turning them into reality. Henry Ford became the subject matter expert not just in cars, but in getting cars to market at a low-enough price that consumers could afford to buy his products. He took calculated risks and was rewarded accordingly. Thomas Edison brought new meaning to the word ‘persistent.’ He continually looked for new ways to do things, and never settled for ‘good enough.’ He was the thought leader of his time. Learning and implementing behaviors from these (and other great) leaders will improve your success as a product manager.


5 thoughts on “Guest Post: 3 Great Leaders and Their Unlikely Successes

  1. I taught military leadership for two and a half years and I have always said that leaders are made not born. Do some have more innate leadership qualities, sure they do. But without teaching, coaching and mentoring those leadership skills will not develop. Also, for those that may have a low aptitude for leadership, it can be taught. Without a doubt it can be taught.

    I wrote a post and that included those three people and a few more in it last week. It touched on how big a failure they were until they ended up succeeding in the end.

    Great post, I really enjoyed it.

    • Thanks RT! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Drawing inspiration from great leaders who were utter failures is so inspiring for those of us who aren’t “naturals”. Completely agree–leadership is something you learn over time. And I’m sure you can attest to the fact that influential mentors can make or break a future leader.

  2. Interesting post. Thank you for sharing this information. You have made good points. I admire Steve Jobs for what he has done. I agree with what he said, you have to know what people need in order to satisfy them and you have to offer something new for them to be attentive to your products/services. Another thing, learning is a continuous process. Learning does not stop when you graduate from college. You learn new things everyday and these things can help develop your knowledge, skills and attitude.

    Like Thomas Edison, one mistake or failure should not stop you. Consider this failure a learning so that the next thing you’ll do is better.

    • Thanks for your comments, Maria! Definitely, continuous learning fuels personal and professional growth. And successful learning comes, in my book, from a desire to learn…so staying curious and not resting on one’s laurels after achieving something is just as important as learning itself.

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