Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How can you make a positive perception?

Beyond IllusionsHow we perceive things shapes our lives. In the book Beyond Illusions: The Magic of Positive Perception, Brad Barton—a magician, athlete and all-around great guy—takes you on a journey of looking past illusions and forming positive perceptions that will change your life.

When we understand how we’re deceived, we have the power to no longer be enslaved by the illusions and misperceptions that create personal, social and business crises. This is how we achieve freedom.

Each chapter deals with a compelling topic, with humor and emotion. I literally laughed out loud reading some parts and shed tears in others. Brad’s ability to teach principles through stories is second to none. For example, he discusses the terribly difficult business crises of Tylenol and Jack In The Box to drive home the point that bad situations can lead to great opportunities.

Brad teaches, “Anything is a blessing – illness, accident, injury, bad luck – depending on how we respond to it and grow from it.” He illustrates this with a powerful story about his brother Will, who became a quadriplegic after a terrible accident. Will almost died (actually did die and came back), never gave up hope, worked hard and eventually was able to walk.

Brad tells his own story about overcoming tremendous odds to become a top college athlete. “Helping others is the best way to help yourself.” He also developed what he calls the Ten A’s, “the magic formula behind the power of positive perception.” They are: acceptance, acknowledgement, acclamation, action, approval, appreciation, appraisal, achievement, accessibility and allegiance.

Beyond Illusions is an excellent (and quick) read that will change your life. It will improve your leadership and your outlook.


The Product Management Perspective: Every product manager can benefit from the magic of positive perceptions. As the chief product evangelist you play a key role in keeping everyone engaged and optimistic about the work they’re doing. This book has valuable tools to help you win the fight.


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Guest Post: Leadership—Why Passion Still Matters

By Melissa Crossman

We associate the term passion too much with magazine ads for perfumes or movie clips about doomed love. According to business leadership gurus Tim Elmore and Glenn Llopis, it needs to be a term we associate more with our careers and work life. At most Monday morning staff meetings, voices rarely stray from a monotone unless a colleague mentions a leisure event he attended over the weekend. Managers either cajole or threaten — whatever method seems more productive this month — to enlist staff support for the upcoming week’s planned projects. Another unproductive meeting ends as employees move grudgingly toward their cubicles to begin their workdays. What passion? Where?

Is Passion Even Part of the Preparation?

Despite our idealistic notion that college is the time for young adults to seek out and study the discipline that inspires them with enough passion to build a lifelong career, other circumstances can intervene. In times of scarcity such as the recent economic recession, students tend to turn pragmatic and pursue majors that might provide them the best opportunities for employment following graduation. Whether they attend classes in a physical classroom or log onto an online school, a significant amount of students are going to seek a degree that will most likely provide them a paycheck after graduation, not a “fill-in” job.

Passions: Interests on Steroids

Passions, writes Tim Elmore, are like interests on steroids. He encourages participants in his leadership classes to identify what he terms a “Passion Profile” inclusive of both issues and actions. The ultimate purpose of this exercise is to help individuals to discover their own “incarnational passions,” i.e., those that can blend the personal, professional, individual and communal. There are many ways to pursue or even discover your passions. These might be discovered via furthering your education, volunteering efforts, great literature or even a religious experience. Whatever they are, when discovered and pursued, these interests can help lead workers to a fulfilling career.

Passion and Leadership

Llopis ties passion to the ability of leadership to successfully institute and implement strategic change. For a leader, following a true passion can unlock leadership in a constructive, responsible way. Elmore further identifies two specific reasons passion is important to leaders or those considering a position in leadership. First, thorough knowledge of a passion is a type of self-awareness that allows you to then focus limited energies on said passions. In addition, this form of self-knowledge typically allows those who possess it to act as mentors and leaders for what Elmore terms “your team.” Part of the mentoring process is that of leaders helping team members to identify their own passions, i.e., working as a “passionator.”

Good leadership is difficult to perform and hard to describe, yet easily noted when you’re lucky enough to work for a strong and capable leader. Too often, Elmore says, passion is confused with intensity. Intensity might have its place in the toolset of a good leader, but it’s no substitute for true passion. As Elmore clarifies: “Intensity is marked mostly by emotion, [while] passion is marked mostly by conviction.” No matter what sort of role you perform in your work life, you can rely on passion to help hone leadership skills.

Melissa Crossman lives in Indianapolis with her two dogs. She writes for The Professional Intern, specializing on education and career guidance topics.


The Product Management Perspective: As product manager you play a key role in the success of your products. You make sure everyone on the team is working effectively and all the parts come together properly. Passion plays a key role in 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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Finding your strengths

Think about the following statement: “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do the best every day.” How do you respond? Do you get the opportunity to use your best skills and strengths for what you do every day? Or are you still living in the “You can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough” mindset? Hard work is absolutely critical for success, but if you are working at something that is not a natural fit for your skills and natural talents you are missing a huge opportunity.

In the book Strengths Finder 2.0 author Tom Rath gives an action plan for helping you find the qualities at which you excel. The book is based on research by the late Dr. Donald O. Clifton, considered the father of Strength’s Based Psychology, who discovered and developed 34 themes to clearly classify human strengths. This is a “2.0 version” of the book that provides a succinct description of each theme, ten “ideas for action” that help you apply the theme, and three suggestions for working with other people whose strengths apply to that theme.

Each copy of the book has a unique access code to a comprehensive Strengths discovery and Action-Planning Guide on their website. After completing strengths assessment you receive an email detailing your top five strengths. You then use the descriptions and ideas for action for your top themes to help you identify what you can do, and what you might need to change, to apply your strengths to your work and other important aspects of your life.

The author’s studies indicate that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. The stated goal of the book is to help organizations overcome the “epidemic of active disengagement” that has become prevalent in many organizations.

Mr. Rath sums it up this way: “Far too many people spend a lifetime headed in the wrong direction. They go not only from cradle to cubicle, but then to the casket, without uncovering their greatest talents and potential.”


The Product Management Perspective: One of the great things about product management is you get to use many different skills. However, knowing your strengths will help you focus on areas that are most important to your products’ (and your own) success.


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Lean startup, lean company

“I explained the theory of the Lean Startup, repeating my definition: an organization designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” This definition comes from Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

As the title indicates, the book’s content is geared towards people starting new businesses. While that is the primary focus, what I found extremely interesting about The Lean Startup was the number of action items that work equally well for established companies as they do for startups. Innovation is innovation, no matter where it’s applied and regardless of its source.

The Lean Startup delivers a lot of great insight for leadership and product management. Here are some of the things that struck a chord with me:

  • Success can be learned: Successful startups and great new products aren’t just luck. You can put processes in place that will greatly increase the chances for success. “Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”
  • Five key principles: The book focuses on five key principles:
  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere: “The concept of entrepreneurship includes anyone who works within my definition of a startup” (see above).
  2. Entrepreneurship is management: “A startup is an institution, not just a product, and so it requires a new kind of management specifically geared to its context of extreme uncertainty.”
  3. Validated learning: “Startups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business.”
  4. Build-Measure-Learn: “The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere.”
  5. Innovation accounting: “This requires a new kind of accounting designed for startups—and the people who hold them accountable.
  • Pivot or persevere: The Lean Startup method helps you decide when you need to keep going with an idea or make a change (‘pivot’). “Through this process of steering, we can learn when and if it’s time to make a sharp turn called a pivot or whether we should persevere along our current path.”
  • Build an “innovation factory:” I cannot over emphasize this point: the Lean Startup method works for all companies. “Established companies need to figure out how to accomplish what Scot Cook [founder of Intuit] did in 1983 [he found out people wanted to use their computers to keep track of their check books], but on an industrial scale and with an established cohort of managers steeped in traditional management culture.”
  • Continual learning: A key to success is the ability to learn as you go and make adjustments along the way. “Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects.” Ries gives a detailed personal example of this concept from his work at IMVU.
  • Don’t capitulate: Don’t just give in to what customers think they want. “We adopted the view that our job was to find a synthesis between our vision and what customers would accept; it wasn’t to capitulate to what customers thought they wanted or to tell customers what they ought to want.”
  • Ask hard questions: In every venture you need to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ “The question is not ‘Can this product be built?’ The more pertinent questions are ‘Should this product be built?’ and ‘Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?’” Push your team to answer four questions:
  1. Do consumers recognize that they have the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. If there was a solution, would they buy it?
  3. Would they buy it from us?
  4. Can we build a solution for that problem?
  • Solve problems: In every effort, make sure you’re solving problems. “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.”
  • Create, then test: Create a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) then test to make sure you’re on the right track. “The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn look with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.”
  • Fail quickly: The most successful companies recognized what worked and more importantly, what didn’t work. “What differentiates the success stories from the failures is that the successful entrepreneurs had the foresight, the ability, and the tools to discover which parts of their plans were working brilliantly and which were misguided, and adapt their strategies accordingly.”
  • Genchi Gembutsu: This is a Japanese phrase usually translated as a directive to “go and see for yourself.” You need to get out of the office. “You cannot be sure you really understand any part of any business problem unless you go and see for yourself firsthand.” You need extensive contact with potential customers to understand them sufficiently.

The Lean Startup is replete with stories and real-world examples to help you grasp the concepts. Eric Ries does a great job of bringing out important theories and models that will help you succeed whether you’re starting a new company or creating new products at an established corporation.


The Product Management Perspective: Every product manager in the world should study The Lean Startup and apply its teachings in day-to-day work and strategic planning. Unfortunately product managers get so embroiled in plans and stories and PRDs that we don’t stop and evaluate what’s really going on with the products.

A Good share of development is now done using some form of Agile. Make the effort to be agile in product definition and customer input. Don’t be too prideful to throw away your great idea that customers don’t latch onto. Put your focus and efforts into growing your products’ market share and revenue. Ultimately, nothing else really matters.


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Book Review: 15 Minutes Including Q&A

“Most business presentations stink. Really Stink. They stink in a way that drains souls.” That’s the mantra by which Joey Asher operates, and he wrote the book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: A Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations to help solve the problem. “From now on, all presentations should be no longer than 15 minutes. Half of the time is for the prepared message; the other half is for Q&A. 

Following the 15 Minutes Including Q&A model helps you focus on the audience’s key business issues. What are the three things you want the audience to remember? Give clear direction; your presentations will resonate with the audience. Here are the five steps for the presentation part (seven minutes) of Asher’s 15 Minutes plan:

  1. The Hook – 30 seconds: Describe the business issue.
  2. The Preview – 30 seconds: A quick overview that details how you plan to solve the problem. Give the audience three thoughts they must remember above all else.
  3. The body of the presentation – five minutes: Go into detail about each of the three key points (or “bumper stickers”). Give a few sentences of explanation, and then give evidence in support of your point.
  4. The Recap – 30 seconds: Remind the listeners of the three key points.
  5. Call to action – 30 seconds: End by telling your audience the next steps.

The “secret sauce” of Asher’s plan is the second half, the Q&A. “Q&A is the element that fills the gaps and gives a robust feel to your presentation.” This is the opportunity for you to answer all the audience members’ questions and give them confidence in your message. It also helps them understand your message and intentions more clearly.


The Product Management Perspective: Product management presentations usually focus on product features and direction, and rarely focus on the key business issues. In most cases, delivering seven-minute presentations will not only get your message across more clearly but also rivet the main points more clearly and strongly in the minds of the listeners. Plan short presentations and then engage your audience in dialog to fill in the gaps and answer all their questions. They will appreciate you for it and your value in the organization will increase.


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Five questions to ask each week

I ran across a great audio blog post by Mark Sanborn where he poses five questions we should ask ourselves at the beginning of each week. These questions serve as a guide to live by design and not just react to things as they come. They will improve your personal and professional situation.

Here are the questions:

  1. What will I learn this week? Identify what you need to learn, want to learn and how you will learn it. Growth and development rarely happen accidentally.
  2. What relationship will I improve? What relationship needs repair or nurture? Think in terms of both who and how.
  3. What problem will I address or avoid? Look for a problem that is looming on your horizon and head it off.
  4. What opportunity will I seize? Too often we’re fixated on our problems and miss our opportunities. Look for opportunities in the midst of challenges, struggles and difficulties; they’re out there.
  5. How will I increase my value? Think in terms of what you can do to increase your value to your employer, your customer, to your family. Providing more value than you consume makes you a producer.

To improve your business or life, ask yourself these questions and then act on the answers. “Do business by design rather than by default.”


The Product Management Perspective: We will improve our effectiveness and our ability to work with others by giving careful thought to these questions. As product leaders we need to plan and then move forward with focus and energy.


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Leadership and learning

One of the key tenets of leadership is the learning. Great leaders are learners. They read voraciously. They write and teach what they learn. Learning is as much a part of their life as eating. These are a few of my favorite quotes that illustrate the importance of learning:

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. -Eric Hoffer
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. -John F. Kennedy
Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence. -Colin Powell

Make it your objective to be a life-long learner; every aspect of your life will benefit.

The Product Management Perspective: Technology continues to evolve ever more rapidly. Markets change quickly. User interests come on speedily and then change overnight. How can you — the product manager — keep up? You have to be a learner. You read books, magazines and other resources that provide relevant information. You read blogs and follow thought-leaders on Twitter; you watch what they are talking about learn as much as you can. Most importantly, you open the door to new ideas and new ways of doing your job.


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Seeds of success

Everyone wants to succeed, but where does success start? We all have a deep desire to move forward and see our dream become reality, but how do we make it happen? The venerable “Dean of Personal Development,” Earl Nightingale, put it in these terms: “Success can be defined as the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” In other words, you become what you think about.

Nightingale compares the human mind to fertile land. The land doesn’t care what types of seeds the farmer plants, it will return what it’s given. The mind, in much the same way, will return either success or failure depending on what we have planted. The key is to set specific goals for what we want to achieve (plant the seed) and then work hard and nurture those goals. Believe in your ability to achieve them.

The people at Simple Truths put together an excellent three-minute video that describes the seeds of success. If you were a fan Nightingale’s Our Changing World radio program you’ll be delighted to hear his voice again. If (like me) you have no recollection of that program, you’ll still benefit from the great message. Take a few minutes and watch this video.

Decide what you want and “plant” the goal in your mind.

The Product Management Perspective: Product success usually starts the same way as personal success: someone has an idea. The rules that apply to personal success also apply to product success (with some adaptations): discover the value of ideas for new products by doing market research; understand the personas, the potential users and buyers of the products; then “plant the seeds” of the product by writing clear requirements and designs. The process takes time and multiple iterations; it requires vision and hard work. Be the leader in discovering and cultivating great ideas.


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Book Review: The Right Leader

“How we go about doing the things we choose to do or are called upon to do is what makes a leader the right leader.” In his book The Right Leader: Selecting Executives Who Fit, author Nat Stoddard (with help from Claire Wyckoff) investigates the complex topic of assuring smooth executive transitions, with their primary focus at the CEO level. When a CEO does not work out for a company — which usually happens within the first 18 months — the primary reason is rarely the individual’s lack of competence; most often the problem is a result of the wrong fit.

The first section of the book focuses on finding executives who “fit” the organization. The author presents a methodology to define, measure and clarify corporate cultures to gain a clear understanding the impact they will have on a new leader’s changes for success or failure. He discusses ways to determine abilities, personality and character and map those to the company’s need and corporate culture. He develops what he calls the “universal character traits of leaders”:

Traits of personal humility: Courage, caring, compassion, respect, acceptance, kindness, optimism, gentleness, teachability and patience. He groups these as ‘private traits’ of leadership.

Traits of professional will: Integrity, persuasion, knowledge, communication, discipline, honesty, self-control, fairness, responsibility and consistency. He dubs these ‘public traits’ of leadership.

Mr. Stoddard shows how leaders not only need to possess these traits, but also keep them in balance.

The author discusses at length the complex selection methods and provides insight into fixing flawed selection processes. He discusses succession planning in detail and provides structure and practice for reducing the risks of leadership failures and ensuring that new executives have the abilities, personalities and energy to match the business needs of the organization.

If you are in the position of vetting candidates for top-level executive positions this book is a must-read. You will gain ideas and insights into finding the right leader for your organization and preparing for the complexities of succession planning. If you are not in this position, you will learn much about what it takes to become the right leader. The book cites many references to the author’s company and consulting services, which at times seems more self-serving than helpful. However, Mr. Stoddard’s experience and frequent metaphors and parables provide readers with much to learn about improving their leadership skills.

A Perl of wisdom: “The ‘right leader’ is always a trusted leader.” Whether you’re a CEO or an intern, you have the opportunity to lead. The efforts you make to become the trusted leader in your organization will pay dividends in the future regardless of the position you hold.


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Capturing ideas

Ideas are the seeds from which all greatness grows. Every book and every company started from the spark of an idea. Ideas come on their own time and in their own way. Those who understand this principle find a sure path to success.

The key to benefiting from ideas is to capture them. You need to write them down in a place where you can review them and use them when the time is right. In his audio book “Capturing Million Dollar Ideas,” Richard Paul Evans recommends keeping and “idea journal” with you at all times so you can capture ideas as they come. This is important because you can never control or predict when ideas will come. He further discusses five things to know about your ideas:

  1. Your life if the sum of your ideas.
  2. Ideas are like butterflies, they come at any time and they appear unannounced, flittering through your mind as if to find capture. Creating a place to capture the ideas seems to attract them, and in greater number. “A discovery is an accident meeting a prepared mind.”
  3. Ideas, no matter how brilliant, have a very short shelf life.
  4. You may not understand how big an idea is until later; some ideas need to age like cheese and wine to come to value. In come cases, you need to grow before you realize just how big a concept is.
  5. Ideas beget other ideas.

Remember, ideas come on their own time. When ideas come to you, write them down.


The Product Management Perspective: Ideas are the fuel for great products. The difficulty for many product managers is capturing ideas and filtering the potentially great ones from the not so good. That topic deserves its own post (or perhaps its own book). The key point here is that you, as the PM, capture the ideas that come to you regardless of the source. The more ideas you capture the more likely you are to get the perfect new product or feature. Many times ideas will seem silly or absolutely unobtainable; write them down anyway. Over time circumstances change, technology improves and opportunities appear that you do not expect. The more ideas you have captured the better prepared you will be to develop your ideas into the next great product.