Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Creating a compelling culture

Whether you recognize it or not, the organization you work in has a culture. Big or small, every company has beliefs and values that drive its core philosophy.

Top leaders understand the importance of culture and work to ensure their organizations have a great culture. They have an abundance mentality and nurture their teams to grow and progress. They spare no expense in creating a compelling culture.

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Sustainable and effective leadership

“Removing what does not matter is the first step in figuring out what does.” This statement sums up one of the key indicators to sustainable and effective leadership as taught in the book The Leader’s Climb: A Business Tale of Rising to the New Leadership Challenge by Bob Parsanko and Paul Heagen.

The Leader's ClimbThe Leader’s Climb tells the story of how to lead more effectively and how to make a long-term, lasting contribution. Adam, the main character in the story, had been CEO of his company for about three years. He finds himself stuck in several areas of his life. The story of Adam is told as a “business fable” in a way that makes the principles taught come to life. The story weaves the pressure he feels from the board together with a difficult project he’s doing on his home and his love for rock climbing to tell a real-life story that’s easy to internalize.

Often leaders get to a point where they realize something is “off” between their sense of what they thought executive leadership would be and what it is turning out to be. This struggle—this path to decline—has a pattern:

Going to fast: Relying too heavily on what we know rather than slowing down and becoming genuinely curious about what we don’t know.

Fighting too much: Spending too much time and energy denying current realities.

Forcing too many decisions: Wasting energy and goodwill on winning at all costs, forcing other people’s hands or clawing for the edge.

The authors give three steps that reverse the decline and mark a new path toward a more sustainable and effective model of leadership and growth in today’s world:

1. More Awareness: Awareness is more than just knowing you have blind spots; it’s having the patience and discipline to slow down and open yourself up to what you do not know or have not yet experienced. Slow down, step back, and take a fresh look at your situation from a range of perspectives.
2. More Acceptance: It is human nature to overlook obstacles that stand in our path or to fight like mad to overwhelm them. Acceptance is the mature and reasoned embrace of our current realities. The forces we fight may actually help us to achieve some greater accomplishment.
3. More Abundance: By creating an abundance of choices, we open ourselves up to better decisions. It takes a different kind of leader to keep many paths open prior to reaching that ultimate point of decision.

The Leader’s Climb provides key principles for leaders, and the story is enjoyable and informative.


The Product Management Perspective: The point of creating abundance is important for product managers. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have all the answers. To the extent you are willing to consider all options from the different stake holders, the better your products will turn out.


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Guest Post: How non-leaders can lead

By Peter Davey

John C Maxwell defined leadership when he said, “The true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.”Maxwell has correctly identified that leadership is not just about traits, position, personality and experience; it’s more about having an ability to influence people by maintaining integrity and trustworthiness.

If you want to further understand John Maxwell’s viewpoint on this, you’ll probably need to look at what types of behavior are most commonly associated with effective leadership. As you attempt to answer that question, you suddenly realize that the behavioral skills that even the most effective leaders possess are very common in non-leaders as well. For non-leaders, these are behaviors that will help to build or enhance their personal leadership skills and will ultimately assist in helping to produce clear, tangible results for the business.

So what are the behaviors that can potentially turn a non-leader into an effective leader?

Displaying a positive mental attitude. A positive mental attitude creates a mindset of abundance, enthusiasm, and solutions. Instead of thinking about what can’t be done, a positive thinker will not be constrained by ‘can’ and ‘cannot.’ A positive thinker is free to think of new ways to solve problems because they are not limited by fear of failure. Attitudes are contagious.

Encourage others. Encouragement is the skill of an effective leader. Show your belief in others. Look for opportunities to give them positive/constructive feedback. By encouraging others, you are not only helping to improve your relationship with them, but you may also be helping them to achieve something great.

Listen more, talk less. The simple key to working well with others is to listen more and talk less. When we listen, we can learn about the other person’s motivations. When we understand those, we are in a better position to guide and influence them. A useful way to remember the proportion of listening to speaking is to remember that you have two ears and one mouth. Quite simply, you should listen twice as much as you speak.

Engage with others. Engaging with others is not just about engaging with those who share your values and beliefs (the like-minded), but also about engaging with those who think differently from you and are doing something that may seem completely different and unrelated. Do not be afraid to engage across diversity, for that is how you will learn.

Be a great follower. Since leadership is an activity and not a role, recognize that you won’t always be leading; you must be willing and able to follow others too.  Developing this as a conscious practice will help you build your relationships; more importantly, it will allow you to observe others as they lead. Being a good follower will involve keeping your manager informed, always supporting your manager behind their backs, embracing change, bringing solutions (not problems) to your manager, admitting your mistakes, being a team player and being the eternal optimist.

Embrace a learning culture. Being effective requires us to continually learn and develop ourselves.  In doing this, we can become a positive role model for others, helping them see the importance of learning as well.

Continually develop your communication skills. Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. By understanding your personal style of communicating, you will go a long way towards creating a good and lasting impression with others.

Irrespective of your own status, when you consistently display the right behavioral skills, you are building and maintaining integrity and trustworthiness. You are in effect, building a strong capability to influence others by having people listen to your ideas, valuing or following your suggestions for action, and turning to you for guidance or advice.

Peter Davey is a Senior Trainer for a UK-based management training provider and consultancy. t2 Management Training offer leadership and management training to all types of managers – from team leaders to Directors and CEOs – and work with some of the biggest companies in the country.


The Product Management Perspective: Many of the behaviors described here are key to successful product management. Product managers need to keep a positive attitude and encourage their teams to work hard and work effectively. They need to listen to the market and learn what makes potential buyers want to buy their products. They need to communicate effectively, both inside and outside the company. Perhaps most important, product managers need to be learners.


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It’s all about the people

The first principle of the Five Factors of Leadership is that people are assets. Every organization, be it a technology company or a non-profit charitable organization, is composed of people. The people – not the buildings, equipment or intellectual property – compose the true assets of any company. Everything that exists in the world today, that might be considered an asset in the accounting sense of the word, was once the idea of one or more people who did the work to bring it to market. Knowing this will help product managers (or anyone for that matter) understand the need to tune in to their teams and provide opportunities for their people.

A great example of this principle can be found in the history of Kingston Technology Corporation, founded by John Tu and David Sun. Kingston Technology took off as technology startup in 1987 (during a major stock market downturn). Rather than looking at their situation through the lens of scarcity, they looked for opportunities. They started a small company that produced nothing but memory for computers. To differentiate themselves from other companies (and allow a slightly higher profit margin) they:

  • Provided a five-year, no questions asked warranty (the industry standard was 90 days)
  • Focused on lifestyle for employees and their families
  • Paid the highest salaries for comparable positions
  • Paid 5% of pretax corporate profits directly to the 401(k) accounts of their employees
  • Guaranteed the employees that should the company ever go out of business, there was, in escrow, one year’s salary for every employee.

As a result, Kingston averaged less than 2% attrition, nearly unheard of in any organization. This meant that training costs were reduced, experience levels were high, and people performed to the very best of their abilities.

When the company was finally sold, Tu and Sun set aside $100M of the proceeds and divided it among the employees. The bonus was not as a traditional ‘pay grade relative’ bonus. Instead it was created and distributed based entirely on time with the company. The average payout to all employees, from highly trained engineers to assembly line workers, was $75,000.

As an organization, Kingston recognized the principle that people are the real assets. They understood, and subsequently proved, that it’s all about the people:

People who crave success
People who believe they can achieve
People who believe there is an abundance
People who recognize and appreciate other people.

Disclosure: Many thanks to my good friend Steve Reiser for his contribution to this post.