Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How accountability leads to success

Accountability leads to success. Why? When people take responsibility for their actions they make changes that lead them to do things differently, to do new things and/or to stop doing things that held them back. This may sound simplistic, but its true. Continue reading


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Leaders take action

Great leaders understand the responsibility of doing things right, making sure they’re accomplishing the goals they’ve set out for themselves and their organizations. Doing things right is a core to success. However, if you focus too much on planning, and don’t get to work making things happen, you might miss the bigger opportunity.

General George S. Patton summed up this concept nicely when he said: “A good plan executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Planning is a good thing and it’s always necessary. However, if you focus too much on planning you will never achieve the success you’re really looking for.

Steve Johnson – strategic product management coach and storyteller – wrote about the importance of getting things done in a recent post: “There’s doing it right, and there’s doing it perfectly. You want to focus on the former and not the latter.”

Take a look at how you plan, and then take a hard look at how you execute. If you focus more on the planning than the executing, make it a priority to change, to focus on the latter.


The Product Management Perspective: Agile development has become an important software development methodology. While it doesn’t make sense for every product development group to use Agile, the idea of iterating between planning and development can (and should) be applied regardless. If writing a lengthy PRD makes sense, do it, but do it quickly and get it to development so they can start working on it. Don’t get caught up in having the “perfect PRD” – it doesn’t exist. Take time to plan, but get moving quickly. Your customers will be the beneficiaries.


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Do hard things

What does the statement “do hard things” mean to you? In its most simple form the statement can be broken down as follows: the word ‘do’ connotes action or “bring to pass;” the word ‘hard’ (in this case) means challenging or perhaps difficult; and ‘things’ can be any action, task, job or responsibility of your choice. However, there’s much more to this statement than its simple form. Doing hard things means intentionally taking action toward something that you know will not be easy, and yet the end result will far exceed the effort you will exert the pain you will suffer.

Knowing the road will not be easy, why should you do hard things? One reason stands out in my mind: doing hard things instills in you a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that you can do what you say you will do. You build self-worth from which the desire for continuous improvement springs.

St George MarathonMy most recent “do hard things” project was to run a marathon in 3:30 (three hours thirty minutes). I set the goal more than a year ago and determined to carry it out after being accepted to the St. George Marathon last spring. My previous best at St. George was 4:03 and my overall marathon PR (personal record) was 3:43. So, I knew my goal would be challenging. I trained hard running an average of 35 miles per week for 18 weeks. I improved my diet and nutrition, learned what I could do to improve my endurance, and studied the race course to set a strategy for averaging a pace of eight minutes per mile. The marathon runner Juma Ikanga said after winning the New York Marathon: “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” I knew I had to prepare well if I were going to ‘win’ my race (i.e. reach my goal).

Fortunately everything came together as planned. The day was picture perfect and the race went as planned. I finished in 3:30:31. The training was hard. The race was hard. The last five miles were especially grueling. However, the feelings I experienced during the entire process, and especially after the race, were incredible. It was a great sense of accomplishment.

With that said, one additional — extremely important — aspect of doing hard things is this: make sure you have support from people who care about your success. Without my support team there is no way I could have reached my goal. I would not have succeeded without help from the following:

  • God, for giving me everything I have.
  • My dear wife Debbie, who despite thinking I was crazy for running a marathon, gave her complete support and encouragement to me throughout the entire process.
  • My children for not hugging me after I would come home from a training run, but who always hugged me after I showered.
  • My sister Jen for running several long training runs with me, and pushing me during the race.
  • Other friends and family for continually asking me how the training was going and giving me encouragement along the way.
  • Golden at the Runner’s Corner for convincing me to try a new, much lighter pair of shoes. He promised I’d gain at least five minutes during the run. I think it was at least ten.
  • Duane Newman for helping me understand the course and map out a pacing strategy for the race.
  • Many others who have encouraged me along the way.

Running the St. George marathon was an awesome experience and confirmed what I already knew: I can do hard things.

I recommend always having a “do hard things” project on which you are working. Doing so will provide continuous learning and motivation. Don’t shy away; do hard things.


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Book Review: Find Your Great Work

Find Your Great Work“No one ever says: ‘My life’s just too interesting, too stimulating, too provocative, too fulfilling, too engaging…'” All things we do fit into three categories:

  • Bad work: A waste of time, energy and life. Doing it once is one time too many.
  • Good work: The familiar, useful, productive work you do and do well.
  • Great work: The work that matters, inspires, stretches and provokes.

Michael Bungay Stanier offers excellent tidbits of wisdom in his book Find Your Great Work. The book is written in an accessible format to illustrate that many great ideas were born on a napkin; it is about the size of a common napkin and has notes and illustrations drawn on napkins. The author uses maps to demonstrate how to find your great work, understand it and pursue it. He starts by stating five foundational principles:

  • #1: Things only get interesting when you take full responsibility for the choices you make.
  • #2: Changing your focus changes what’s possible.
  • #3: You need to make two choices: what will you say yes to? And what will you say no to?
  • #4: To do great work you must be willing to take a stand, ruffle a few feathers and reset an expectation or three.
  • #5: Great work is not a solo act. You need to welcome others on your journey.

After establishing the foundational principles, Mr. Stanier sets you on the path to finding great work by showing 12 maps. The first three help you figure your Greatness and clarify where you are now. The next three look at the choices you need to make and help you better weigh those choices. The next set of three helps you understand what possibilities you have before you, some of which you already know and some of which you do not. And the final cluster of three moves you to action, taking the next step forward towards your great work. Each map is illustrated in a simple format in which you can insert your own experience and information and it will lead you to understand and develop your work from — good to great.

The world is full of good work. If you want to make a significant contribution, you need to do great work. Finding Your Great Work is an excellent guidebook to help you move in that direction.


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Timely decisions

What does it take to make the right decision? According to a recent post by Seth Godin, the key to making decisions is not time:

First rule of decision making: More time does not create better decisions. In fact, it usually decreases the quality of the decision.

So if taking more time decreases the quality of your decisions, what can you do to increase it? Seth goes on to say:

Deciding now frees up your most valuable asset, time, so you can go work on something else. What happens if, starting today, you make every decision as soon as you have a reasonable amount of data?

Acquire the data you need and sort it out quickly. Make the decision and move forward confidently.

“Leadership is an action, not a position.” ~ Donald H. McGannon

Do not let time get in the way of timely decisions.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you have to sort through a lot of data. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Be decisive.


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The LOVE of leadership: Value

As discussed in a previous post, the practice of love in the context of leadership is both powerful and necessary. Steve Farber describes this clearly in his audio book Extreme Leadership: In Pursuit of the OS!M. What does it mean to love the people you lead? My definition for the acronym LOVE embodies the actions necessary to cultivate positive behaviors that lead to successful results:

  • L – Listen
  • O – Observe
  • V – Value
  • E – Experience

The word ‘value’ has many meanings and is often used as a noun, suggesting worth, importance or significance. In the context of the love of leadership, however, ‘value’ is a verb, meaning the act of appreciating, respecting or esteeming others. It connotes a desire to understand others and give regard to the qualities they possess, while at the same time having patience with their shortcomings.

think-big-act-smallIn the context of leadership, you need to show appreciation for the people you serve. Attaching importance to their positive traits and actions becomes a powerful motivation for progress. The book Think Big, Act Small by Jason Jennings provides great insight into specific actions that help companies keep the start-up spirit alive. “We think big but we act small. When big companies start acting big they get in trouble.”

The principles espoused in this book remind us of the great importance of getting the right people in the company and ensuring they feel appreciation, respect and value from their leaders. Mr. Jennings states:

While studying the nine companies that do a better job of growing revenues than all other companies, we were constantly reminded that each has taken on the modest and humble personality of its leadership. These are truly inspired, collegial, group endeavors where the momentary accomplishments of individuals are overshadowed by the consistent, long-term achievement of a team that’s gently and deftly kept on course by a humble leader (p. 25).

The actions of these leaders inspire great results from the people in their organizations. Do your actions elicit similar behavior?

Value the people in your organization — who they are, what they do and why they give so much — and in turn those people will create great value for your organization.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers work closely with people from different parts (i.e. teams) of the organization. When you interact with other teams, make the effort to understand what they do and why they do it. Value their efforts. When they feel that you care about their contributions they will trust you and will work hard to achieve a common goal. Love the people you work with and inspire them to succeed.


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Act outside the box

We often hear the saying “think outside the box” (or the “bun” in the case of Taco Bell). This saying implies we need to think in different ways and see things through a new lens. Looking through the new lens helps us form a clearer picture of what we need to do to improve our situation. However, thinking is mostly passive and by itself is not enough; we need to act, or be active.

Acting outside the box means putting into action the things we think about when we think outside the box. As leaders in any capacity we need to act on the ideas we come up during brainstorming sessions and see them through to a successful end. I like how Timothy Ferris states it in his book The 4-Hour Work Week: “It isn’t enough to think outside the box. Thinking is passive. Get used to acting outside the box.”