Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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(Let me say right up front…this post has nothing to do with the operating system; for a nice riff on that, check out Gopal’s post.)

Yesterday I stood on top of a high mountain (about 7,500 ft.) and took the opportunity to look at the beautiful panorama. I could see more or less 30 miles in all directions. I saw valleys, mountains, lakes and rock formations; it was truly a beautiful sight to behold.

It made me stop and think about the difference between what you see when you’re in the valley vs. what you see when you’re on top of the mountain. In the valley you see things close up, you get the details of the things in your immediate surroundings. However, you may not see things that are close by because of the obstacles in the way. From the top of the mountain you see a broad view; the whole picture of everything around you. Nevertheless, you cannot see the details of the things that are going on in the valleys below.

Most often we spend our time with our heads down working in the “valley,” or in the details; this is natural. However, it’s a good idea to occasionally climb to the “top of the mountain” to get the big picture; to take a broader look at what’s going on around us. In other words, take a look at how we’re spending our time and make sure it aligns with the long-term goals we’ve set. Small, timely adjustments will pay dividends in the long run.

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Purpose alignment

If you have read my article you know that I believe deeply in leading on purpose, in making a focused, intentional effort to improve yourself and the people with whom you work. It takes time, effort and energy to do it consistently.

I recently read an article by Niel Nickolaisen about aligning your business or organization around its strengths and the strengths of its people. (I received a hard copy of this article, Determining IT’s Strategic and Tactical Roles; Niel, if you read this perhaps you can point us to an on-line copy.)

Niel discusses the need for companies to define their core competency and focus their efforts on building in those areas. They should evaluate business activities in two dimensions: First, the extent to which the activity differentiates the organization in the marketplace. Second, the extent to which the activity is mission-critical to the organization.

Depending on where the activity falls (i.e. high or low) based on each criterion, they can map it and determine whether it’s a core competency and something they should focus on. (Fortunately I was able to find Niel’s quadrant on-line.) If it’s not core, don’t spend a lot of time or effort. This quote sums it up nicely: “It would not make sense to design a marketing campaign that proclaims, ‘Buy our cars (or jets or LCD monitors). We have the world’s best accounting system!’”

These principles apply nicely to leading teams (whether as a product manager or in some other role). We need to focus on our strengths (core competencies) and outsource to, or partner with, others who have strengths in other areas. Thus collaborating we improve the organization as a whole.