Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Leadership is a relationship

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary lists several definitions for the word relationship. The term is generally used to denote family ties, but it’s also used as a state of connecting or binding participants. Actions that bring people together and bind them in a common cause are key to building effective relationships.

I was first introduced to the statement ‘leadership is a relationship’ in the book The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. The authors go into great detail about the importance of building camaraderie among the people you are leading. When you have a meaningful relationship with another person you work more effectively together. You have a common goal and a consistent purpose. Your efforts are channeled toward the same common outcome.

Effective leaders recognize the importance of building solid relationships. They spend time focusing their efforts in key areas that will build connections with the people they lead. Here are three simple tools that great leaders use to improve their working relationships:

  • Listen: Leaders let other people talk and they pay attention to what they’re saying. They remove anything that would distract from their conversations and focus on what people are trying to convey.
  • Understand: They appreciate what other people do and value their contributions. Leaders are not only open to new ideas but are also eager to learn new things. They know that taking the time to understand where people are coming from will pay dividends in the long run.
  • Acknowledge: Leaders acknowledge the contributions of others. They are quick to give credit to others for their successes. They celebrate achievements and delight in the accomplishments of their team. They know that people will be more motivated to work hard and try new things if their leader acknowledges their efforts.

What are you doing to build effective relationships?


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers depend on others in engineering, marketing, sales, etc. for their success. This dependence makes building relationships essential. People are assets; the only way to effectively work with others is to build positive, effective working relationships. Listen to them, consider their circumstances, show empathy, then move forward and make decisions that will be beneficial for everyone in your organization.


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Guest Post: Talk is Cheap!

Make communication with employees your priority during times of economic adversity

By Albert J. Weatherhead

If you’re a business leader, you don’t have to confront tough economic times alone.  You have incredibly knowledgeable and highly motivated consultants at your beck and call.  These experts are chomping at the bit to help you emerge from the current economic adversity stronger and ready to hit the ground running when the economy brightens.

This consulting resource is none other than your employees – and it won’t cost you an extra cent to take advantage of their expertise and tap their limitless good will, because talk is cheap

All you have to do is ask!

Using communication and collaboration to overcome and transform adversity is a topic I cover extensively in my book, THE POWER OF ADVERSITY: Tough Times Can Make Your Stronger, Wiser, and Better.   And I can assure you that the advice I share with you today has stood the test of time…

It helped me inspire my Weatherchem team to create the original Flapper® dispensing closure. Over 150 companies, including Durkee, Cremora, San Giorgio, Ronzoni, and McCormick, now use the entire line of Flapper products, and Weatherchem continues to lead the industry in offering the widest, most innovative array of closure products.

This advice also worked for me almost 50 years ago, when, at the age of 30, I was working for my father at the Weatherhead Company, a manufacturer of military ordinance, automotive and aviation parts, and gas control devices and storage products…

Economic Adversity Builds Walls for You To Tear Down

It was 1960, and members of the AFL-UAW Local 463 union negotiation committee led by its president, John Allar, were threatening to strike the Weatherhead Company over a wages dispute.  We employed 600 people in a million square foot factory so vast that a railway track ran down the middle.

I said to Allar, “Rather than be at each other’s throats as we sink, let’s work together – collaborate – and figure out how we’re going to get out of this mess…”

In other words, I was ready to tear down the walls that separated the union and management, because I understood that we needed each other to survive.

Unfortunately, my gesture was rebuffed and the union decided to strike.

That first day, I made sure I was there by 6:00 AM, before the union pickets. They arrived to see me busy changing a flat tire on a truck.

“Oh, look, he’s finally doing some manual labor,” the union reps taunted, but I could see the look of respect in their eyes (and more important, in the eyes of the union rank and file setting up to walk the picket line).

I had captured their attention and interest, and primed them to communicate and collaborate with me.

What was my strategy?  One way or another, I was determined to turn the walls between us into a bridge that could span our differences. From that very first day, I walked that picket line with my striking employees, engaging them in conversation whenever I could.

My staff watching from the factory’s executive suite, was worried the picketers would take a baseball bat to me, but nobody did, because I kept them talking.

And yes…

Talk is cheap, but it is also invaluable in building trust between

management and employees when economic times are hard.

In the end, the strike was settled on the terms I established – because the union came to see that my terms were the right terms for our mutual success… and because I kept us talking.

Now let’s return to the present economic mess we’re in…

Concerning the auto industry debacle, do you understand why Congress had the top executives come to Washington to participate in hearings, but didn’t call in the car companies’ union negotiating committees to hear their side of things?

For that matter, why didn’t Congress have the smarts to invite a contingent of assembly line workers to share viewpoints from the factory floor? (Those hard-working, blue-collar folks would probably have put forth the most valuable testimony of all!)

Don’t you make the same mistake: Tear down the walls and talk to your employees.  Discover what’s running through their minds, and be sure to let them know what you’re thinking – and that you want their help because you’re all in the same boat.

Successful management – in a good economy or a bad one – is more like taking a pulse than taking inventory, because beyond all the mechanics of the place, every business is a collective human endeavor.

And what separates humankind from all the other creatures is our ability to talk, so always, always communicate with your employees.

Ask: How can we improve this place? What’s wrong here? I guarantee you will get more valuable information in just a few hours than you could possibly act upon in a year!

It worked for me half a century ago on the picket lines in front of my father’s company …

It worked far more recently to help me build Weatherchem into a multimillion-dollar manufacturing company that has provided me with the means to be a major philanthropist, endowing hospitals, universities, and charities that offer valuable help to thousands of people.

You too can leverage economic adversity to strengthen and revitalize your business so

that you’ll be well positioned when financial prosperity once again returns, which I’m confident it will.

Just remember… Talk may be cheap, but it’s also priceless when it comes to building camaraderie, respect, energy – and yes, even love – throughout your workplace, in both good times and bad.

Albert J. Weatherhead is the author of The Power Of Adversity and chairman and CEO of Weatherchem, a private manufacturer of plastic closures for food, spice, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products.