Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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How do you land the career of your dreams?

Guest post by Frank Song

Many working professionals are stuck in underpaid, intellectually unstimulating jobs, and at companies with no career growth potential. Do you know anyone in this position? Does this describe your situation?

In today’s competitive landscape, you need to take a different approach to landing the career of your dreams.

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Developing Leadership Skills Early in your Career

Guest post by Caroline Ross

One thing that many young professionals don’t understand about the job market is that leadership plays a huge role in getting hired. As a former hiring manager and supervisor, I can say that the recent grads who have succeeded most in the workforce are those who’ve had intentional leadership experiences in college and after they’ve graduated. These are the types that succeed, so these were the types that I hired. If you’re worried about finding the right job early in your career, focus on leadership. Here’s how:

1. Don’t just join organizations; lead organizations
Many college students join various student organizations for the express purpose of padding their resume. They tend to do the same after college. When I see a laundry list of student or professional organizations on an applicant’s resume, this demonstrates to me that you aren’t very committed. Instead, join one organization that you’re truly passionate about, no matter what that organization is, and endeavor to become a leader within that organization. It’s much better to have one organization of which you were the president or chairman, instead of having several organizations on your resume that you were only semi-involved with.

2. Practice public speaking skills by joining Toast Masters or taking a speech course
Solid communication skills are important in every facet of the adult world, whether it’s during an interview, at work, or even in your personal relationships. A good, confident speaker, in my eyes, is a leader. As such, take the time to learn the basics of good public speaking. Most cities have at least one Toast Master’s chapter, and most schools also offer speaking courses, which you can still take as a continuing education course after you’ve graduated. Avail yourself of these opportunities to improve your ability to communicate and persuade.

3. Be involved at work and speak up
Every day, there are hundreds of hidden opportunities to develop leadership skills. One of the easiest ways to do so is to speak up during work meetings and be involved, even if you aren’t required to speak. Of course, offer your opinion in an appropriate manner so others will be receptive. You’ll not only learn the art of speaking, but you’ll also learn how to express your opinions in a clear and convincing manner, which matters a great deal in your future career. You can also practice leadership through greater involvement in other areas, like volunteering with a local organization.

Of course, you aren’t going to start your career off being the best possible leader that you can be. Leadership is an art that’s developed throughout your whole life. But if you take the time to practice early, you’ll be much more successful when it comes time to finding a job that suits your talents.  Good luck!

Caroline Ross is a freelance writer and entrepreneur. She particularly enjoys giving students advice about their future careers and personal development. Check out more Caroline’s writing at www.accreditedonlineuniversities.com. Caroline welcomes your comments below!


The Product Management Perspective: Learning is (or it should be) a life-long endeavor. Make learning and leadership development a focus in your work as a product manager and you will find new avenues of success in your career.


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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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Five tips for career growth

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward.” If you’re moving backward, who’s fault is it? Who is responsible? We all know the answer to this.

The people whose careers seem to grow the fastest follow similar patterns of behavior. They understand competition exists, they recognize the steps they need to take to succeed, and they understand who is responsible. They take charge of their career and accept full responsibility for their growth.

The following five actions will help accelerate your career growth:

  1. Improve skills and knowledge: Instead of hunkering down in your current state, take specific actions to improve your skills. Look for opportunities for training. Read books. Read blogs. Make an effort to learn new skills and practice them as much as you can in your current job. Remember these words from Eric Hoffer: “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.”
  2. Develop trust: People naturally want to surround themselves with people they trust. Developing trust takes time and consistent effort. Trust goes two ways: you need to behave in such a way that people will trust you will do what you say. And equally important, you need to trust others.
  3. Help others: One of the keys to growth is helping others. When you make the effort to assist someone else to become better at what they do, you become better yourself.
  4. Believe in yourself: As your skills increase, you gain more experience and a clearer understanding your significance to your organization. Believing in yourself, your skills, and your ability to succeed — without becoming arrogant — is a good thing. And never forget the people who have helped you along the way.
  5. Work yourself out of the job: This one may not make sense on its face, but the idea is to work effectively and close the loop on what you are doing. Think in terms of projects: plan what you are going to do, work at it and when it’s finished move on to the next project. Work effectively and make it so that anyone could step in and take over. As you do that you will automatically make yourself more valuable to your company, and they will have no choice but to promote you or find something more challenging for you to do.

One of the Harvard Business Review management tips states it very clearly: “Responsibility for your professional development lies squarely on your shoulders.” Go out and make it happen.


The Product Management Perspective: Career growth is important to every product manager I know. The role lends itself to working with many people in different parts of the company and with customers and others external to the organization. Practicing the five actions listed above will increase your value to your company and accelerate your career growth. And when you work yourself out of the product management position, perhaps you’ll find yourself in an executive’s chair.


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Everyone is a product manager

Yes, that’s right, as I see it everyone is a product manager. 

I know some of you who hold the title of “Product Manager” might cringe at the thought of me calling everyone a product manager. You have spent years learning, working and driving to become market experts, and have accumulated significant experience releasing products and solutions.

So why do I assert that everyone is a product manager? Because every person is responsible for managing his or her own contribution to the world. This contribution is, in a sense, the product they provide to the world — the product called “Me.”

The seeds for this idea were planted back in 1997 when I read the Fast Company article “The Brand Called You” by Tom Peters. In this article Peters described how the focus of business had long been on the big brands and the “behemoth companies” that spent millions building brand awareness. But that focus on the big brands was starting to change. “The good news — and it is largely good news — is that everyone has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.”

Most people probably don’t think of themselves as a product manager — perhaps engineer, accountant, salesperson, executive or some other title fits more comfortably. When it comes to creating your own success, the ‘product’ metaphor is useful. Here are a few ways to manage and improve your “product” more effectively:

  • Do market research: Discover your strengths and talents. Find out where you can make the biggest difference and add the most value to the world.
  • Create requirements: Create a list of requirements. Do an honest evaluation and come up with a list of things you need to succeed in your desired market (or job). Make a commitment to improving in each area.
  • Define your roadmap: With a solid understanding of your strengths and unique abilities, write your ‘roadmap’ to success. Define your goals and write a plan to achieve them.
  • Develop a Win/Loss attitude: This is similar to a win-win attitude, but with a measure of humility that allows you to learn from failures. Everyone willing to try new things will have setbacks and will even fail at times. Seek to learn from every experience.
  • Launch your product: Don’t hesitate to try new things or to take on new responsibilities. Products that churn in “development” cannot take off. Don’t be afraid to take the next step.

These are just a few of the areas you can use product management to improve your own ‘product.’ Art Petty said it well in a post about the pursuit of your own potential: “You work hard to manage your own brand.” Hard work and focus are vital to successful products.

Mark Sanborn writes that the essential adjective for brand success is ‘interesting.’ He says you need to make your brand interesting or people will not want to buy it. The same can be said about your ‘product.’ You need to build your skills and personality so that you catch the eye of others who are looking for what you can provide. If you are interesting to them they will want what you have to offer; they will pay money for your product.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers already know how to create great software and hardware products. Use these same methods to improve your own career. Spend some time on improving your own ‘product.’


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Five ways to make yourself more valuable

In a down economy when things get tough, people get nervous. Some employees feel nervous about keeping their jobs. They get in the “hunker down” mode and do everything they can protect their job. Do you know anyone who behaves that way?

The people who are the most secure in their careers follow similar patterns of behavior. They understand competition exists. They recognize the steps they need to take to succeed. They manage their fears in the face of threats. They know life is a journey and look forward to every turn.

One of the keys to success is in understanding the value you bring to your organization and taking steps to increase it over time. The following five actions will help you increase your value and enhance your self-confidence:

  1. Improve skills and knowledge: Instead of hunkering down and running below the radar, take specific actions to improve your skills. Look for opportunities for training. If the company will not/cannot spring for it this year, look for learning opportunities online. Read books. Read blogs. Make an effort to learn new skills and practice them as much as you can in your current job. Remember the cogent words of Eric Hoffer: “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.”
  2. Help others: One of the best antidotes to self-pity and fear is to help other people. When you make the effort to assist someone else to become better at what they do, you become better yourself. When you help others your confidence grows and you increase your value to those around you.
  3. Develop trust: People naturally want to surround themselves with people they trust. Developing trust takes time and consistent effort. Trust goes two ways: you need to behave in such a way that people will trust you will do what you say. And equally important, you need to trust others. Developing relationships of trust increases your value.
  4. Believe in yourself: As your skills increase, you gain more experience, you begin to understand your significance to your organization. Trials and difficult circumstances can diminish these feelings, but they should not. Believing in yourself, your skills, and your ability to succeed — without becoming arrogant — is a good thing. Never forget the people who have helped you increase your value along the way.
  5. Work yourself out of the job: This one may not make sense at face value. If you work yourself out of the current job, what will you do? The idea is to work effectively and close the loop on what you are doing. Think in terms of projects: each one has a beginning and an end. You plan what you are going to do, work at it and when it’s finished you move on to the next project. When your project is successful, it’s easier to land the next project. Jobs are the same way. Make your work so effective and make it run so well that anyone could step in and take over. As you do that you will automatically make yourself more valuable to your company, and they will have no choice but to promote you or find something more challenging for you to do.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you are in a unique position to create value. Your role lends itself to working with many people in different parts of the company and with customers and others external to the organization. Practicing the five actions listed above will increase your value to your company and accelerate your career growth. And when you work yourself out of the product management position, perhaps you’ll find yourself in an executive’s chair.

Disclosure: Many thanks to my good friend Steve Reiser for the initial ideas on this post.


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Book Review: Halftime

“The biggest mistake most of us make in the first half [of our lives] is not taking enough time for the things that are really important.” In his book HALFTIME: Moving from Success to Significance, author Bob Buford explores three stages of life:

  • The first half: On average, the first 40 years of your life. This is the time when most people focus more on their careers and less on others (and other significant causes). Bob talks about how his career (in TV station business) took off. He had tremendous success, but had a “success panic” that made him stop and reevaluate his priorities. He also tells a touching story about losing his son Ross. These (and other factors) lead him to the next stage.
  • Halftime: This is the time when you take stock of what you have accomplished thus far in your life and look for ways to move from success to significance. He compares it to halftime in sports (games like basketball and American football) that have a break during games. This break gives the teams a chance to evaluate their performance in the first half and chart ways to improve in the second half. It’s a chance to dig more deeply into what you believe and evaluate whether your life is heading in a direction compatible with your core beliefs. Bob gives several methods to help you increase your significance.
  • The second half: The time when you can truly make a significant contribution to the world. In rare cases this happens early in life; however, with planning and effort anyone can make it happen during the second half of their life. Bob discusses creating a life mission and making efforts to carry it out for the benefit of others.

HalftimeHalftime is all about finding ways to be a leader in your own life; especially the second half of your life. It provides great advice on how to make your life significant in ways you probably never imagined. You will find this book valuable if you are looking for ways to make a more significant contribution to your community, church or in other areas of your life. Bob is definitely a religious man (Christian) and that comes out significantly throughout the book. I recommend this book for people who are looking to create significance in the second half of their lives.