Are leaders born or are they made? Think about some of the great leaders you know…were they born with the ancestry, knowledge or foresight to reach what they have accomplished? Perhaps in a few cases some had extra help. However, most of the great leaders I know came from humble beginnings. They made decisions along the way, which improved their chances and guided them to success. They made the choice to become a leader.
Sometimes it sure seems like other people have all the luck and get all the breaks. They don’t seem to work any harder than you, they don’t appear to be more intelligent, and they certainly are not more handsome. So why do they get the breaks you long for? Robin Sharma, author of The Leader Who Had No Title, summed it up this way:
Lucky breaks are nothing more than unexpected rewards for intelligent choices we’ve chosen to make. Success doesn’t just happen because someone’s stars line up. Success, both in business and personally, is something that’s consciously created. Success is created through conscious choice.
- 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.
Can you remember a time in your life where you when you faced adversity? Perhaps you lost a loved one, you didn’t get accepted to your preferred university, or maybe you lost your job. How did you handle it? What did you do to pick yourself up and move forward? Looking back you probably see that some decisions were right and had a positive effect. In hindsight you might also see decisions you’d like to change or do differently. It’s worth a review.
The bad news: things happen that are beyond your control. The good news: you can choose how you react to everything in your life. This principle was driven home to me last night in a conversation with my wife. I was grousing about a recent (significant) change at work and she held up her hand and said simply, “it’s your choice; you can decide how this will affect you so make a good choice.” Her statement stopped my negative thought process in its tracks. She was absolutely right: I can make the choice of how I react.
When it comes to achieving success, the choice is yours to make. Mac Anderson summed up the importance of choice as follows:
In my 64 years on this earth, I have come to realize that the difference in our success or failure is not change, but choice. Because when adversity strikes, it’s not what happens that will determine our destiny; it’s how we react to what happens.
Mac created an inspirational movie about making choices and finishing strong. It will absolutely inspire you to make choices that will lead you to success (only three minutes and set to a great Survivor tune).
The Product Management Perspective: Managing a product is all about making choices; few if any are easy. When you encounter decisions that must be made about your product, get the information and make the decision. Don’t procrastinate; your product’s success requires your willingness to make tough decisions.
On his blog The Practice of Leadership, George Ambler wrote that leadership is about blazing new trails. What caught my attention, and very quickly, was the close-up of the cow at the beginning. The premise of the post is that people, like cows, tend to follow others on the same winding paths from one point to another. Rarely do they stop and ask why they are going where they’re going. It becomes easier to stop thinking and just do what someone tells them to do. Seldom to they pick up their heads, look around and try to determine what they could change to improve their situation. Instead, like the cows, they follow the path until it gets more trodden and eventually feels like the only possible way to get from here to there.
Leaders are trail blazers; they are not afraid to go places or do things that haven’t been done. They stand fearless in the face of obstacles and find ways to get beyond them. George says: ” if you’re following the herd through the cow paths of life…you’re not leading!” Read the poem and quotes and George’s commentary to get the full picture.
The Product Management Perspective: Having been raised on a cattle ranch, I have followed many a cow trail in my days. It’s amazing how they wind along not going in the best direction to get them to their destination. At times product teams meander like cows, following the habits of their predecessors, not really knowing why. Such behavior never leads to successful products. While such a problem cannot always be solved by the product manager, he or she is in the best position to take the lead, make the tough decisions and get the team headed in the right direction. Leadership is a choice.