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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What are you really competing against?

In our world of work and business, competition is a real thing. Too often, however, we miss the real competitor. We overlook the root of what our products are really competing against. As Peter Drucker famously said: “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him.”

Why do we miss the mark when it comes to competing in products and services? Why do the majority of innovations fall short of their desired objectives? Are you competing against luck?

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How do you win the war for talent?

Guest post by Sarah Sladek

About 40 years ago, shortly after the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) were born, demographers and industry leaders realized that someday this generation of 78 million Americans would retire and the nation would experience a shortage of experienced and knowledgeable talent.

Alas, the time has come. Continue reading


Why Sports Builds Leadership

Guest post by Jordan Spindler

Leadership is a personal trait that often proves elusive to many people, however is intimately related to personal success. Leaders are at the forefront of their fields; they are respected and quite often wealthy. Leaders also foster social change, and most of our cultural, social and economic progress is the result of leadership.

It’s no surprise that many people would like to acquire this trait and would like to see their children develop strong leadership skills. While leadership remains easy to define and identify, a consistent summation of characteristics that make an effective leader remains elusive. So, too, does the way to impart leadership to an eager young mind.

There are many institutions that propose to teach leadership in different areas, with varying success rates. There are even people who speculate that leadership is an innate trait, and therefore can’t be learned. However, there seems to be something of a consensus regarding the relationship between sports and leadership, at least as acknowledged by governments and industry.

Not just any sport will do, however. Team participation is often cited as an important aspect in using sports to develop leadership skills. In fact, team participation is often more important than the physical component, as a search through the biographies of the captains of industry will show: few of them were High-School Quarterback. They all were on some team, however.

Sports are highly competitive, and their nature is to push enthusiastic participants to achieve more than their rivals. In fact, the basis of competitive sports is rivalry, and it is in this competitive atmosphere of team sports that pushes people towards “taking one for the team”, and fostering team spirit. It is within the cohesion of a team that a captain will stand out and acquire the position of leader.

This doesn’t mean that people who participate in relatively individual activities such as jogging or weight lifting can’t use their chosen sport to improve their leadership skills. For example, one of the benefits of indoor cycling is that you can communicate with fellow spinners while working out, and help build a team. Organizing teams will help motivate the members to get more out of their routine as well as provide leadership opportunities for the team.

Competition is one of the bases that produces leadership, which is why the University of California hosts Leadership Competitions along with other institutions that foster leadership, such as the Rotary Clubs. Competition is a motivating factor in human psychology, and one of the traits of leadership is the ability to motivate people to challenge themselves and meet goals.

Competitive team sports creates and environment where people have to work together in order to achieve their goals. Team spirit and the ability to work with others is an essential part of being a leader. An often overlooked part of leadership is the ability to work within a team, which also means listening to other people and understanding different points of view. Someone who can’t play for the team cannot hope to lead it.

The teams and competition of sports are an analogy of the teams of coworkers and competing businesses that leaders must face in the world. The skills learned in each are valuable in the other. If you’re looking to build your own leadership skills or those of your children, consider taking on an exciting and challenging sport today.

Jordan Spindler is a freelance writer and avid fitness enthusiast. His health and fitness articles have been published in a number of national news publications, including the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is a graduate of the University of California Riverside, and although his degree is in English, his passions are fitness and self-improvement.

The Product Management Perspective: The teamwork aspect of sports fits nicely with product management because product managers are usually very competitive. Use that competitive drive to not only become a great team player, but also the team leader.

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Book Review: The 1% Solution

“The average difference between the gold medal winner and fourth place is just 1 percent.” In any type of competition the margin of victory is slim, and it can seem overwhelming to even try to compete. The key premise in The 1% Solution: How to Make Your Next 30 Days the Best Ever is that while not everyone can be great, everyone can be better than they are right now. While you may never be 100% better than all the others, you can be 1% better at hundreds of things. 

Motivation is a key principle discussed in the book. Motivation leads to action, which leads to more motivation. The more you get done, the more motivated you are to do things. So you do more things, and you get even more motivated. The best way to increase motivation is to increase action.

Author Tom Connellan uses the “business fable” style for The 1% Solution, interlacing actionable ideas with a fictional plot. The main character is Ken, a soccer dad who goes on a journey to find out how to improve his execution and increase his success. He learns about key success factors such as the following:

  • The difference between exceptional and EXCEPTIONALLY exceptional = 1%.
  • You can’t be 100% better than everyone else, but you can be 1% better at hundreds of things.
  • You may not win all the time, but you can have a winner’s heart if you do something better today than you did it yesterday.
  • Not everyone can be great, but everyone can be better than they are right now.
  • Aim to be swifter, higher, stronger — not swiftest, highest, strongest.

You have to start from where you are. Doing your best in the present must be the rule. Everyone who spends time in deliberate practice improves his or her performance. Focus on how great it will be when you succeed, rather than on what will happen if you fail. An finally, take time to “recharge your batteries.” Get at least eight hours of sleep each night and take regular vacations.

While the story line is good, there are a few parts that are a bit banal and hard to follow. However, the principles taught throughout the story are excellent, and Connellan brings them out with sidebars and figures that convey the ideas powerfully. If you feel stuck in your current situation and are looking for a shot in the arm, I highly recommend The 1% Solution.

The Product Management Perspective: The rigor required in product management can lead to stress and frustration. We all have days where it feels like we just can’t quite get over the top and feel like we’re succeeding. The principles taught in The 1% Solution apply nicely to PM and if applied will make a significant difference in your motivation and outlook on the future.

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Guest Post: The “General” Manager – Soldier Lessons for the Business Battlefield

By John Durfee, Gulf War veteran and Marketing Manager at Airsplat

You’re about to enter a known enemy compound and your heart is beating in your ears. The temperature is dropping quickly in the desert night. As you wait behind the door, you hear your team line up, boots scuffing the ground, weapons cocked. You open the door and see a burst of light. Gunshots? No, just a small fire burning in the center of an open courtyard. Behind you, your unit fans out providing covering fire and yelling out what they see, “Right Clear!” “Left Clear!” “Windows Clear!”. You find that the compound empty; the enemy must have left before you arrived. However, one fact remains clear to you; your men did well, they performed as they were trained, and if they were to have encountered the enemy, they would have done well.

Whether you’re the platoon commander of an Army Infantry Patrol, or the Director of Human Resources, you’re still a leader. You still set goals for others to follow and make sure everyone performs to the best of their abilities. Both positions need to have the same sense of vision, drive, and planning, in order to make their teams survive and thrive. In today’s economy, a sense of battle in the marketplace is apparent as competition for customers and profits is high. Here are some pearls of wisdom from the military world that are relevant in the business world of today:


“I will always be on time to relieve, and shall endeavor to do more, rather than less, than my share.”
This is a fine line to walk as a leader. If you micromanage, you’ll have employees that wait for instructions every step of the way and will not use their own resources. However, if you don’t give enough direction, and you’ll be wasting time and resources having to delegate and do work over. Not every person in an office can be led the same way. Some may need specific instructions and constant follow up, whereas others are able to work independently and take initiative. Know where to apply your energies and you’ll be working faster and more efficiently. In fact, a great way to increase productivity in a workplace is to cross-train employees across departments. This lets employees understand each other’s role and promotes communication between departments.


“I will lead by example, never requiring a soldier to attempt any task that I would not do myself.”
To be a strong leader, you need to show an unshakeable work ethic. Your team is only as great as you show them to be. It’s a tough example to live up too, but by leading by example you show, rather than tell, what’s to be expected of them. You set the bar of potential through your own work ethic, but you also have to shore up your defenses and patch up any weaknesses. This means that when discipline needs to be applied, it must be consistent and without hesitation. In the military, failures come with consequences. You might not necessarily do it on the first offense, but you need to let employees know you will reprimand those not accomplishing what’s expected of them. This may seem harsh, but an office succeeds and fails as a whole, and all the individuals need to be responsible for the overall success of the company.


“I forsake not my…..my mission, my comrades, my sacred duty. I am relentless. I am always there.”
Growth happens when you are challenged. Maintaining an even keel means you’re giving someone else the chance to advance beyond you. This can be giving another company a chance to rise up past you. No position is entitled, so you must keep fighting and proving yourself to your superiors. If your team becomes relied upon, you’re seen as the hardest working, producing the most value for the company, and therefore you’ll make a name for yourselves. The simple hard and constant application of firepower and force on your goals will keep you competitive. Bill Gates is the master of staying ahead of the pack in the business world. He says, “In this business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.” Those who aren’t growing are falling behind – if you’re not shooting, you’re the one being shot at.

John Durfee is a Gulf War veteran and the marketing manager for Airsplat, the nation’s largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.

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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.


Before its time

My good friend Saeed wrote a great post on why Product Management is everything! He makes this claim based on a Harvard Business Review article written in 1991 by Regis McKenna called Marketing is Everything. Saeed does a great job describing how the claims McKenna made, about marketing, really pointed to product management; specifically technology-based product management. The only problem was, McKenna did not know about product management or have a good catch-phrase to describe it at the time. After several quotes from the article and well-thought-out supporting commentary, Saeed asserts the following:

It should be clear where McKenna was heading with this. This new type of Marketing–that understands technology, the market, customer needs, and the competition; that works with partners, suppliers, vendors as well as customers; that integrates the customers into the development process to produce superior products and services–is what we today call Product Management.

Whether he intended it to be so or not, what Regis McKenna, one of the luminaries of high-tech marketing was saying, was that the critical function that companies must adopt to thrive in the market is Product Management.

It’s enjoyable to see how the discipline of product management has evolved, and good to know its importance was understood before its time. So what’s the new discipline evolving today that doesn’t yet have a name?