Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Leading with love and trust

Leadership can be difficult to understand, to measure and to carry out, and too often the term ‘leader’ is used for someone who manages a group but doesn’t necessarily lead. Furthermore, what constitutes effective leadership differs greatly among cultures, industries and professions.

So how do you know if you are leading effectively?

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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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Fixing the idea-poor company

Idea-poor companies, as defined in The Innovation Value Chain, struggle to cultivate new ideas. Their cultures do not promote developing sound ideas internally and they do not bring in enough good ideas from external sources. The results usually lead to sub-par products and financial returns.

Companies that lack sound idea development most often do not have a good network. Their managers often do not have deep connections with people outside their divisions or companies. To solve this problem they need to focus on building reliableexternal networks and (especially at large companies) improve internal cross-unit networks. The article points out that managers need to search for answers to specific problems by cultivating relationships with experts outside of their immediate influence. They should also focusfinding new ideas within broad technology or product domains. Ultimately, a company that does not generate new ideas will fade away with their declining markets.

For more information on this topic, see Leadership and innovation and Identifying the weak link in product innovation.

The Product Management Perspective: Much has been written about the need for product managers to find and cultivate new ideas for their products. One of the most popular ways of doing this is through customer visits. Listening to the customer is important to understanding market direction; however, product managers need more than that. Alain Breillatt wrote about this topic in his article You Can’t Innovate Like Apple when he said: “The point is not to go ask your customers what they want….The point is to go immerse yourself in their environment and ask lots of ‘why’ questions until you have thoroughly explored the ins and outs of their decision making, needs, wants, and problems. At that point, you should be able to break their needs and the opportunities down into a few simple statements of truth.” In other words, new ideas.