Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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The power of influence

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the UPMA meeting; the keynote speaker was my former professor and mentor Eric Denna who gave a presentation titled “The Influencer: An Executive Look at Product Management.” The presentation was great and I want to share a few of the key discussion points (in my own words and subject to my personal biases).

At the heart of most problems that occur in business settings you find the following:

  • Lack of influence
  • Poor teamwork
  • Mediocre productivity.

At the core of the problem lies a lack of effective communication, which tends to show up in one of two ways: silence or violence. Silence means you turn quiet and stop communicating; you shut the other person(s) out and withdraw your efforts to solve the problem. In this context, ‘violence’ usually means you verbally attack the other person(s) and say things with the intent of deflecting blame. Neither of these reactions solves the problem at hand.

When you find yourself in a situation where the reaction is either silence or violence, you may face what Eric calls the succor’s choice – “I can be honest or I can be nice.” Those who tend towards being honest often say things that come across as mean or otherwise hurtful — violence. Those who favor being nice end up lying to the person to avoid hurting his or her feelings — silence. Either response leads to problems.

How do you avoid the silence/violence dilemma? Talk openly and candidly with the person about the problem. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings and views about the issue at hand. Take the time to clearly state how you feel about the behaviors the other person is exhibiting; be honest and do it in a nice way. Have the conversation and do it in a way that invites the other person to solve the problem with you. Use positive influence to drive to a mutually beneficial result.

Any time you are stuck, if you look closely at your situation you will find a crucial conversation keeping you there. Don’t let silence or violence trap you; take control of the situation by making the other person feel safe talking with you. There is not a conversation you cannot have. There is not a disagreement you cannot overcome.


The LOVE of leadership: Listen

As discussed in an previous post, it might make some uncomfortable to use the word ‘love’ in the context of leadership. However, the practice of love in the context of leadership is both powerful and necessary. Steve Farber describes this clearly in his audio book Extreme Leadership: In Pursuit of the OS!M. What does it mean to love the people you lead? Many applications exist and all are important. My definition for the acronym LOVE embodies the actions necessary to cultivate positive behaviors that lead to successful results, and includes the following actions:

  • L – Listen
  • O – Observe
  • V – Value
  • E – Experience

The action word listen holds the key to understanding other people. By listening to others you appreciate what they are going through and in time learn to identify with them. When you listen with real intent, people start to trust you and they open up. Listening opens up the portals of communication and exchange through conversation.

Crucial Conversations

The book Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high — written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler — provides excellent direction on the importance listening has on effective dialog. They advocate the following actions to improve the effectiveness of listening:

  • Be sincere: To discover important facts and stories you need to invite people to open up. When you invite people to share their views, you have to be sincere. When you ask people to open up, be prepared to listen.
  • Be curious: Regardless of the behavior others exhibit, you need to show interest. If they are mad, ask questions (in a nice way) to try and get to the root of the problem. When tensions are high let curiosity, not adrenaline, shape your behavior.
  • Be patient: As a leader you encounter many different personalities; some are easier to get along with than others. Exercise patience when dealing with other people. Encourage them to share their feelings and ideas and show genuine interest in who they are and what they believe in.

Effective listening requires effort. It’s an important step in understanding others and convincing them you truly care. The 2:1 ratio fits nicely: listen twice as much as you talk, and listen with twice as much intent.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to love their customers. One of the best ways to show customers you care about them is to truly listen to them. Too often product managers hear the words coming out of a customer’s mouth and immediately start talking about how their product will solve the problem, rather than listening to find the root of the problem and seeking answers. Most product managers understand that customers are not always right. However, it is always in your best interest to listen to them and understand what they are saying.

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Crucial Conversations

In many Crucial Conversationssituations, especially when it comes to leadership, what we say can make or break the outcome. Such is the premise of the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high. What we say, and the way we conduct ourselves at certain, critical times determine our success or lack thereof.

Crucial Conversations was written by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler who have formed a company called Vital Smarts to provide training that helps teams and organizations achieve high results. I have not taken their training, but based on this book, and the corporate case studies, their courses no-doubt help organizations produce better results.

The authors define a crucial conversation as “a discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.” They give examples of many different situations where the conversations are crucial; it’s not just in high-stakes business.

When we face crucial conversation we can do one of three things:

  • We can avoid them.
  • We can face them and handle them poorly.
  • We can face them and handle them well.

The book focuses on ideas and techniques we can use to handle crucial conversations well, gain the trust of those with whom we interact, and improve our ability to communicate with others. I have noticed a marked improvement in my own interactions with others since I read this book. If you find yourself in a situation where you depend on working with, living with or interacting with people, and you rely on those interactions, this book will be of great help.