Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Reflecting on our freedom

In the United States, we’re celebrating Independence Day. This is a special time because of great leaders, who in the late 1700s risked everything to form a new country where people could pursue their dreams. Those men were not only great leaders in their day, but their influence continues to inspire others—all around the world—to step up and do great things.

Independence Day is a time to reflect on the freedoms we have and the people who paved the way. Though many readers of this blog reside outside the US, I hope you will also appreciate the great things that happened back in the late 1700s and the impact those men had on establishing freedoms enjoyed by many throughout the world today.

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How to lead with commitment

I recently became aware of a CEO who believes he’s a great leader. He’s smart with a solid educational background, and he has the charisma to do great things. However, most of the people in his organization don’t see him as a leader.

You might wonder what he’s lacking. Based on what my friend (who works for him) tells me, he’s not committed to the success of the people in his organization. He storms into meetings and makes statements about how bad things are and that they need to change. In a recent meeting, he came in unannounced and started telling the people in the room what their job titles would be changing to. He then looked at my friend and said, “I’m not sure what your title’s going to be.”

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Five factors of leadership

I’ve stated before that product managers have to be leaders (in the true sense of the word) because they have the responsibility on their shoulders to get products out the door on time, with high quality and under budget. The kicker – and the reason they must be leaders – is the people they rely on to get the job done do not (usually) report them. Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the team members to do great things.

I have identified five factors that, if understood and applied, will improve the leadership role of product managers:

  • People are assets: In any company or organization, the real assets are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization. When product managers see the people on the team as the true assets, and treat them accordingly, they will command the respect of a leader.
  • Trust is vital: Those who value their team members build trust. The trust goes both ways: product managers need to carry out their tasks in such a way that the team members can trust them. They (the PMs) also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do.
  • Knowledge is power: Truthfully, knowledge is potential power; only when it’s applied does it become true power. It’s vitally important for product managers to be learners. Many resources exist for learning: books, trade magazines, blogs, analyst reports, etc. As they take in knowledge and put it into action, their success will increase.
  • Paradigm provides focus: The way in which product managers see their world – their ‘paradigm’ – influences their effectiveness as a leader. They can take the ‘victim’ approach or the ‘agent/hero’ approach. If they blame others and wonder why the world (or their team, or their customers) is against them they are taking the victim approach. If they take accountability for their actions and do whatever it takes to succeed, they become agents of positive change. They become heroes to those whom they lead. Not ‘hero’ in the sense of super heroes, but in the sense of someone who does more than they are expected (and probably paid) to do.
  • Decisions determine future: Leaders make decisions regularly. Successful product managers understand their markets and make difficult decisions that are not always accepted by team members or customers. They do not make decisions carelessly or in cavalier style, but they also do not cower from the responsibility to make a judgment call. They make choices and stand behind them. Ultimately they make decisions that lead their teams and their products to succeed.

These factors apply to many other disciplines and aspects of business. The focus on product management stems – as mentioned – from product managers needing to lead without having management authority over the people responsible for their success. I am confident that product managers who understand and apply these factors will become effective leaders. I am equally confident that anyone – in any field – who applies these factors will find success.

Please leave a comment and let me know whether this resonates with your experience in product management or any other discipline.

One last note: I have been invited to speak at the Software Management Perspectives conference next week where I will examine the Five Factors in more detail. If you attend please stop by and introduce yourself.