Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Learn to let go

I am facing a major change in the next week. My daughter, who has gone to college for a couple of years, recently decided to serve an 18 month mission for our church; she will be serving in Scotland and Ireland for the next year and a half. While I couldn’t be happier for her decision, it’s admittedly difficulty for me to let her go. Not only will I miss doing things with her, but I’ll also worry about her safety. Though logic tells me she’s a “big girl” and will handle herself well, it’s difficult for me to let go. And yet I know that this experience will provide opportunities that will help her grow throughout her life.

As leaders, we often face situations where someone we know wants to take a new position that will give them opportunities to grow in their career. We might hesitate to let them go because they play such a key role. However, successful leaders learn when to let go and support their people taking new roles (even if they are leaving the organization).

To the extent we support and encourage someone in this situation we will find new opportunities for growth in our own situation. For example, the process of finding and training someone to backfill a role will help us sharpen our own saw. It’s never easy, but in the long run our efforts will be well worth it. The more we help others get where they want to go, the better off we become. And quite often, the people you help with their careers come back later to help you succeed.

The Product Management Perspective: Quite often as product managers we get comfortable with a given development team or marketing exec, and then change comes and we wonder what’s going to happen. As with most things in life, if we embrace the change and work for the best outcome, good things will happen. Learn to let go, and then double down, work hard and things will go well.


Making tough decisions

Making big decision is not easy; in fact it might be one of the most difficult things we ever have to do. The tendency is to postpone decisions as long as we can and put of the pain.

At its root the word of decision means to cut off. When you make a decision you go with one thing and leave all the rest behind. Cutting yourself off from other choices is not easy, and that’s at the root of why we tend to put off big decisions. We postpone decisions for various reasons: we don’t want to offend people; we’re not sure who or what to choose; we’re afraid we’ll be wrong in the end. We need to stop putting off big decisions.

According to Seth Godin, the key to making big decisions is not time: “First rule of decision making: More time does not create better decisions. In fact, it usually decreases the quality of the decision.” Why is it better to act quickly? Seth goes on to say, “Deciding now frees up your most valuable asset, time, so you can go work on something else. What happens if, starting today, you make every decision as soon as you have a reasonable amount of data?”

A CEO I know recently made a decision to consolidate three teams into one. Two of the teams were led by VPs, which meant one of them had to go. There was a fair amount of disagreement whether the CEO made the right decision, but I was very impressed by his decisive action. I don’t know any of the details behind the decision, but from my perspective he didn’t draw it out, he was cordial and fair to all parties involved, and he didn’t apologize. He admitted he might find out he was wrong at some point, but he accepted full responsibility for the decision and is moving forward.

“Leadership is an action, not a position.” ~ Donald H. McGannon

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you have to sort through a lot of data. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Be decisive. 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 depends on it.


Timely decisions

What does it take to make the right decision? According to a recent post by Seth Godin, the key to making decisions is not time:

First rule of decision making: More time does not create better decisions. In fact, it usually decreases the quality of the decision.

So if taking more time decreases the quality of your decisions, what can you do to increase it? Seth goes on to say:

Deciding now frees up your most valuable asset, time, so you can go work on something else. What happens if, starting today, you make every decision as soon as you have a reasonable amount of data?

Acquire the data you need and sort it out quickly. Make the decision and move forward confidently.

“Leadership is an action, not a position.” ~ Donald H. McGannon

Do not let time get in the way of timely decisions.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you have to sort through a lot of data. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Be decisive.

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Success is a choice

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.


The paralysis of inaction

It’s no secret that difficult situations happen to everyone. Nothing you do will remove every obstacle on your path to success.

At time, the difficulties — such as emergencies — happen quickly. In those cases most people act quickly and do everything they can to mitigate their problems. However, difficulties often creep up slowly and cause pain gradually.

You’ve heard the story of boiling a frog. How often do you find yourself in a situation you know you want to change, but you can’t muster the courage to “jump out” or change your circumstances? This is the paralysis of inaction, and it has a negative, draining affect on your performance. In the book Think Big, Act Small the author Jason Jennings makes this astute observation:

Uncertain futures cause paralysis and inaction at a time when consumers are demanding more action, better products, and increasingly personalized services. In the face of such widespread chaos, it’s natural to return to the fundamentals.

Fortunately, most people who suffer from a paralysis of inaction can return to the fundamentals and make changes that will greatly improve their lives. In a recent post Donald Trump gives his economic survival tips, which are not only pertinent in our current economic situation but also equally important to defeating the paralysis of inaction:

  • Pay attention to national and international news and finance coverage at least several times a day, preferably hourly. In volatile times, vigilance is necessary.
  • Absorb, assess, and then act. Knowledge without action is impotence.
  • When a tsunami hits, there’s no time for procrastination. Keep your momentum in tune with the times.
  • Avoid your comfort zone — it’s probably outdated anyway.
  • If you’re honest, you should know the questions that should be asked, as well as the answers. That’s probably why there’s so much confusion out there today.
  • Remember The Blitz. That can put things into perspective. Things may be tough and getting tougher, but we’re not being bombed day in and day out either. If you don’t know what The Blitz is, use your time wisely to study WWII to find out.
  • Is your life half empty or half full? Half is better than zip. Count your blessings.
  • Realize that fear is the exact opposite of faith.
  • Resolve to be bigger than your problems. Who’s the boss?
  • Don’t negate your own power. Whatever you’ve been dealt, know you can deal with it.
Copyright © 2009 Donald J. Trump, author of Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education In Business and Life

Use Trump’s tips to help you improve your current situation. The most prescient of his tips for me…fear is the opposite of faith. I’ve heard that no less than ten times in the past two weeks. If you find yourself in fear or doubt I highly recommend you listen to Dr. Paul’s podcast Facing Your Giants. It’s well worth your time.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you know what happens when decisions are not made quickly. Product quality suffers and release dates are overshot. Take steps now to make sure you do not suffer from the paralysis of inaction.

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Leadership Development Carnival

Dan McCarthy published his latest Leadership Development Carnival today with links to more than 40 posts about leadership, decision making and accountability. I am honored to announce that a recent post from Lead on Purpose was featured in Dan’s FOGL (friends of Great Leadership) section. Dan’s monthly leadership carnivals bring many thought leaders together in a single forum where you can gain tremendous insight into leadership practices. Reading the Leadership Development Carnival will be well worth your time.

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Backing your decisions

An important factor in the success of an individual or company is the ability to make decisions and stand behind them. One of the most important things you can do — especially in a recessionary economy — is look for opportunities to do a better job at whatever it is you do with your time, and take on new initiatives with a positive attitude.

“It is sometimes taught that one of the most essential elements of success is the ability to say no. But I want to tell you from the fullness of my practical experience, of far greater importance is the ability to say yes and back it up.” This quote came from Jesse Jones, an important figure in helping the US pull out of the Great Depression.

Do not allow the constant bad news deter you from looking for new opportunities and making decisions. When you make decisions, stand behind them and do it on purpose.

The Product Management Perspective: Decisions are a constant for product managers. Remember back before you got the job…you observed product managers making decisions. they seemed to be in the thick of things; they seemed to be in control. Now you are in that position and it turns out it’s not quite as easy as it looks. There’s stress involved that you did not see before. What a great opportunity! Enjoy the chance you now have to make decisions and stand behind them.


Leadership and vision

The word vision has several meanings and is used in many different contexts. Even within the context of leadership you will find varying meanings; things like goals, objectives, mission statements and motivation to name a few. While they are all important and have meaning in their particular contexts, the foresight of leaders might be among the most important combination of leadership and vision.

Steve Farber released an audio CD set — called Extreme Leadership — that is packed with great information about taking leadership to a higher level. Referring to leadership and vision he states: “the role of the leader is to make the vision meaningful.” Companies can have a ‘vision’ or a vision statement, but if it’s not meaningful to the people it will fall flat. To truly provide a vision for the company (or organization), the leaders need to understand, communicate and instill a sense of what’s important: to the company, to the customers, to the employees, to the company leadership. Steve says: “Real leaders take us to places we’ve never been, turn nothing into something, transform good into great, help us grow as human beings and change the pieces of the world that they touch for the better.” It has to be real and true; flattery or insincerity will not fly.

The Product Management Perspective: Leaders make decisions regularly. Successful product managers understand their markets and provide the foresight and direction for their products. They accept the responsibility to make tough decisions and communicate them effectively. They make choices and stand behind them. Ultimately they create a vision that leads their teams and their products to succeed.

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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.

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Creating the right conditions

A few days back I found myself running up the street to a neighbor’s house during the middle of the day. When I arrived I was a bit winded, hot and sweaty. I asked myself how I could be winded after such a short jog; I’m training for a marathon and it’s not uncommon for me to run six miles a day. Then it hit me…I was fully clothed and it was early afternoon on a hot (over 90 degrees F) day. When I train I run early in the morning and wear the appropriate gear. I create — and take advantage of — the conditions that enable me to get a good work-out.

As I was thinking through this experience I realized it applies nicely to leadership. Leaders make things happen. They evaluate their circumstances (which are often very difficult), make key decisions and do what it takes to successfully complete their task at hand. In every situation great leaders take into consideration all the surrounding factors and create the right conditions for success. They tune in to the people and their surroundings, and make decisions that utilize both effectively. The following quote by General Colin Powell sums it up nicely: ”Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”

Join Steve Johnson and me July 11 for our webinar: Tuned In Product Teams. Check out the Tuned In landing page for other great events and articles associated with the Tuned In release.