Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


2 Comments

The Bright Side of Failure

Guest post by Matt Herndon

Most of us look at failure as a negative occurrence. Surely if we fail at something, that’s a sign of weakness. But even the most successful people in the world have had their failures. Remember when Michael Jordan decided to play baseball? While it wasn’t his greatest success, he was able to turn it into just another lesson learned during a long and prosperous career. To quote the basketball legend, “I can accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

No one likes to fail. When you put extensive time, energy and effort into attaining a goal, missing the mark can certainly smart. You can’t, however, always avoid failure. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you simply can’t reach that mark or accomplish that sought-after goal. It’s important to remember that while failure doesn’t bring with it the accolades and congratulations that accompany success, failure in and of itself isn’t a total loss. If, instead of allowing yourself to wallow in self-pity, you think critically about your failure, you can turn this seemingly negative situation into a valuable learning opportunity.

Goal Re-Evaluation
Particularly if you’ve failed not just once, but numerous times recently, failing once again could be just the prompt you need to re-evaluate the appropriateness of the goals you’ve set for yourself. For example, if you’ve applied for every job under the sun and keep getting the same “thanks but no thanks” response, it may be a sign that your goal isn’t a reasonable one. Perhaps if you still wish to reach your goal, you may need to look into earning a master’s degree or gaining a little more entry-level experience in the field. If you allow yourself to learn from this failure and use it as a cue, you’ll substantially increase your chances of making your next batch of applications more successful than the first.

Opportunity for Analysis
On some occasions, it isn’t that the goal you’ve set is unreasonable, but instead that your method of trying to reach that goal could use some work. Anytime you fail, you’re presented with a valuable opportunity to analyze the situation. To reap the benefits of this chance for careful analysis, consider specifically why you failed and try to determine what you could’ve done to eliminate this failure catalyst. The next time you find yourself working toward a similar goal, keep in mind what you’ve learned and modify your flight plan, improving your chances of enjoying a different outcome.

Character Building
Succeeding is great, but it doesn’t offer the same opportunity for becoming a better person that failure affords. Any time you fail, you’re presented with an opportunity to hone your character. Because failing gracefully requires you to employ self-restraint, class and dignity, not reaching a goal presents the opportunity to exercise these positive character traits, allowing you to become better at exhibiting a level of grace that will ultimately get you much further in life.

Sweeter Success
Just as you don’t appreciate the heat of summer as much without the cold of winter, you won’t really appreciate success as fully if you never feel the burn of failure. To ease the pain associated with failure, remind yourself that when you do ultimately reach your goal-–which you will if you continue to exhibit the dedication and focus that have already served you so well-–it will feel even more sublime than it would have had you reached it on your first attempt.

There’s no way to completely prevent failure. Instead of allowing unsuccessful attempts at reaching goals to leave you burned and jaded, view these misses as opportunities for learning and growth. In doing so, you can retain your positive outlook and hone your skills.

Matt Herndon (@Just_Matt_) lives in Indianapolis with his wife and children. He has been studying and writing about leadership development and organizational communication since he began his undergraduate work in Upper East Tennessee approximately 20 years ago.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are known widely as driven individuals. But as with any other job, not every product succeeds and not every release goes as planned. When failures happen (and we all know they will), we need to take Matt’s advice and learn from them. The more willing we are to learn from failures, the more success we will have with the next product or new release.


3 Comments

Leadership traits

Who are the leaders you look up to? What are their traits? How do they do business? Who are their role models? What are their goals, priorities and key motivations? What do they do that makes you believe in them and want to follow them?

The following infographic profiles the leadership traits of three unquestionably successful CEOs. You may or may not like them, what they stand for or their styles of doing business, but their success merits a close look at their leadership traits:

(Infographic provided by Phoenix Training and Development)

Lead On Purpose does not specifically endorse any of the CEOs profiled above


The Product Management Perspective: Many of the CEOs in business today spent time in the ranks of product management. It’s a great learning ground for becoming an executive. Who are the CEOs you most value? Which of their traits are you trying to pattern your work after? I’d love to get your feedback; please leave a comment.


3 Comments

Guest Post: 10 Secrets of Effective Leaders

By Maria Rainier

If you’re like most managers, you know how hard it can be to inspire and motivate your employees. What’s more, with so many different personality styles on your team, finding leadership tactics that work across the board can be a challenge. Fortunately there are a huge amount of resources out there that can help you become a more successful leader. Here are ten of the most proven tactics that have helped countless managers inspire their team to achieve greatness each and every day:

  1. Be a positive thinker. Every great manager knows that it’s impossible to create a positive work environment if they aren’t positive themselves. No matter how much pressure you feel as a leader, always make sure you think positive and visualize success. That way your team will be inspired to follow suit.
  2. Set clear goals. Making sure your employees understand what’s expected of them is your first step toward success. Set goals that are clear, reasonable and attainable. And stay committed to helping your team members achieve them.
  3. Grow your skills. Just because you’ve reached the management level doesn’t mean you’re done with your training. In fact, by keeping your skills fresh you’ll be able to engage more effectively with your employees who are out in the field. Take classes, attend seminars and join discussion groups to make sure your skills stay up to par.
  4. Be innovative. Following the crowd and being a “yes man” is one of the worst mistakes a manager can make. Be true to yourself and present your own ideas confidently. You’ll be seen as an innovator and not just someone who goes along with the group.
  5. Take responsibility for your failures. Yes, even managers are known to make mistakes. Never blame your failure on your team – you’ll lose integrity immediately. By showing that you’re just like everyone else, you’ll build trust with your group.
  6. Be analytical. As a manager, it’s vital that you have the facts before you make any big decisions. By analyzing the details, you’ll have the right amount of knowledge to set and attain achievable goals.
  7. Learn to communicate. Since there are so many different types of people on your team, it’s vital to know how to bring out the best in everyone. Learn who the introverts and extroverts are, and adapt your communication style to theirs.
  8. Lead but don’t manage. It’s vital to inspire your team to perform by example and not tell them exactly what to do. By enthusing and motivating your group, they’ll be passionate about achieving success on their own.
  9. Respect your team. A good manager always puts the needs of his or her team first. When you do this your team will know that you have their back and will go above and beyond to work hard for you. If there’s a performance problem with an individual, never call them out in public – and never pit employees against one another.
  10. Focus on the client. Since serving your clients is the most important part of your business, be sure you always put their needs first. This will help create a customer-driven organization and will help build longevity between your company and your client’s business.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching different social work degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

The Product Management Perspective: The ten actions above are important for successful product leadership. If you are leading a team of product managers, pay special attention to the following: #2: Goals point you and your team to the future. Product management focuses on releasing the right products to the right markets at the right time; set both financial and operational goals for your product line. #4: Being innovative ties closely with understanding your markets; be the market expert for your product line. #9: it’s all about relationships; your team needs to know, without any hesitation, that you have their backs and will do everything you can to help them succeed. Build relationships of trust.


1 Comment

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:

COAST GUARD CREED

“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.

ARMY DRILL SERGEANT CREED

“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.

INFANTRYMAN’S CREED

“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.


Leave a comment

Seeds of success

Everyone wants to succeed, but where does success start? We all have a deep desire to move forward and see our dream become reality, but how do we make it happen? The venerable “Dean of Personal Development,” Earl Nightingale, put it in these terms: “Success can be defined as the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” In other words, you become what you think about.

Nightingale compares the human mind to fertile land. The land doesn’t care what types of seeds the farmer plants, it will return what it’s given. The mind, in much the same way, will return either success or failure depending on what we have planted. The key is to set specific goals for what we want to achieve (plant the seed) and then work hard and nurture those goals. Believe in your ability to achieve them.

The people at Simple Truths put together an excellent three-minute video that describes the seeds of success. If you were a fan Nightingale’s Our Changing World radio program you’ll be delighted to hear his voice again. If (like me) you have no recollection of that program, you’ll still benefit from the great message. Take a few minutes and watch this video.

Decide what you want and “plant” the goal in your mind.

The Product Management Perspective: Product success usually starts the same way as personal success: someone has an idea. The rules that apply to personal success also apply to product success (with some adaptations): discover the value of ideas for new products by doing market research; understand the personas, the potential users and buyers of the products; then “plant the seeds” of the product by writing clear requirements and designs. The process takes time and multiple iterations; it requires vision and hard work. Be the leader in discovering and cultivating great ideas.


11 Comments

Do hard things

What does the statement “do hard things” mean to you? In its most simple form the statement can be broken down as follows: the word ‘do’ connotes action or “bring to pass;” the word ‘hard’ (in this case) means challenging or perhaps difficult; and ‘things’ can be any action, task, job or responsibility of your choice. However, there’s much more to this statement than its simple form. Doing hard things means intentionally taking action toward something that you know will not be easy, and yet the end result will far exceed the effort you will exert the pain you will suffer.

Knowing the road will not be easy, why should you do hard things? One reason stands out in my mind: doing hard things instills in you a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that you can do what you say you will do. You build self-worth from which the desire for continuous improvement springs.

St George MarathonMy most recent “do hard things” project was to run a marathon in 3:30 (three hours thirty minutes). I set the goal more than a year ago and determined to carry it out after being accepted to the St. George Marathon last spring. My previous best at St. George was 4:03 and my overall marathon PR (personal record) was 3:43. So, I knew my goal would be challenging. I trained hard running an average of 35 miles per week for 18 weeks. I improved my diet and nutrition, learned what I could do to improve my endurance, and studied the race course to set a strategy for averaging a pace of eight minutes per mile. The marathon runner Juma Ikanga said after winning the New York Marathon: “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” I knew I had to prepare well if I were going to ‘win’ my race (i.e. reach my goal).

Fortunately everything came together as planned. The day was picture perfect and the race went as planned. I finished in 3:30:31. The training was hard. The race was hard. The last five miles were especially grueling. However, the feelings I experienced during the entire process, and especially after the race, were incredible. It was a great sense of accomplishment.

With that said, one additional — extremely important — aspect of doing hard things is this: make sure you have support from people who care about your success. Without my support team there is no way I could have reached my goal. I would not have succeeded without help from the following:

  • God, for giving me everything I have.
  • My dear wife Debbie, who despite thinking I was crazy for running a marathon, gave her complete support and encouragement to me throughout the entire process.
  • My children for not hugging me after I would come home from a training run, but who always hugged me after I showered.
  • My sister Jen for running several long training runs with me, and pushing me during the race.
  • Other friends and family for continually asking me how the training was going and giving me encouragement along the way.
  • Golden at the Runner’s Corner for convincing me to try a new, much lighter pair of shoes. He promised I’d gain at least five minutes during the run. I think it was at least ten.
  • Duane Newman for helping me understand the course and map out a pacing strategy for the race.
  • Many others who have encouraged me along the way.

Running the St. George marathon was an awesome experience and confirmed what I already knew: I can do hard things.

I recommend always having a “do hard things” project on which you are working. Doing so will provide continuous learning and motivation. Don’t shy away; do hard things.


Leave a comment

Leadership and gratitude

An important aspect of successfully leading people is showing gratitude for who they are and what they do. Gratitude connotes a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit you have received or will receive. It is recognizing the good things in your life and acknowledging those who helped you achieve them. Gratitude also implies helping others achieve their goals.

Why practice gratitude in leadership?

  • Gratitude develops success: Your success ultimately hinges on collaboration with others. Having gratitude for those who help you become successful influences them to do more to help your cause.
  • Gratitude opens doors: Opportunities often arrive from unexpected sources. Leaders who show appreciation draw the interest of those with whom they come in contact, and they attract other leaders who will help them become more successful.
  • Gratitude produces peace: Having a thankful attitude for your blessings inspires internal peace. The lack of internal conflict (within yourself and within your organization) frees you to pursue high-value activities that will more quickly lead you to success.
  • Gratitude increases trust: When you show others you value their hard work and contributions, their trust in your leadership and direction increases.

Show gratitude to others — through your leadership — and they will help you to succeed. At face value this may seem too simplistic; however, if you think about the people who have helped you get to where you are today, I’m sure you will feel grateful for what they have done. Always show an attitude of gratitude.

This post was inspired by the talk Finding Joy in the Journey by Thomas S. Monson, president of the LDS Church.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers have an often difficult task of motivating their teams (you know, the people who are responsible for a successful product release and also do not report to you) to work quickly and effectively to release quality products. Showing gratitude towards the people who are responsible for your success is not only the right thing, but also the smart thing to do.


Leave a comment

Book Review: The Power of Who

The Power of Who

“Fear of failure keeps more people stuck in the safety of the status quo than anything else.” Who are the people in your network that can help you break out of the status quo, land your dream job and live the life you love? In his new book THE POWER OF WHO!: You Already Know Everyone You Need To Know, author Bob Beaudine helps you answer this question. Bob Beaudine is recognized as the top sports/entertainment search executive in the U.S. with significant experience helping people to secure their “dream job.” In The Power of Who he helps you identify who the right people are and what you need to do to succeed.

You already know the people you need who can help you achieve whatever it is you are striving to achieve. Bob calls these your “Who” friends, people who can help you achieve your goals much more quickly than you could ever do it on your own. The problem most people have is they focus on the “what” (what they want to achieve) and not the “Who” (who could help, who could open doors). The people in your “Who” network are the most important because they help you:

  • Find your purpose
  • Define your objectives
  • Reach for your dream
  • Fulfill your ambitions
  • Achieve your goals.

Discovering your “What” in life is the next step. What do you want to do? Answering this question and pursuing it through help from your “Who” network will lead you to accomplish more than you ever dreamed. Are you struggling to define the “What” in your life? Most people never get what they want for three reasons:

  • They don’t ask
  • When they do ask, they ask the wrong people
  • When they ask the right people they ask too vaguely.

Without action, all great ideas are useless. The people who act on their ideas are in the minority. Successful people — those who act on their ideas — share five important traits:

  • They start
  • They are not discouraged by obstacles
  • They turn mistakes and so-called failures into stunning success
  • They maintain self-discipline
  • They stick to it

The power that comes from tapping into your known network is all you need to achieve your dreams. To continually build on your successes you need to help others achieve their dreams. The great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help others get what they want.” I highly recommend The Power of Who to help you identify the people (“Who”) and things (“What”) that will help you achieve great success.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you are responsible for leading the team to create products your market will buy. “The smart people know that the best products aren’t sold; they are bought.” Tap in to The Power of Who to make sure you are creating products people want to buy.


2 Comments

Self-improvement

As 2008 comes to an end many will take time to review the events of the year, assess their progress and set goals (or New Year’s Resolutions) for 2009. This has been one of my annual traditions for many years, with varying degrees of success. It is easy to write a list of objectives for the year; but a bit of time goes by and things get in the way, and before you know it the year is gone and you have made no progress toward the improvements you planned at the beginning of the year.

Does this ring true? For many years this was my experience. However, last year I had a breakthrough that made 2008 my most successful year ever, and I want to share the experience with you.

In late 2007 I had an inspiring conversation with my friend Dr. Paul (quoted often on Lead on Purpose) about relationships. He taught me there are five key relationships that drive human behavior, listed here in priority order:

  1. God – Our Deity (whomever we worship as a higher power)
  2. Self – Me (I have a relationship with myself as an individual)
  3. Family – Spouse, children and extended family (this is the hierarchy of importance)
  4. Others – People in general (any other person not listed above)
  5. Things –  Non-living objects (such as money, material possessions, etc.)

He helped me understand the importance of each of these relationships and how they affect my life and my actions. I discovered that the effort put forth to develop these relationships will–to a large extent–determine my individual happiness.

Our conversation created an aha moment for me. I saw the need to prioritize my life in a way to promote the actions that would result in the types of relationships I really wanted in my life. That’s when I realized I needed to formulate my goals based the five key relationships.

At the beginning of 2008 I created categories based on the relationships and set three to five specific goals for each category. I will share the categories I set with examples of the goals I set for each (my specific goals are private and closely held):

  • Heavenly Father (God): I set specific goals to help me improve my spirituality and live my religion more fully.
  • Self: I set specific goals to improve my health and education and to use my time for effectively.
  • Family: I established three sub-categories — wife, children and extended family — and set specific objectives for each category.
  • Other People: I set specific goals that would help me build my network of friends and associates, and reach out to people I did not know. One specific goal I set was to write in my blog at least two times per week. This one goal has been the foundation for the success of my blog.
  • Things: I created two sub-categories — work and other — and set appropriate goals for each.

After I finished writing the goals I printed the document, cut each category out separately and pasted each in a place where I would see them often. A few went on the wall in my office, some on my night stand and one in a book I read/reference often. Putting them in conspicuous places kept the goals at the forefront of my mind; I didn’t forget about (most of) them at all during the year.

An important aspect of self-improvement is evaluating your progress on the goals you have set. With that in mind, I took time to evaluate each of the goals I set for 2008 with a best-estimate of how close I came to meeting the goal. I gave each goal a score (percentage) and then calculated an average score for each category. This was a difficult task as some things are hard to measure and some fell out of context (e.g. I changed employment mid-year). However, I can measure my progress and see the results of taking the time to plan and follow through. My highest category score was 96% and my lowest was 43%; my overall average was 75%.

If I look at these scores based on the traditional educational scoring (at least in the US), 75% is a solid C; not exactly what I would have called “acceptable” back in the day. However, when I compare the goals I set to what I was doing before 2008, I can honestly say I have made significant progress. I have learned a great deal about myself and my ability to do more than I ever thought I could. My new goals for 2009 raise the bar substantially. I am happy with the process I have established for my own self-improvement and recommend it to you wholeheartedly.


The Product Management Perspective: If you are a product manager you are most likely a driven individual who works hard and are determined to succeed. Take time to set applicable goals that will help make your success (and your products) repeatable and predictable.

I want to wish all my readers a Happy New Year. May you prosper in 2009!


4 Comments

The power of written words

Much has been said over time about the power of writing things down. People write goals, most often at the beginning of a new year.  They write mission statements to define the purpose of their organization, and writing personal mission statements is becoming increasingly more common.

Dan McCarthy wrote an interesting post about the power of an individual development plan (IDP). Dan says that an IDP help you identify what you want to get better at and how and when you’re going to do it. He cites a study conducted on students in the 1979Harvard MBA program. The students were asked if they had written goals for the future and made plans to accomplish them. Only three percent of the graduates had written goals; 13 percent had goals, but they were not in writing; 84 percent had no specific goals at all. The results were quite surprising:

Ten years later, the members of the class were interviewed again, and the findings, while somewhat predictable, were nonetheless astonishing. The 13 percent of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all. And what about the three percent who had clear, written goals? They were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together.

While writing down goals offers no guarantee of success, it increases the likelihood significantly. There’s something about putting things down in writing that triggers the mind to make whatever was written be fulfilled. Take time this week to identify a few things you want to accomplish and write them down.


The Product Management Perspective: One of the keys to effective product management is writing problem statements. Most product managers I’ve met agree that problem statements help them gather, refine and assign market data to help them filter out true market opportunities. However, despite understanding the importance of writing problems statements, many product managers do not write them regularly. The most common reason I hear is something like “I know they [problem statements] would help me to organize better, but I don’t have time; I spend most of my time writing requirements.” Requirements definition will take all the time it’s given, but in the long run, takes much less time if the appropriate problem statements are written as a basis for the requirements. To a large extent, problem statements make up the product manager’s goals for the market.