Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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My example, my hero

My heart is heavy as I write this article; my father passed away a few days ago. I’ve been thinking about Dad and the important lessons he taught me, both when I was growing up and lived with him in my childhood home, and in the years since. He was an honest, hard-working, humble man. He was always happy and loved to crack jokes—I didn’t think they were funny when I was a teenager, but now I find myself doing the same thing with my sons.

Though I don’t think it was ever his specific intent, he taught my siblings and me – and many others in the community – how to lead in whatever we pursued. Here are three important lessons that have helped me get to where I’m at today:

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The value of hard work and perseverance

Recently I was reminded of a story about a young man who lived during the 1849 Gold Rush. An older, wiser man observed him passing by obvious ‘flecks’ of gold in the stream, and asked him why. The young man said he was searching for the big ‘nuggets’ of gold. The old man pulled out his pouch and said “The patient accumulation of these little flecks has brought me great wealth.”

What are the ‘flecks’ of gold that you are passing by in life? Are you looking for the big victory, but missing out on the many small wins that will bring you more happiness and success? Life-long accomplishment comes from the small, consistent wins along the way.

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What is the value in perseverance?

Throughout my life I’ve been a big believer in the value of hard work—it’s one of three lessons I was taught from my youth. Everyone who takes an idea and makes it into something valuable does it through hard work. Tied very closely to hard word is perseverance, continuing forward without regard to discouragement, opposition or previous failure.

The downside to hard work and perseverance is they take time. Good things don’t (usually) happen overnight, or even within a month or a year. Creating value, and creating meaning in your life, take time: time to start, time to build, time to realize the results. Continue reading


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What is the real driver of your success?

Every so often something happens that brings into question long, and sometimes closely held beliefs. One of those happened this morning.

An important topic, one that has—I thought—defined who I am and the way I work, was turned on its head. Yesterday I purchased and downloaded Scott Adams’ (of Dilbert fame) audio book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, and was listening to it on my morning run. He uses humor, as you’d expect. What I didn’t expect was that, in talking about success, he would throw out—with the ‘bath water’—a something I had long embraced as key element of success. Continue reading


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Leadership and hard work

This coming Wednesday will be December 12, 2012 – 12-12-12 – the final time this century where the day, month and year (last two digits) line up. This day will no-doubt be remembered by many, but for me it has special significance: my uncle (great uncle, grandma’s brother) Louis Stuart will turn 100 on 12-12-12.

Uncle Lou (as I’ve always known him) is an amazing man. He still lives in his home and occasionally goes with his son to help feed the cows on the ranch. In a recent article he attributed his longevity to “a clean life, hard work, a bowl of rolled oats every morning and a lot of open air.” While I’m not sure about the rolled oats, I can attest to the other three, especially hard work.

When it comes to leadership, nothing replaces hard work – not personality, not connections, not education. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work you expect of others. While knowing how to delegate effectively is also an important leadership trait, the best leaders work harder than the people they lead.

Uncle Lou has been a great example to me of hard work and leadership. I’m not sure if I’ll make it to 100, but if I can work as hard and help as many people as he has it will all be worth it. Happy birthday Uncle Lou!


The Product Management Perspective: All the demands on product managers can seem overwhelming at times. The work is complex and demanding, and sometimes it seems impossible to get everything done. In those times, hard work is the key to getting through and succeeding.


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Three leadership lessons from Dad

Today is Father’s Day and for the last several days I’ve been thinking about Dad and the important lessons he taught me, both when I was growing up in his home and in the years since. Though I don’t think it was ever his specific intent, he taught my siblings and me – and many others in the community – how to be leaders in whatever we pursued. Here are three important lessons that have helped me get to where I’m at today:

Hard work: Nothing replaces hard work. No matter what job you have to accomplish, there’s nothing more important that getting busy and getting the work done. Dad raised my siblings and me on a cattle ranch, and there always seemed to be work waiting for us. He taught me the best way to get through it was to “roll up your sleeves and get to work.”

Responsibility: At a very young age Dad taught me responsibility. He gave me chores to do and paid me for the hours I worked, with the agreement that I would keep track of my time. I learned at a young age the importance of accounting for the work I did. He let me start my own cattle herd at a very young age. That experience taught me about how business works.

Perseverance: If you want to succeed, you have to “stick with it.” Dad taught me the importance of the statement “stick with a task until it sticks to you.” He taught that if you press forward with hope and desire, you can accomplish anything you set out to do. Dad continues to teach this lesson in his older years. He suffers from cancer and its ill effects, but he always smiles and has something positive to say every time we talk. He has proven through the years that he will never give up on anything.

These lessons, and many others he has taught me, came much more from his example and the way he lived than from eloquent speeches or sit-down discussions. Happy Father’s Day Dad! You’re my ultimate teacher. I love you!


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you’re not the ‘father’ of your products, but your leadership will make all the difference in their success. I hope you can find a way to apply these lessons.


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Value comes from work

Have you ever noticed that (in most cases) when you receive something for free you put less value on it than you otherwise would? This is especially true when the ‘gift’ comes from a person or entity with whom you have no relationship. No doubt you are thankful to have something new and have the opportunity to use it for its intended purpose, but after a few days or weeks have passed the value is usually gone. A few examples will illustrate:

  • Children and toys: When parents give a child every toy she wants, she gets bored with them and they end up scattered all around the house. Every time they take her to a store she cries for the new toy. Conversely, a child who has assigned chores that result in the right to buy a new toy will value the toy and wear it out playing.
  • Teenagers and cars: When parents buy their teenager a brand new car for his 16th birthday, he’s no doubt happy to have the car, but too often doesn’t take good care of it and crashes it or burns up the engine (or does something else to ruin it). On the contrary, when a young man works, saves the money and buys his own car, he takes great measures of care for the car.
  • They family business: Too often when it comes time to pass a family business the next generation the recipient is not prepared. When this happens it’s usually because he or she has not carried the responsibility of the business and does not have the work ethic his or her parents had. Too often the business fails because the heirs did not learn the value of hard work. Granted, in many cases the hard-working parents who created a successful business took the time and effort to teach their children to work and the transition goes smoothly, but unfortunately that is not always the case.

If you really want to value something you have to work for it. Ultimately you will not find joy in what you do without working diligently, and you cannot achieve success without making a concerted effort. As Vince Lombardi so eloquently said: “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

For me it’s simple: when you invest your time and your own money, talents, resources and effort into creating or improving some thing, you value the end results. It’s simple but true.


The Product Management Perspective: Nothing comes easy in product management. However, when PMs work diligently, and effectively with their teams, they find satisfaction in the resulting success of the products, and ultimately the company.


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Preparing to win

One of the most well known, yet least practiced principles of success is the need to prepare. Regardless of the pursuit, if you want to succeed and feel the thrill that comes from winning (however you define ‘winning’), you need to prepare ahead of time. As the marathon runner Juma Ikanga said after winning the New York Marathon: “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” You can want to win more than anyone else in the world; yet if you do not want to put in the work to prepare, it will not matter.

When you consider successful leaders whom you admire, and think about what they did to achieve greatness, it may seem like things come easily to them. Over time, no doubt things do come more easily. However, most if not all great leaders have learned this truth spoken eloquently by Vince Lombardi: “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” So the next time you are contemplating why things seem to come easy for others, just remember they most likely spent a lot of time somewhere along the way preparing for what they are accomplishing today.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers face an interesting challenge: they are responsible for the success of their products, yet the people they rely on to get their products successfully out the door do not (usually) report to them. This situation lends itself to planning and preparation. Take the time upfront to prepare, and do the work necessary to make your products successful.


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Exercising enthusiasm

People feed off the enthusiasm of those around them. Leaders who love what they do and show it by their expressions, actions and tone, endear themselves to those around them. Seth Godin is spot on in his recent post about why this is not the time to ask for money. He says: “Attention can be worth more than money. Enthusiasm is priceless.”

Exercising enthusiasm takes hard work. Vince Lombardi said it well: “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Enthusiasm leads to success only after a lot of hard work and persistence. The news is largely negative these days, but don’t let that stop you from being happy about the good things in life, or passionate about your favorite team, or excited about the successes of your family and friends. When times are tough, look for the positives and focus on helping others see them. Others will come to you for advice and look to you for leadership.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to find ways to motivate the teams they work with. Lead on Purpose is all about finding ways to lead and inspire other people — over whom you have little or no managerial authority — to do things better and faster than they thought possible. The ‘rah-rah’ cheer leading approach will not fly, but the focus and work will. Remember Lombardi’s quote.