Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Lead with integrity

One of the most important characteristics of leadership is integrity. Integrity is a “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.” It means you are true to your word in all you do and people can trust you because you do what you say.

The word integrity has deep meaning and is often intermingled with words like honesty and truthfulness. It connotes a deep commitment to do the right thing for the right reason, regardless of the circumstances. People who live with integrity are incorruptible and incapable of breaking the trust of those who have confided in them. Every human is born with a conscience and therefore the ability to know right from wrong. Choosing the right, regardless of the consequences, is the hallmark of integrity.

Integrity builds character, which creates the foundation of great leadership. Coach John Wooden said it well: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Live with integrity; lead with integrity.

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Real-world examples of customer service

customer-serviceWorking as a product manager has at least one interesting side effect: you become keenly aware of customer service in nearly every aspect of your day-to-day activities. At the end of the day, happy customers spread the word about your products and services and you get more happy customers. So when you go into a store you can’t help but gauge the level of customer support you receive. It’s a blessing and a curse.

Last month my family had an experience that tested the level of customer service at several companies. More than six months ago we booked a trip to Orlando to have a long overdue family vacation. We had the flights, the hotels (yes, plural…I’ll come back to that) and six days of fun planned at Universal Studios and several other theme parks. The winter had drawn on and the weather in Orlando was looking great. Then, four days before we were going to leave, my son — who was at his first baseball practice of the season — was struck on the bridge of his nose with a baseball. A few hours and an X-ray later we learned that he had broken his nose in three places. The prognosis: surgery on Friday, the day before we were to fly to Orlando.

Without holding too much expectation for positive results, I started calling the different companies through whom we had booked our trip. The first was the company who months earlier had called us and convinced us to take a “fully paid” 4-day, 3-night vacation in Orlando — Hilton Grand Vacations. After having already paid around a $100 to get a room big enough to hold my family, they wanted to stick me with a cancellation fee. After talking to people at several different levels they finally agreed to only charge me $20 to cancel. “But,” they said (with a smile I’m sure), “when you’re ready to rebook, just call us and we will get you back into the [third-tier] hotel and we will reschedule your appointment to sit through our painful presentation on why you should spend a lot of money and buy into our resort” (my emphasis added).

Next I called the Marriott hotel. We had booked four nights with them and by the time I called them we were about two hours past the “no cancellation” deadline. When I explained the situation to the customer service agent, she immediately called another person who, without any questions beyond what was necessary to understand our situation, immediately approved the full refund of our points with no obligation to rebook with them. Two days later, all the points were back on my account.

I then called Delta Airlines to cancel our flights. I spoke to a guy who said that if we could get a letter from our son’s doctor stating that he cannot fly because of his injury, they would refund our tickets. What surprised me even more was that they agreed to refund money when I had paid for the tickets with miles. He told me it would take about a month. I called them two weeks ago to see how things were progressing and found out the first guy I talked with had not sent request through to the refund department. The lady I spoke with was very kind and told me to fax the ticket numbers and a copy of the email I received confirming the refund and they would take care of it. About a week later I received an email from another customer care agent saying he regretted to inform me that Delta would not send me a refund as refunds for the type of tickets I had purchased are only offered in the case of “death or imminent death of an immediate family member.” However, for this one time, he said, Delta will give us a credit towards another flight. I called today and confirmed I can rebook an equal or lesser fare at no charge. Not bad.

Finally, when my wife called Universal Studios to tell them about our change in plans, they were very accommodating. They asked her if we were planning to come later in the year; when she told them that was the plan they said we could use the tickets later with no fees. They reimbursed us for all the date-specific upgrades we had purchased. They have simply made me a happy customer.

When I called today to rebook our trip, which hotel do you think I called? You guessed right: Marriott. The service agent took extra steps to make sure I was able to get the room I wanted. It was so easy! Seven nights at the Marriott; no third-rate Hilton and definitely no painful presentation.

My experiences with these companies highlight the importance of having solid customer service. They illustrate the significance of showing leadership in improving customer service. I have highlighted specific examples of how companies treat their customers — for the whole world to read no less! And I’ve seen many other bloggers do the same.

In today’s social media driven world, it’s more important than ever to treat your customers well and provide excellent service. If you do not, a negative message will get circulated and it will hurt your business.

So no matter whether your customers are looking for four star hotels in Niagara Falls or a resort in Orlando, the experiences people have with the brand through various touch points such as advertising and most importantly the people working for the brand effects the perception and emotional feeling of your customers.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers have many customers, both internal and external. You can’t please them all; however, if you will be diligent in communicating openly and honestly with them you will find they trust you, and even though you may not put that key feature they need in the next version of your product, they will stick with you. It’s one of those intangibles in the business world that’s difficult to describe but easy to see. The more you genuinely strive to serve your customers, the more they will buy from you.


The spirit of determination

US President Abraham Lincoln was an excellent example of determination. Though he lost businesses and fought bankruptcy, he never quit. Though he lost many elections, he never lost sight of his goal of becoming president. Though he was adamantly opposed by many, he stuck to his principles and lead the country through a tremendously difficult time. He was a man of integrity. He never gave up. He persevered. He showed extreme resolve.

I honor Abraham Lincoln on his 200th birthday. The following are a few of my favorite quotes attributed to Honest Abe:

“Things may come to those who wait, but only what’s left behind by those that hustle.”

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”

“Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

“Perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.”

“Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.”

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager, your determination to work effectively with other members of your team will make all the difference.


Envision the outcome

What attribute most distinguishes leaders from non leaders? According to James Kouzes and Barry Posner it is “being forward looking — envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future.” Their article To Lead, Create a Shared Vision — published in the January 2009 Harvard Business Review — derives its conclusions from extensive research through surveys and interviews. Their survey asked what traits people look for and admire in a leader and what traits they look for in a colleague.

The number one requirement of a leader, honesty, was also the top-ranking attribute of a colleague. But the second-highest requirement of a leaders was that they be forward looking. They need to present a vision for the future that not only embodies their view of the outcome, but also includes reflects the aspirations of their constituents (i.e. the followers). Therefore, leaders must spend time reading networking with other leaders — developing and absorbing ideas as they grow — and also mingling with constituents, taking their feedback and making them a part of the outcome.

My friend Greg Strouse sums it up nicely: “Here’s your lesson. Education is nice. Experience is nice too. As for me I’ll bet on the person with vision, passion and that magic touch every single time.” Vision, passion and the “magic touch” allow leaders to look into the future and provide direction while at the same time including the people who will be most affected by their decisions. (Note: Greg’s quote comes from his post Remembering Bonnie, a moving tribute to his wife who passed away in September ’08.)

The Product Management Perspective: By its nature product management requires a high degree foresight. As the leader of the product it is the product manager’s responsibility to envision the outcome. In the process you include people from other teams in decisions and invite them (by your actions) to share in the results.

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Three timely words

December is a great time of year. Most people go out of their way to be a little kinder and a bit more open to what others are thinking. Regardless of religious beliefs most people seem more open to talking to their neighbors and cutting people slack for things they would not consider at other times during the year. If only it could be this way all year long….

There are many things that contribute to the feelings that abound during the holiday season; however, writing about all of them would be futile. Given the focus of the Lead on Purpose blog, the following three words seem timely and fitting:

  • Trust: The word trust has bi-direction meaning and only works when flowing both ways: you have to depend on other people to do what they say they will do; and you have to work, act and believe so that others will confide in and depend on you. People who live and behave in such a way that others can confide in them understand the importance of trust. Take inventory of the people you trust and the people you feel trust you. Do everything in your power to make word ‘trust’ part of your persona.
  • Integrity: The word integrity has deep meaning and is often intermingled with words like honesty and truthfulness. It connotes a deep commitment to do the right thing for the right reason, regardless of the circumstances. People who live with integrity are incorruptible and incapable of breaking the trust of those who have confided in them. Every human is born with a conscience and therefore the ability to know right from wrong. Choosing the right, regardless of the consequences, is the hallmark of integrity.
  • Positivity: The word positivity suggests the act of being positive; engaging in positive activity. It’s a word that implies action and effort put forth to improve your circumstances. Positivity does not mean arrogance or hubris, but a quiet, inner self-confidence that — regardless of the circumstances — inspires people to keep moving forward. People who are optimistic about the future and take a positive attitude whenever possible find success in ways other people will never know. It’s not magic, but a law of nature: optimism leads to success.

Take some time to ponder these three timely words and without a doubt you will find applicability in your own life.

I want to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2009! Take time to enjoy the Holiday season and rejuvenate for the year ahead.