Are leaders born or are they made? Think about some of the great leaders you know…were they born with the ancestry, knowledge or foresight to reach what they have accomplished? Perhaps in a few cases some had extra help. However, most of the great leaders I know came from humble beginnings. They made decisions along the way, which improved their chances and guided them to success. They made the choice to become a leader.
“Discipline equals freedom.” This statement sounds like a contradiction because the word ‘discipline’ is most often used in the context of punishment or reining in improper behavior. In leadership, however, discipline creates power. Discipline leads to more flexibility and control over your every aspect of your life. Discipline creates great leaders.
Several years ago I wrote that you can’t fake leadership. Becoming a leader requires a careful combination of confidence and humility. Leading an organization requires focusing intently in key areas. Successful leaders lead with their eyes wide open.
In my “day job” as a product manager I create software products that help companies fight against internal fraud. I was recently given the honor of publishing an article in Wired Innovation Insights—Blinders at the C-Level Can Cost You Billions—which discusses the perils of the “not-in-my-company” attitude, and the importance of incorporating active risk-management strategies to mitigate the insider threat. Though it focuses mostly on insider fraud, the article has valuable lessons for all leaders about focusing on the right things and not getting blindsided by the vulnerabilities your organization faces.
You can’t fake leadership, especially if you’re wearing blinders!
The Product Management Perspective: One of the best ways product managers can avoid getting caught with their blinders on is to proactively listen to your customers.
I am admittedly a creature of habit. I like to run and when I do I listen to books, podcasts and talks. This is a great time for learning and really letting things sink down deeply in my understanding. I also (as a creature of habit) find myself going back to books I’ve listened to in the past. In recent days I’m re-listening to Good to Great by Jim Collins.
Though I love every part of this book, I’m most impressed with the chapter on Level 5 Leadership. Collins’ definition is simple: “Level 5 leaders blend the paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.” This is, as Collins puts it, a “study in duality.” The following are among some of the phrases Collins uses to describe the duality of a Level 5 leader:
Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation. Creates superb results, a clear catalyst in the transition from good to great.
Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate. Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.
Channels ambition into the company, not to self; sets up successor for even more greatness in the next generation. Sets the standard of building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less.
Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors or bad luck. Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company – to other people, external factors and good luck.
So can you and I become a Level 5 leader? Collins was asked this question and after stating he wasn’t sure (because their research didn’t delve into that topic) he said there are two categories of people—those who don’t have the Level 5 seed within them and those who do.
The first category consists of people who could never subjugate their own needs to the greater ambition of something larger and more lasting than themselves. The second category consists of people who could evolve to Level 5; the capability resides within them, perhaps buried or ignored or simply nascent. Under the right circumstances—with self-reflection, a mentor, loving parents, a significant life experience, or other factors—the seed can begin to develop.
This inspires me and should give all of hope that we can lead teams and products and companies to success.
The Product Management Perspective: Product management provides a great opportunity to nurture leaders at your company. If you have responsibility for hiring product management or product marketing professionals, take the time to find the right people. Be rigorous in your search and interview processes and put your best PMs on your biggest opportunities.
Guest post by Daniela Baker
One recent article in Forbes magazine examined the interesting phenomenon behind a shift in today’s leadership principles. The article’s author asserts that old leadership models were based on power because business was essentially about competition.
Today’s more collaborative, creative business models, on the other hand, require leaders with high emotional intelligence – business leaders who can build trust among their colleagues and employees.
The bottom line: if you want to make it as a real leader in today’s business culture, you’ve got to earn trust from those above, below, and beside you. Here are five key practices to help you do this:
1. Be vulnerable
On some level, trust comes from authenticity. If your people see you as an authentic, open, vulnerable human being, they’ll be more likely to trust you.
There’s a fine line to walk here, though. You don’t want to be naïve and set yourself up to be taken advantage of, but you do want to own up to your failures and be honest and humble. One way to do this is to let some of your personal life into your work – though, again, there’s a fine line to walk here. Another way to do this is to admit past or current mistakes, especially when mentoring your team members.
2. Don’t pass the buck
President Harry Truman was famous for the wooden sign on his desk reading “The Buck Stops Here.” One of the reasons Truman was able to build trust in those around him was that he wasn’t afraid to take responsibility for his decisions.
This should be one of your mottos as a trust-building leader. Yes, there will be times when other people will mess up, and you’ll have to deal with that. But if a decision ultimately comes down to you, make the choice, and then stand by the consequences – good or bad. If your team knows that you aren’t going to try to pass the blame to someone else, they’ll trust you more.
3. Stop micro-managing
Micro-management in the work place is a great way to tear down trust. That’s because trust is a two-way street. In order to feel trust for you, your team members also need to feel that you trust them. And if you’re constantly micro-managing their processes, they won’t feel that you trust them.
If you think you might possibly be a micro-manager, talk to others about this. Then, learn to step back and let your team members do their work. This may mean leaving room for failure, but it also means leaving space for others to learn from their mistakes.
4. Allow room for confrontation
As a leader, people will trust you more if they feel that they can bring up negative points about you, your team, a project you’re working on, or whatever. You don’t want to seek out confrontation, but you should leave space for healthy, professional confrontation that, in the long run, improves relationships.
You can create this culture by not shying away from the hard conversations with your team members. And you can create space for negative feedback by meeting with your team members on a regular basis. If you are confronted about a mistake, a choice, or something else a team member is unhappy about, listen to their complaints, take them seriously, and handle the confrontation as professionally as possible.
5. Tell it like it is
Talking in circles or constantly using subtext in your professional life is another way to break down trust. To build it up, practice telling it like it is. Open up; write a blog that others can see. For instance, we publish a blog for small business owners to help us earn trust from partners, small business owners, and our fellow team members.
This doesn’t mean you need to be tactless, but you do need to be direct and honest. If you have a reputation for directness and honesty, others will learn to trust what you say about yourself, your team, and your work.
Remember, building trust takes time, and it’s a very relational thing. You can have a great reputation for trust company-wide, but if you break trust with one person on your team, you’ll have to work hard to rebuild that person’s trust in you. This takes time and effort, but if you consistently put these five habits into practice, you’ll be a more trustworthy leader in general.
Daniela Baker from CreditDonkey is a small business blogger and social media advocate. She studied journalism and new media. She has lived on three continents and collaborates closely with a select group of international publishers. One of her favorite quotes is: “Decisions are made by those who show up.”
The Product Management Perspective: Trust is the most important characteristic a product manager can possess. To effectively work with development, sales and other teams in your organization you must gain their trust. Trust is key to understanding your customers and your market. Trust is a two-way street: you need to carry out your tasks in such a way that the team members will trust you. You also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do. The five key practices listed above provide an excellent roadmap to developing trust with your teams.
If you want to be a great leader, you have to be a great follower. All the great leaders I have studied talk about the people who encouraged and inspired them to do great things. In almost every case, it wasn’t just one person who inspired them; it was a number of people. You will find some level of the following three characteristics in all great leaders:
- They study successful people: They have devoted significant time and energy to studying great leaders of the past and present. They take careful note of the results that have made others successful and find ways to incorporate the learning into their daily life.
- They take direction: Great leaders are willing to take direction from others. The ‘others’ could be a spouse, a boss or a religious leader. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter; they respect others and are willing to listen and take direction. They learn to trust in guidance outside themselves.
- They are humble: Most great leaders, both past and present, are humble, unassuming people. By ‘humble’ I do not mean weak or simple, but modest and self-effacing. They have a way of inspiring greatness in others while not drawing attention to their own successes. They look for ways to help others build confidence and find happiness in the successes of the people they help.
I can think of many leaders (past and present) who embody these characteristics in their lives. Napoleon Hill exemplifies a leader who was a great follower. He studied the lives of successful people for more than 20 years and compiled his findings in the book Think and Grow Rich.
He coined phrases like “thoughts are things” and “the mastermind” and quotes such as “whatever the mind of a man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” The interesting thing about Hill’s success as a leader was that he did not set out to become a leader. He humbly agreed to a challenge by Andrew Carnegie to learn about his secret and take it to the world. In part because of his willingness to be a follower (and a learner) he became a world-renowned author and leader.
Who are some of the great leaders you look up to? Do they exhibit these characteristics?
The Product Management Perspective: As the product manager you are on the front line for your products. You carry a huge responsibility for their success. Read about and study successful people (both inside and outside of PM). Be humble and open to taking direction from others. Incorporate these characteristics into your behavior and you will find increased success with your products.
Five Ways to Be Influential and Succeed with Your Team
Guest post by Tess Pajaron
At my former job, I had a boss who would consistently tell people how important it was to leave the office on time and balance work and life. Then, he would text in the evenings, brag about how late he stayed after everyone had left and go into the office each weekend. He did not lead by example and it made the workplace confusing, uncertain and ultimately stressful.
Being a leader can be difficult. You may have some employees who communicate differently than others, conflicts to overcome within your team and roadblocks that can stunt creativity. But in the end, when you lead by example, you set the tone for your team and create a culture in your department and office.
Here are five ways you can lead by example and influence your team to innovate and succeed every time:
1. Communicate Effectively
Open communication is one of the most important aspects of solid team cohesiveness. Solid communication starts by listening. When you as the leader listen to your team members, you in turn lead by example and demonstrate them the importance of listening each and every time. This skill of listening can be a challenge for some teams, but when you set the example and create a culture of listening to various opinions, ideas and feedback you give your team a forum to feel comfortable expressing their ideas. This has been shown to improve innovation among teams. When each person shares their opinion openly, ideas come together and everyone plays an important role in the outcome of the project.
2. Practice What You Preach
Great leadership is done with integrity and honesty. When you practice the same good habits that you preach to your team members, you show integrity in your actions and become more trustworthy. Walking the talk goes a long way with employees when it comes to how much they respect what you have to say. When you do the opposite of what you request of them, for example not leaving the office on time and working weekends, your employees begin to doubt your leadership and wonder if they should be doing as you say or as you do. This can create a sense of confusion and quickly drive a team apart.
3. Empower Through Delegation
You brought your team together because you, or someone else in your organization, trusted in your employee’s ability to help your organization. Delegating out tasks hands over this trust and shows your team that you believe in their capabilities. If you do everything yourself, you are not leading by example but instead you are sending a signal that their input does not matter and that it is your way or no way. To have the most success, engage your team by providing them tasks to accomplish and lead by being a resource of information to help them accomplish what they are capable of.
4. Share Responsibility
A certain sense of humility goes in to leading a team well. When you discuss openly, you may find that you are wrong. Being able to admit that you are wrong for the greater good of the project and team success is a prime case of leading by example. When you can do this, you also allow your team to feel as if it is acceptable when they are wrong on an idea making them feel more comfortable with their creativity and idea generation. These ideas help fuel innovation, so sharing responsibility and being proactive in coming up with the best solution for the project as a group is essential.
5. Set Goals
Finally, having an end goal in sight that every member of the team is working toward will help you to lead toward that goal. This will allow you lead by example as you work hard toward the end goal. When your team sees you working hard toward the end goal, they in turn will do the same.
Leading by example can be difficult but using these five tips can make you a more influential leader. This is what will make you and your team a success.
Tess Pajaron is part of the team behind Open Colleges. She graduated in Business Administration with a major in Management. When not working, she loves to travel and discover new places and cultures. She can also be found on Cerebral Hacks, where she regularly contributes articles about psychology.
The Product Management Perspective: The five ideas above are all important aspects of successful product management. One of the key ideas from my perspective is building trust. Product managers who trust the other teams to do their job, and work/act in ways that allow others to trust them, have much more success with their products.