Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Leading with love and trust

Leadership can be difficult to understand, to measure and to carry out, and too often the term ‘leader’ is used for someone who manages a group but doesn’t necessarily lead. Furthermore, what constitutes effective leadership differs greatly among cultures, industries and professions.

So how do you know if you are leading effectively?

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“Self-Made” is BS

Guest post by Rick Miller

The widely-held belief that success is available to everyone, simply with focus and hard work is one among many positive messages regularly reinforced in our Western culture.

But in my view, our “cowboy culture” also over-celebrates individual accomplishment, particularly in business. Too many romanticize the importance of a single individual’s ability to enable a big impact. This idea that denies the reality that teams of people, along with some good luck, always play big roles in enabling any company, or an individual for that matter, to register true success.

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How you become the ideal team player

Teamwork is critical for the true success of everything we do. Think about it, every venture we undertake requires help from someone; that’s the way it’s supposed to go.

If we rely on others for our success, others rely on us for theirs. How can we help others most effectively? What do we need to become great team players?

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Why leadership is a choice

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.

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How discipline creates great leaders

“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.

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How to lead without blinders

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.


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Taking leadership to the next level

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.