Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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The importance of leadership in effective management

There are many elements that make a good manager, however, one of the critical qualities is leadership. Leadership and management must go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing. Leadership and management are complementary, but it is important to understand how they differ.

Leadership is about vision and innovation, whereas management is about maintenance of excellent standards. A leader innovates and a manager administrates on the innovation. A leader focuses on individuals and inspires them, a manager focuses on systems and structure. A leader always has their eye on the horizon, whereas a manager should be watching the bottom line.

While it is important to be aware of the difference between management and leadership it is vital to understand that a good manager is also a leader. In the infographic below we explore the elements that make a good manager, leadership being a principle feature of good management. Continue reading


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How leaders harness innovation to out think competitors

“We’ve entered a new era. Call it the age of imagination, ideation, conceptualization, creativity, innovation—take your pick. Creativity, mental flexibility, and collaboration have displaced one-dimensional intelligence and isolated determination as core ingredients of a competitive advantage.”

Out ThinkIn his book OUT THINK: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes, author Shawn Hunter synthesizes a set of what he calls “truths in emerging innovative leadership practices” that help companies generate value in the form of innovative products and services. The volatility of the current economy—which he calls ‘marketquake’—demands that organizations become agile in order to survive.

In the book, Hunter explains a series of ten processes that comprise the ‘Out Think’ journey:

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How do you build the right culture in your company?

People in countries, organizations and companies tend to behave in similar ways. The term culture has come to represent this idea: the way people think, behave or work. The culture of a company can have a major effect on the value—in terms of products and services—that a company provides to its customers.

A recent Gallup study analyzed data from more than 30,000 employees in various industries to determine what characteristics led to companies creating a high-performance culture that improves top- and bottom-line business metrics. The analysis revealed six crucial components on which companies should focus: Continue reading


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Are you a leader in product innovation?

What drives innovation in your company or organization? Do you have a group of “thinkers” who come up with the new ideas? Do you watch the trends of competitors or others close to your market? Do you look outside your corporate world for clues to where you should go next?

In a recent MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work post the author Eric von Hippel asserts that company leaders focus too much on what’s next based on their internal product innovators, and they do not listen enough to the people using the products. On the topic of who are the real product innovators, von Hippel says:

It’s consumers not the product innovators who should be viewed as the new experts. A new school of innovation thinking says that product innovators who work for manufacturers have received far too much credit for product innovation, while product users have received far too little


The Product Management Perspective: The topic of product innovation goes to the roots of every product manager. Most forward-looking organizations rely on product managers to innovate their products, to assure their viability to the market, with the end goal of increased sales revenue. Visiting your customers—whether consumers at a tradeshow or large enterprise customers at their place of business—is key to the innovation and future success of your products. If you (or your boss) need motivation for looking to the outside for product innovation, I recommend the article three reasons to visit customers.


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How do leaders make lasting change?

One of the great leaders and thinkers of our time is Clayton Christensen, ”a down-to-earth” alum of BYU, Oxford and Harvard. His book The Innovators Dilemma has impacted the business world perhaps more than any other book in recent history. He has expanded his research and applied his theories to other industries like health care, higher education and even governments and tax systems.

I found two recent articles about Clayton Christensen that have increased my understanding about leadership: The first is published in the BYU Magazine’s Spring 2013 edition. (As a BYU alum I get the magazine in the mail; it will be available online in a few months.) The second article is an interview in Wired magazine. In this interview author Jeff Howe asks Christensen questions about his career and sheds thought-provoking light on how he became so important to the business world.

So how do leaders make lasting change? According to Christensen, you keep nimble and respond to up-and-coming innovations at the bottom of the market. You make a concerted effort to not let your company become vulnerable to what Christensen coined as disruptive innovation.

What’s even more important to Christensen is the application of his theories to individual lives; making lasting change in your personal life. He recently wrote the book How Will You Measure Your Life in response to his experiences with former classmates and students. Rather than attempting to explain it I will point you to a TED video where Clayton describes it himself.

If you really want to make lasting change in your life, understand these principles. In the end, says Christensen: “God will measure my life by the individual people that I have blessed.” That’s how you make lasting change.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers operate in a very interesting position (in light of Clayton Christensen’s theories): they need to innovate and keep their products viable. However, the very things they do to innovate lead to The Innovator’s Dilemma if not watched and guarded closely. Take a careful look at Christensen’s writings and talks, and look for ways to apply them in your role as product manager.


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Lean startup, lean company

“I explained the theory of the Lean Startup, repeating my definition: an organization designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” This definition comes from Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

As the title indicates, the book’s content is geared towards people starting new businesses. While that is the primary focus, what I found extremely interesting about The Lean Startup was the number of action items that work equally well for established companies as they do for startups. Innovation is innovation, no matter where it’s applied and regardless of its source.

The Lean Startup delivers a lot of great insight for leadership and product management. Here are some of the things that struck a chord with me:

  • Success can be learned: Successful startups and great new products aren’t just luck. You can put processes in place that will greatly increase the chances for success. “Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”
  • Five key principles: The book focuses on five key principles:
  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere: “The concept of entrepreneurship includes anyone who works within my definition of a startup” (see above).
  2. Entrepreneurship is management: “A startup is an institution, not just a product, and so it requires a new kind of management specifically geared to its context of extreme uncertainty.”
  3. Validated learning: “Startups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business.”
  4. Build-Measure-Learn: “The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere.”
  5. Innovation accounting: “This requires a new kind of accounting designed for startups—and the people who hold them accountable.
  • Pivot or persevere: The Lean Startup method helps you decide when you need to keep going with an idea or make a change (‘pivot’). “Through this process of steering, we can learn when and if it’s time to make a sharp turn called a pivot or whether we should persevere along our current path.”
  • Build an “innovation factory:” I cannot over emphasize this point: the Lean Startup method works for all companies. “Established companies need to figure out how to accomplish what Scot Cook [founder of Intuit] did in 1983 [he found out people wanted to use their computers to keep track of their check books], but on an industrial scale and with an established cohort of managers steeped in traditional management culture.”
  • Continual learning: A key to success is the ability to learn as you go and make adjustments along the way. “Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects.” Ries gives a detailed personal example of this concept from his work at IMVU.
  • Don’t capitulate: Don’t just give in to what customers think they want. “We adopted the view that our job was to find a synthesis between our vision and what customers would accept; it wasn’t to capitulate to what customers thought they wanted or to tell customers what they ought to want.”
  • Ask hard questions: In every venture you need to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ “The question is not ‘Can this product be built?’ The more pertinent questions are ‘Should this product be built?’ and ‘Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?’” Push your team to answer four questions:
  1. Do consumers recognize that they have the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. If there was a solution, would they buy it?
  3. Would they buy it from us?
  4. Can we build a solution for that problem?
  • Solve problems: In every effort, make sure you’re solving problems. “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.”
  • Create, then test: Create a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) then test to make sure you’re on the right track. “The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn look with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.”
  • Fail quickly: The most successful companies recognized what worked and more importantly, what didn’t work. “What differentiates the success stories from the failures is that the successful entrepreneurs had the foresight, the ability, and the tools to discover which parts of their plans were working brilliantly and which were misguided, and adapt their strategies accordingly.”
  • Genchi Gembutsu: This is a Japanese phrase usually translated as a directive to “go and see for yourself.” You need to get out of the office. “You cannot be sure you really understand any part of any business problem unless you go and see for yourself firsthand.” You need extensive contact with potential customers to understand them sufficiently.

The Lean Startup is replete with stories and real-world examples to help you grasp the concepts. Eric Ries does a great job of bringing out important theories and models that will help you succeed whether you’re starting a new company or creating new products at an established corporation.


The Product Management Perspective: Every product manager in the world should study The Lean Startup and apply its teachings in day-to-day work and strategic planning. Unfortunately product managers get so embroiled in plans and stories and PRDs that we don’t stop and evaluate what’s really going on with the products.

A Good share of development is now done using some form of Agile. Make the effort to be agile in product definition and customer input. Don’t be too prideful to throw away your great idea that customers don’t latch onto. Put your focus and efforts into growing your products’ market share and revenue. Ultimately, nothing else really matters.


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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.