Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Trust and credibility

How do you effectively develop trust in your organization? Trust is built over time as you follow through with the promises you make. Your credibility — the quality or power of inspiring belief — grows in much the same way. The principles of trust and credibility are tightly linked and build on each other.

In his book The Speed of TrustStephen M.R. Covey defines the “4 Cores of Credibility” as foundational elements that make you believable, both to yourself and to others. The first two cores deal with character, the second two with competence:

Core 1: Integrity: Many equate integrity with honesty. While honesty is a key element, integrity is much more. It’s integratedness, walking your talk and being congruent, inside and out. It’s having the courage to act in accordance with your values and beliefs. Most violations of trust are violations of integrity.

Core 2: Intent: At the core of intent are motives, agendas and the resulting behavior. Trust grows when your motives are straight forward and based on mutual benefit — when you genuinely care not only for yourself, but also for the people you interact with, lead or serve.

Core 3: Capabilities: Your capabilities are the abilities you have that inspire confidence — your talents, attitude, skills, knowledge and style. They are the means you use to produce results.

Core 4: Results: Your results comprise your track record, your performance and getting the right things done. If you don’t accomplish what you are expected to do it diminishes your credibility. On the other hand, when you achieve the results you promised, you establish a positive reputation of performing, of being a producer.

Each of these cores is vital to credibility. They work together to build trust. The strength of your character and competence equate to the strength of your leadership.

The Product Management Perspective: Trust is vital to successful product management. Product managers create value for their co-workers on other teams (e.g. development, support, etc.) by clearly defining requirements, roadmaps and portfolios. Trust grows through meaningful interaction with your teams and consistent application of proven principles. Trust is a two-way street: product managers need to carry out their tasks in such a way that the team members can trust them. They (the PMs) also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do.


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The LOVE of leadership: Observe

As discussed in a previous post, it might make some uncomfortable to use the word ‘love’ in the context of leadership. However, the practice of love in the context of leadership is both powerful and necessary. Steve Farber describes this clearly in his audio book Extreme Leadership: In Pursuit of the OS!M. What does it mean to love the people you lead? My definition for the acronym LOVE embodies the actions necessary to cultivate positive behaviors that lead to successful results, and includes the following actions:

  • L – Listen
  • O – Observe
  • V – Value
  • E – Experience

tuned-in2A key to success in any vocation is gaining deep insight into the market(s) you are serving. Product managers and marketers know the importance of understanding their market. In their book Tuned In, authors Craig Stull, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott offer the following advice:

Product managers, executives, and marketers regularly meet with people in the marketplace and observe how those people do business or go about their lives. These observations provide insight into the full scope of the problems and the usage requirements and significant obstacles to adoption of any proposed solution. The most important thing they do is to live in and observe the prospect’s world.” (Emphasis added)

In the context of leadership, you want to gain a deep insight into the people you serve. Observing behaviors and actions leads to understanding. These observations come during meetings, at events, and by spending time one-on-one with the people in your organization. A tight correlation exists between listening and observing. As a leader, the two actions combine to strengthen relationships and build trust among those whom you lead. When you observe others, practice the following actions:

  • Learn specifics: Watch how people act. Determine why they do certain things in a given circumstance. Learn as much as you can about what drives people to the successful behaviors promoted by your organization. The more you learn the better prepared you are to increase success.
  • Show intent: Be honest in your desires to learn about the people you serve. The last thing you want is for anyone to think you have ulterior motives. Fix in your mind the end goal of truly understanding the people and let that behavior show through during your discovery process.
  • Develop trust: Take action that will show others you mean what you say. Encourage them to share their feelings and ideas and show genuine interest in who they are and what they believe in. Show confidence in their ability to do what they say. Be true to your words so they will trust what you say and what you do.

Successfully observing others and understanding what drives them will require effort. Your love and appreciation for them will increase, your organizational effectiveness will increase, and your bottom line will grow.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers need to love their customers. One of the best ways to understand what motivates customers is to observe how they use your products. Watch what they do, listen to what they say and use that information to improve your products. Remember this great advice from Greg Strouse: don’t fall in love with your products or technology. Love your customers and what you can do to help them succeed.


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The No Complaining Rule

What is the cost of negativity? According to the Gallup Organization it costs the U.S. economy between $250 and $300 billion every year in lost productivity. Ninety percent of doctor visits are stress related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number one cause of office stress is coworkers and their complaining, according to Truejobs.com.

In his book The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work, the author Jon Gordon provides answers to the cost of negativity and the benefits of focusing on the positive side of any situation. The No Complaining Rule imparts the benefits of being positive through a story (a business fable similar to his book The Energy Bus). Hope, the main character, is struggling at home and at work. Her company goes through a serious crisis that jolts her into realizing she needs to change her attitude and help others do the same. Through a series of events the author conveys the costs and problems associated with negativity and the benefits and opportunities for those who take a positive outlook on what life throws at them.

In the 1920s an author named Roger Babson interviewed the president of Argentina and asked him why South America, for all its natural wonders and resources, still lagged behind North America in terms of prosperity and progress. The president thought for a minute and said: “South America was discovered by Spaniards in search of gold but North America was settled by Pilgrims in search of God.” The intent made all the difference.

Too often organizations seek for the wrong thing. In The No Complaining Rule the author uses an analogy of tree roots and fruit. Too often people or companies focus on the fruit (results, profits, stock price, etc.), which is good to an extent and necessary for measurement and accountability. However, if they focus on the fruit too much at the expense of ignoring the root (people, culture, teamwork and spirit), then eventually the root dries up and so does the fruit.

Jon defines the ‘no complaining rule’ as follows:

Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their coworkers. If they have a problem or complaint about their job, their company, their customer, or anything else, they are encouraged to bring the issue to their manager or someone who is in a position to address the complaint. However, the employees must share one or two possible solutions to their complaint as well.

Toward the end of the story Hope discovers five steps to turn complaints into solutions and misfortune into fortune:

  1. Trust in a bigger plan.
  2. Find strength in adversity.
  3. Failure today leads to success tomorrow.
  4. The worst event in life is often a catalyst for the best.
  5. Positive or Negative. The choice is ours.

The book shows why having a positive outlook is worth all the work and will lead to success and happiness. The story is engaging and well worth the time and effort.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers often deal with negative team members, customers or executives. Occasionally it’s the product manager him/herself who has the negative attitude. Product managers can ill afford negativity given the immense effort required to produce and release products. Therefore, product managers must take the lead on ‘positivity’ (my word for making the best out of situations and encouraging others to do the same). If you find yourself working in a negative environment, take the lead and use “The No Complaining Rule” to initiate change.