Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


The price of leadership

The topic of whether leaders are born or made comes up often and has created many interesting conversations. In their recent Wall Street Journal article Do You Really Want to be a Leader?, Preston C. Bottger and Jean-Louis Barsoux address the question “are leaders born or are they made?” with the simple statement “the answer is irrelevant.” You will not know whether you have what it takes to be a leader until you try really hard to express it. The real question is: are you willing to invest the effort and make the sacrifices necessary to take on the responsibility of a leadership position?

The authors propose three questions you should ask to assess your own leadership potential:

  • How far do you want to go? To help you measure your inclination and desire to rise to new levels of leadership, look at your immediate boss’s job and ask yourself if you could do it as well or better – answer honestly. Then take it another step; consider the most senior leader in your line of sight – perhaps the chief executive. Get a feel for the time, energy and capabilities required to do those jobs. What would those jobs require of you that you can’t do now or that you don’t enjoy doing? What do you enjoy now but would have to give up? It’s crucial to honestly assess the job you are pursuing and make sure it’s a direction you want to head.
  • What are you willing to invest? There will be pleasures that you must give up. Certainly, there will be implications for your personal life – raising questions not so much about balancing work and family in the short term, but about finding a sustainable mix for the long term.
  • How will you keep it up? If you envision another 10, 20 or even 30 years of leadership work, then you must find effective methods for maintaining your physical, emotional and intellectual well-being. Periodically you must create timeouts to review where you are investing your time and energy, to ensure that you remain capable of generating new behaviors to deal with new challenges.

Whether leadership is something you can learn is not the right question. Whether you want to pay the price to reach the leadership level of your dreams is the real question you need to sort out.

The Product Management Perspective: Most product managers do not “manage” other people (in the traditional HR sense of the word). However, the need to lead others to help you succeed is absolutely critical. Working with people on other teams, spending time with customers and understanding your markets take a lot of time. This often leaves you doing your “work” at weird hours after your coworkers are long gone. Regardless of the cost, the investment in building relationships is critical to succeeding in your current role and building the foundation on which to grow your career. The crucial question you need to ask yourself: is it worth the cost?


Book review: Killing Sacred Cows

Killing Sacred Cows

Killing Sacred Cows

Without writing anything else about this book, the title should at least have your attention. The disclaimer on the first page reads: “No actual cows were killed or harmed during the creation of this book.” The purpose of this book is to help you take a deeper look at the beliefs to which you’ve subscribed and determine which ones are true and which should be thrown out. The expressed purpose of this book is: “to defeat myths about money and prosperity that are severely limiting human power, creativity and production.”

Killing Sacred Cows was written by Garrett B. Gunderson and is now a New York Times Best Seller. Gunderson discusses nine “myths” that have “crippled our nation for generations:”

Myth 1-The Finite Pie: He describes the commonly held view that the world has limited resources. If you want something you need to take it from someone else. In reality, he says, there’s enough for everyone, and the more people work the bigger the pie gets; there will be more for everyone.

Myth 2-You’re in it for the Long Haul: Gunderson addresses what he calls “the 401(k) hoax” proposition. Most people look at the wealth they are accumulating to use “some day” and most people are afraid to use it even after they retire. He says that cash flow is a better measure of net worth. This topic gets quite deep and controversial; it will make you think.

Myth 3-It’s All About the Numbers: He claims most people think wealth is all about their bank balances and investments. Wealth is really about doing what you enjoy.

Myth 4-Financial Security: Gunderson says that most people think financial security comes from a paycheck and benefits. In reality, he says, true security can only come from within.

Myth 5-Money is Power: Many people think that the more money they have the more powerful they become. This myth is destructive because it’s not about the money itself, but the value it represents. People who put more value on the money itself than the people who create the value will self destruct.

Myth 6-High Risks = High Returns: Garrett says that believing high returns can only come from taking risks is a myth. He describes the importance of investing according to your Soul Purpose, which will provide lower risks and higher returns. He emphasizes the importance of investing in ourselves.

Myth 7-Self-Insurance: Most “experts” on insurance tell you to spend as little as possible on insurance. Gunderson recommends getting as much insurance as possible.

Myth 8-Avoid Debt Like the Plague: Most people are taught to avoid debt. Gunderson distinguishes between debt and liabilities, and good vs. bad liabilities. If you borrow in the right way and for the right things you create tools that will help you prosper.

Myth 9-A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned: The myth here boils down to spending money for value. If you skimp on quality to get a better price you end up paying more. When you spend money on products and services you are actually voting for them. You should buy the things that based on their value, not their cost.

One of the great things about his book is it’s chock full of quotes. Some of the quotes are used to illustrate specific myths and how they are perpetuated over time. Many others add credibility to the author’s assertions. Together with the quotes and anecdotes, the pithy ideas presented offer a soul-searching re-examination of why you do what you do. You will take a hard look at your behaviors and tendencies, and will likely make important changes as a result.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers do not typically deal with financial matters in their company; however, the ideas promoted in this book apply nicely. Product managers need to regularly review how things are going and make changes. What are some of the “sacred cows” we worship in product management that we might need to kill?