Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


Patience – A Leadership Principle

During the last few weeks and months so much has changed for all of us. With the recent pandemic we’ve seen many things change that we heretofore took for granted, things we’d become so accustomed to were transformed within days. It’s left us wondering how long it will take to get back to normal or ask whether ‘normal’ will ever be the same. It’s been a trial of endurance to say the least.

My intention is not to cover recent global events, but instead to focus on how we react to what’s happening in our lives; to take a deeper look at ways we can survive hardships and come out stronger as a result.

Patience Continue reading


Create value for others

If you want to succeed, create value for other people. This principle has been taught by many leadership gurus and success coaches for decades.

My friend Dr. Paul discusses the concept of creating value for others in a recent podcast episode. If you get really clear about what you love and what you do well, and you share it with others and create value for them, it will come back to you. Here’s a short clip from that interview that illustrates this point:

Another great example of creating value for others is Chris Brogan. Chris has one of the most popular blogs on the Internet, and a tremendous following on Twitter. In an recent post by another great example of creating value — David Meerman Scott — Chris shares one of the secrets to his success: “the number one thing I do with both Twitter and blogging is I’m helpful.” He finds information that’s useful to his readers/followers. He asks questions and engages people in his conversations. Chris focuses on helping others, and in doing so increases his brand and his value. Check out the interview on David’s blog.

This concept is not a secret. It’s not magic. It’s not only available to really popular people like Chris, David or Dr. Paul. Creating value for others is a principle that works if you go about it with the real intent to help others. Make it real and you will lose yourself in the fun of creating value for others.

The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you create value for customers through creating great products. You create value for your teams by providing requirements they understand and a product direction they trust. To the extent you focus on helping others with whom you associate, you will help yourself.


Book Review: High Altitude Leadership

High Altitude Leadership

High Altitude Leadership

“There exists a rare and special breed of leaders who…are constantly pushing past current leadership trends in order to achieve…extremely challenging goals. We call these people high altitude leaders.” High altitude leaders succeed by recognizing and surviving specific dangers that always emerge when they take themselves or their teams to the highest levels of performances. Principles that produce peak performance in the face of extreme challenges comprise the book HIGH ALTITUDE LEADERSHIP: What the World’s Most Forbidding Peaks Teach Us About Success.

The authors’ combined experience provides a perfect backdrop for powerful lessons on leadership. Chris Warner is a climber and entrepreneur (among other things) who has lead hundreds of mountaineering expeditions to the world’s most dominant mountains. He teams up with Don Schmincke, a “mad scientist” and dynamic key-note speaker who uses anthropology and evolutionary genetics to remedy high failure rates of management theories. They blend their experience to point out important principles of successful leadership. The book, replete with stories of leadership in life-or-death circumstances, describes leadership from the paradigm of eight dangers high altitude leaders face and how to handle the dangers to achieve peak performance. The following describes the eight dangers and how you can avoid them:

  • Fear of death: Leadership can be difficult and dangerous. You accept the title of leader and work to make positive change in your organization. Then you slip off the cliff into reality. Things start to fall apart around you. Fear creeps in. When faced with fear most people freeze up. Whether climbing a mountain or running a company, letting fear take hold on your actions will lead to failure. Taking decisive action is the antidote for fear. “Acting decisively in the face of great fear triggers the actions needed for success.” Do not shy away from experiences that evoke feelings of facing death. Embracing the death of projects, goals, careers, teams or companies will propel you to become a more effective leader.
  • Selfishness: The act of placing a higher priority on one’s own desires or “needs” than on the desires and needs of other people defines the word ‘selfishness.’ Selfish behavior robs companies of profits, reduces job satisfaction and weakens organizations’ culture. Overcoming selfishness is critical to effective leadership. This is done by crafting a compelling saga — language and actions that inspire passion for a strategic result. The compelling saga drives performance, inspires value-based behavior and provides strategic focus.
  • Tool seduction: Tools are absolutely necessary in climbing and in business; but in the critical moments, even the best tools break or fail to provide the results expected. Do not be seduced by them. Seek for ways to use tools (software, hardware, new programs) effectively without getting bogged down and losing productivity. Adapt your tools to you (and your organization), not the other way around.
  • Arrogance: “Arrogance places organizations and teams in danger of death every day.” Read any major news source and you will find evidence of the effects of arrogance on companies and individuals. The simple cure for arrogance is humility. Though somewhat misunderstood, especially in a business context, humility actually stimulates strength and produces growth. A high altitude leader learns from failure and “finds arrogance intolerable in a team.”
  • Lone heroism: Ego-driven, selfish, glory-seeking heroism is dangerous. Lone heroism sucks profits because of the resources needed to clean up the damage it causes. To treat the affects of lone heroism, develop partnerships with other individuals and companies. Partnerships will help you leverage the strengths of many, which are always greater and more enduring that individual strengths.
  • Cowardice: Like fear, cowardice stops employees from challenging the status quo, holding others accountable and exposing weakness in a team. The cure for cowardice is bravery. Bravery can be induced by the constructive use of truth, shame and walking the talk.
  • Comfort: Everybody’s committed when things are comfortable. When they grow difficult you see who the true leaders are by their actions. “Great achievements sometimes require enduring extreme discomfort. And that’s when real leadership is tested, validated, and proven.” You need to persevere through difficult times, and then when things are going smoothly, watch out even more vigilantly for signs of too much comfort.
  • Gravity: Leaders choose to go to new heights; gravity is the great equalizer. In business, gravity emerges as a force of uncertainty that sometimes propels you and other times sucks you down. Let luck (yes luck) maximize your opportunities for success by being open to new experiences. Listen to your lucky hunches; your gut is usually right. Expect good fortune and visualize yourself achieving it — this creates a powerful source for success. Don’t dwell on the bad things that happen, focus on the positive.

High Altitude Leadership is a must-read for anyone seeking to improve his or her leadership abilities. The “cures” for the eight steps build on each other to derive a complete package of behavior that leads to success. The stories about climbing the world’s highest mountains are gripping and envelop you in the book’s principles so powerfully you come away feeling like you’ve been there, and with clear directives on how to apply the principles. I have never done serious mountain climbing or high-altitude mountaineering, yet I found myself captivated by the stories and the way of life the book endorses. The authors’ ability to weave real-world high adventure into a compelling leadership book speaks volumes about their experience. The combination is powerful and absolutely worth the read!

The Product Management Perspective: High Altitude Leadership promotes principles that — if applied to product management — will improve your products, strengthen your teams and propel you to new heights as a product manager (and beyond).

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Top five posts of 2008

The Lead on Purpose blog had its first birthday/anniversary earlier this month. During 2008 the blog’s readership has grown substantially through a combination posts about leadership and product management. The following five posts were rated the most popular by readers of Lead on Purpose:

  1. Product manager responsibilities: This post discusses the difference between product owner vs. product manager. It also discusses the responsibility for product managers to create internal productroadmaps.
  2. Five factors of leadership: Product managers have the responsibility to get products out the door on time, with high quality and under budget. However, the people they rely on to get the job done do not report to them. This post identifies five factors that, if understood and applied, will improve the leadership role of product managers.
  3. Ten principles of effective leadership: This post discusses ten principles of effective leadership that will build desired results, relationships and quality of life.
  4. Five stages of problem solving: Well-written problem statements help product managers communicate both the difficulty faced in the market and the potential reward for solving problems. Market problems create opportunities for people and companies who can find ways to solve them. This post gives five steps to help you indentify problem statements clearly and help identify solutions.
  5. Three reasons to visit customers: Professionals working in any industry want to understand the markets to which they sell and the people who are buying their products and services. This post identifies three key reasons why customer visits are not only good but also vital to a company’s success.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers have a great opportunity to become key leaders in their organizations. The Lead on Purpose blog is dedicated to promoting leadership through the discipline of product management. Thank you for making 2008 a great year!


Five leadership practices for improving customer service

customer-serviceMany blog posts have been written about customer service. Add those to the many magazine articles and books, and it’s safe to say there is no shortage of advice on quality customer service. Serving the customer is an important topic, and given the importance of keeping customers engaged, it’s amazing how many organizations still don’t get it. Too often the sales agents and support engineers taking the calls either are not empowered to make decisions, they are too lazy or they just don’t care. It’s sad to think that a companies with great products would not make customer service their highest priority.

In almost every case, when customers (or worse, potential customers) feel they received substandard customer service, they automatically blame the person across the counter or on the other end of the phone. However, the culpability ultimately rests on the leaders of the organization. What happens at the customer ‘touch point’ is the responsibility of upper management. If they want to keep customers they need to lead out in the efforts to elevate customer service.

Following are five leadership practices for improving customer service:

  • Decide to create the culture: The leaders of an organization must decide that customer service will be a top priority. They need to establish this culture at all levels. The decision will come from the top of the organization and permeate through all levels. It must be done on purpose.
  • Hire the right people: The leaders will hire people who know how to work with customers. They will look for people with experience at helping customers understand the products and get the most value from their services. Leaders will look for people with a proven track record of doing the right thing for customer (which occasionally might mean referring them to another company’s product). Leaders looking to hire the right people will do thorough background checks and ask a lot of questions.
  • Coach them: As you establish a culture of customer service and hire the right people, train them to effectively work with customers and teach them how to handle difficult situations. Identify a few of the top performers and put them to work coaching others in the company. This infuses the service culture more deeply and promotes a more unified approach throughout the company. If you do not yet have people in-house who are capable, hire a coach to train your teams, and work with the coach to identify people within the organization who can extend the right principles throughout.
  • Inspire them: Motivate the people in your organization — at all levels — to want to serve others. Establishing the right culture is key. Financial incentives and career advancement only go so far. When the leaders of the organization place customer service as one of their top priorities, they have the prerogative to expect everyone to do the same. Let your actions and behaviors inspire others.  As Ralph Nader said: “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
  • Empower them: Finally, grant people — at all levels of the organization — the authority to make decisions. The scope and magnitude of decisions will vary by title and responsibility. However, every person at any level should be empowered to make decisions on behalf of the organization. Start by asking leaders at all levels to make a list of five things their people can do without having to escalate to their supervisor. Place appropriate guidelines around the actions that can be taken, and trust your people to make the right decisions. Provide a “back door” in case they get into a tight spot. The “back door” should instill confidence that the organization will back people at any level in their decisions. When people know they work for a customer-focused organization they will give much more to their individual efforts.
We live in the information age and quality customer service is becoming more important as time moves forward. Each of these steps is critical for true customer service. It must come from the top and permeate the entire organization.

Let us not take the attitude portrayed in this classic Dilbert cartoon:

Dilbert on Customer Service

Dilbert on Customer Service

The Product Management Perspective: Customer service is at the heart of product management. Whether gathering customer inputs, writing problem statements or creating requirements the next product or release, the customer is (or definitely should be) the focus of what product managers do. While they may not hire people into the company, they have an influence on the people who get hired. Furthermore, product managers are in a key position to affect the culture of the company. The interactions with both internal and external people provide excellent opportunities for product managers to spread the culture of customer service.

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Blog update

Several weeks ago I ran across The Tuned In Calculator, a tool developed to grade blogs (and webs sites with RSS feed) on how tuned in they are to their audiences. It was developed based on principles promoted in the book Tuned In and scores sites on a 0 – 10 scale based on the language used on the blog. The more “I, we, me” focused language the lower the score. The more “you, your, their” and otherwise customer-focused language used, the higher the score.

After rating my blog with the calculator, and comparing them to others I read regularly, I decided it was time for an update. Consequently, over the past weekend I updated the About page to more clearly state the blog’s focus. I also added a more complete personal biography to give you a better idea who I am what drives me. I also added a Resources page and a Contact link. These new resources will more clearly set the focus moving forward.

I want to call out a few of the bloggers’ biographies from which I picked up ideas: Jeff Lash, Art Petty, Peter Ganza, Kirk Weisler, Dr. Paul Jenkins, Steve Johnson, Ivan Challif, David Meerman Scott, Stewart Rogers and Gopal Shenoy.

My blog has posts focusing on leadership and others directed at product management, with a number that focus on both. Moving forward it will continue to focus on leadership principles that are generally applicable, with a new summary feature called The Product Management Perspective, where I will apply the principles directly to product management.

Disclosure: As you’ll see in my bio, I’m now working with Ryma as a Product Management Consultant and now have a working relationship with Peter Ganza and Stewart Rogers. While I’m confident the ideas expressed in this blog are in concert with the Product Management View, the views and opinions are mine and the Lead on Purpose blog is independent.