Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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3 actions to building a culture of trust

Gaining and keeping the trust of those you lead is one of the top factors to your company’s ongoing success.

To work successfully as a team, the leader must create a culture where people can rely on the strengths and abilities of those they work with and believe in their leader’s direction and vision.

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Unemotional Leadership—an Oxymoron

Guest post by Andrew Cravenho

I recently watched a rerun of Executive Suite, based on Cameron Hawley’s book of the same name. In this black and white classic, William Holden portrays a junior executive with great vision but limited executive experience. Upon the untimely death of the revered company president, the board must select a new leader.

The leading candidate is the scheming CFO played by Frederic March, a passionless, colorless bean counter groping for power, but with no vision beyond increasing dividend payouts to stockholders. In the final scene, Holden’s character displays his tremendous passion and sweeping vision for the direction he wants the company to take and ultimately gains the presidency. Read Article

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Three ways to be more influential at negotiating

Guest post by Kurt Smith

Your palms start to sweat. You’re thinking about this quarter’s benchmark. You can’t remember what your purchasing agent said about your most recent vendor, but you know that you need this sale. Actually, you need the next couple of sales. Negotiation – that’s how you’re going to succeed. Your prospects want to pay less than your sticker price. You want them to pay at least that much. How can you make a deal that results in both parties walking away winners?

Understand Your Value

If you don’t come to the negotiation table with some type of value, you’re already dead in the water. You have to know why your product or service is valuable to your prospect. For example, maybe you sell computer software that automates a company’s accounting processes. The company you’re meeting with is hesitant to buy anything from anyone because they believe accounting needs that “human touch” and discretion to be effective – that accounting isn’t just numbers on a screen.

Why would your software be valuable? Perhaps it doesn’t completely eliminate human beings from the equation. By automating the actual accounting processes, it frees up the accounting team to focus on qualitative problems instead of quantitative ones.

Computers are fully capable of doing math. But they can’t think – this is the value in your product. Your software allows your prospect to be more creative with its finances. That, in turn, will allow it to become more productive – which results in a better bottom line.

To this end, you could design a presentation to show how your product fosters creativity, productivity, and profit.

Listen To Your Prospect

Becoming a better negotiator isn’t about talking him into a sale. Often, listening is what will give you the edge. Knowing which questions to ask is often far more powerful than knowing what magical phrase will make him buy. In most circumstances the prospect already knows what he needs to do.

He just wants to see if you’re paying attention – he wants to know if you have the solution. There’s this delicate dance that goes on during negotiations. The prospect wants to know that you understand his problems; that you are listening.

Listening also provides you with clues as to how to present your offer. For example, if the prospect happens to mention that his company just spent a lot of money building out a new department, then it might not be the right time to ask for a lump-sum of cash. Maybe your prospect can finance the purchase of your product instead.

Learn To Become A Problem-Solver

Inevitably, prospects will throw up walls to block a sale when they just don’t feel like they can buy from you right now. How do you overcome this? You learn to be a problem-solver. Let’s assume that your prospect can’t make a move for 30 days because they’re waiting on financing for some other project. You don’t want to just leave the room with a “maybe” or “come back in 30 days.”

You might lose the sale. Instead, you could confirm that the prospect does indeed need your product or service, and have them sign a contingency form – they agree to buy from you now for a discounted price. You get commitment now. All you have to do is invoice them in 30 days. Problem solved.

Kurt Smith has extensive experience in sales and marketing. Originally from Austin Texas, Kurt recently he has taken on a role as a sales team leader for a telesales firm in Manchester in the UK where his wife is from. In his new role he finds he often needs to keep the team’s morale high and he is always researching ways to improve their day. On weekends he enjoys mountain bike riding and going for walks with his wife, Linda and their basset hound Dusty. His articles mainly appear on business blogs. Visit the NextDayLenses.com website to see how they use it to offer solutions to potential customer service issues.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers negotiate all the time. Learning how to sell your ideas effectively will increase the value of your products, as well as your value to the company. You won’t win every time, and that’s not a bad thing, but initiating more dialog will improve your products overall appeal.


Successful companies are “nice”

“There’s no way to institutionalize or “corporatize” niceness…. It has to come from the top, and from there it will filter down…”

We live in a world where information travels quickly and powerfully. Nothing happens—good or bad—without the world knowing it. In his book Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management is over—and Collaboration Is In, author Peter Shankman shows how famously nice executives, entrepreneurs, and companies are setting the standard for success in this new world. He goes in-depth with nine hallmarks of effective leadership:

Nice CompaniesTrait #1—Enlightened Self-Interest: Creates a system where people feel secure but also accountable; where everyone feels confident enough to say, “I made a mistake.”

Trait #2—The Accessibility Factor: Shows commonsense respect and openness for and with colleagues, direct reports and rank-and-file workers and establishes a feeling of workplace equality.

Trait #3—Strategic Listening: Makes sure they understand what someone is saying instead of taking words and forgetting them later. Acts on what they see and hear in the marketplace.

Trait #4—Good Stewardship: Seeks, first and foremost, to be a good neighbor; chooses stewardship that fits with and reflects well on the business.

Trait #5—Loyalty: Allows for and encourages professional growth of employees; provides flexibility for motivated, productive workers; lets employees fail and ensures that everyone learns the lessons within the failure.

Trait #6—Glass-Half-Full POV: Acts enthusiastically about the possibilities, but is not blind to the problems. Is action-oriented, takes time to consider all options and makes timely decisions.

Trait #7—Customer Service-Centric: Practices what he or she preaches; gives the team permission to solve customer problems; knows the audience—it’s not about who you think you are, it’s about what your customer thinks.

Trait #8—Merit-Based Competitor: Observes the marketplace and examines data for competitive insights; provides customers with new reasons to return; finds new, fun ways to make change work.

Trait #9—Gives a Damn: Makes decisions based on shareholder value and impact on corporate integrity; does what’s right even if it’s not obviously profitable; accepts ultimate responsibility.

Mr. Shankman shows how leaders like JetBlue’s Dave Needleman, Andrew Taylor of Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Ken Chenault of Amex practice these traits to build productive, open, innovative and positive workplaces for the benefit of customers, employees, stockholders, and the bottom line. Your organization’s growth and success will increase as you apply these principles.

This book has scores of stories that illustrate how nice people and companies finish first. It’s a must-read for every leader who wants to create a successful, long-term organization.

The Product Management Perspective: It goes without saying that nice product managers have more success. Your success depends on others doing their work in the best way possible. Take Mr. Shankman’s words to heart as you take your next product to market.

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How to Foster Productive Communication with Employees

Guest post by Diane Pierre-Louis

The best leaders are nearly always excellent communicators. Clear and productive communication between management and staff is a great stage-setter for a successful and rewarding workplace environment. Whether you feel that you’re already communicating well with your employees or know this is an area that needs polishing, it’s always wise to review some common-sense strategies.

Listen with Intent

The art of meaningful listening requires effort and practice, but it is well worth the effort in the end. Generally, most of us are pretty lousy listeners. Although we might keep our mouths shut, we’re mostly likely just biding our time until the other person is finished and we can have our say. We think we know what our conversation partner will say next, so we plan our responses, which means we are not honestly listening. How can we possibly understand what someone means if our attention is silently focused elsewhere? Pay attention and be an active listener. And whatever you do, don’t interrupt.

Pay Attention to Tone and Body Language 

Body language is often more telling than the words that leave our mouth. As you’re listening to your employee, be an active observer as well as an attentive listener. Body language experts assert that 90% of how we communicate is nonverbal, so what we do with our body and facial expressions are as powerful as the words we speak. Practice using open body language that indicates you are receptive and willing to enter into a healthy conversation. This can include leaving your arms by your sides instead of crossing them and leaning slightly toward the speaker.

Tone of voice is also important. Unless we listen to recordings of ourselves regularly, it’s hard for us to relate to how our voice sounds. Be aware that your voice may indicate how tired, stressed, bored or irritated you are – even if your words indicate otherwise.

Follow up on Conversations

Don’t depart from a meeting without restating what you just heard. That will go a long way to eliminating the possibility of misunderstandings. Also, get into the habit of sending a quick email recapping what was discussed in a meeting or other work-related gathering. Often, employees bring up questions or concerns during a meeting, so a prompt follow-up addressing those issues is a valuable communication tool that lets your staff know you were listening and that you care.

Great leaders know that a company’s fortunes will rise and fall on the contributions of its employees. Creating an environment that promotes open communication among all employees and supervisors will foster the trust and collaboration necessary for long-term success.

Diane Pierre-Louis is a writer for Bisk Education and covers a variety of topics related to higher education and the workplace, including effective leadership and conflict management.

The Product Management Perspective: One of the best ways to show customers you care about them is to truly listen to them. Too often product managers hear the words coming out of a customer’s mouth and immediately start talking about how their product will solve the problem, rather than listening to find the root of the problem and seeking answers. Most product managers understand that customers are not always right. However, it is always in your best interest to listen to them and understand what they are saying.

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Leadership and listening

Positive and effective communication starts with listening. When you listen first and ask questions second, you come away with a much better understanding of what the other person wanted you to know. If you need to communicate something to another person, state it quickly and then listen to their response. When you participate in meetings, listen to what the others have to say. Fight the impulse to talk; listen attentively and you’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Recently I had an eye-opening experience with learning by listening. My son invited me to attend a session with renowned sports performance enhancement coach Dr. Craig Manning. The only stipulation from my son was…”you have to set back and listen, and not make any comments.” [Those who know me well know I like to chime in and share my wisdom, so this would be a challenge for me.]

I accepted. I went to the session and for a full hour I sat still and listened. It was an amazing experience. Even though Dr. Manning was teaching my son, I learned some remarkable things about myself. I discovered actions I can take to improve my life and my work. All of this came because I listened (not only to Dr. Manning, but also to my son).

If you want to be happier, work more effectively, or improve your leadership, take the time to listen. Don’t just hear what people say, pause and reflect on what they really mean. Ask questions that will help you to better understand what the other person is saying. Listen, and become a better leader.

The Product Management Perspective: You work with a lot of different people, most of whom have opinions about your product. A well-known mantra in product management is “Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.” While I agree the gist of this statement, I find value in listening to others’ opinions. The act of listening to others brings knowledge and enlightenment to us. Even if we end up doing something totally different from what the other person suggested, we all benefit from listening and considering alternatives.



I heard the statement “feedback is the breakfast of champions” while listening to a recent podcast. There is a lot of truth to that statement. After hearing it I started to break it down to see if I could come up with a new statement for Lead on Purpose readers:

  • Feedback: The word feedback is a technical term meaning “a mechanism, process or signal that is looped back to control a system within itself.” The term has evolved in business language to mean receiving information from others — either verbally or through written means — about topics important to you. The key to benefitting from feedback is listening. If you want to improve, seek out feedback from others, listen to what they say and take action.
  • Breakfast: Some say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day; I agree. It’s the fuel that gets you going in the morning. It’s the energy that drives you throughout the day. You receive power from eating.
  • Champions: Usually associated with sports, the word champions identifies the ultimate winners. These are the people who have worked smart and hard to achieve a goal. They work together. They achieve what others do not. They may not be the most naturally talented at what they do, but they work harder and have more of a team mindset than those with whom they compete. They are the leaders.

So, after going through this exercise I’ve come up with the following Lead on Purpose adaptation to “feedback is the breakfast of champions”: Listening is the power of leaders. But it’s not only listening, it’s acting on what you hear. It’s making an effort to know what others are thinking. It’s working hard to improve based on others’ experiences. It’s knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” Ultimately, it’s knowing that you or I do not have all the answers, but together we can know what is best.

The Product Management Perspective: Recently I’ve received some great feedback from co-workers and customers. Through this process I’ve realized how important it is to listen and make decisions based on what you hear. I’ve always known this but at times have been blinded by own knowledge and experience. It’s a positive thing to receive feedback that — though painful at the time — gives you a new perspective on where your products are headed. To succeed as a product manager you need to hear what other have to say, apply the positive aspects, swallow your pride and move forward.


Lessons on leadership from Twitter

Last month I decided to take a new step in social networking and created a Twitter account. With help from a friend and a timely post about getting started, I jumped in. After reading “tweets” and “tweeting” for more than a month now, I have keyed in to a few interesting connections to leadership:

  • Product is key: In business, products are king. Companies with great products consistently beat their competitors. On Twitter, the product is you; what you write about, what you promote, what you share. The things you write demonstrate clearly who you are and what you believe. If you tweet passionately about about what drives you, others pick up on it and spread your value.
  • Followers are important: Most of my writing focuses on leading. One of the ways to measure leadership is by the number of followers. Twitter makes this transparent by showing the number of people following a given individual. A high number of followers reveals a leader. Since Twitter is new to many and not yet discovered by some, the number of followers can be deceiving. The key indicator is how fast their followership grows.
  • Leaders are followers: On a given person’s Twitter profile you can see three numbers: following, followers and updates. The first is the number of Twitterers that person is following; the second is the number he/she is following, and the third is the number of updates (or posts) the person has written. From my (albeit limited) experience, the people I consider leaders usually have less following them than they are following. However, the numbers are usually fairly close. This speaks volumes to the need every leader has to follow others. There’s something about the act of listening to and believing in things others promote that makes you a better leader.

While Twitter is by no means a perfect model for leadership, much can be learned about principles of human nature when people put their ideas out for the world to see. I still have a lot to learn about Twitter (and leadership for that matter) and will share more ideas as they emerge. Please leave a comment and share your ideas.

The Product Management Perspective: As product managers you know the product is key; the focus of product management is creating great products that people/businesses will want to buy. Remember that you, as the product manager, are also a product. This was first driven home to me in Fast Company article I read more than ten years ago. While you work to create the best products you can, take time out to increase your own product; it will create value for both you and your company.