Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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How to shift the competition

Successful business leaders thrive on competition. They’re at their best when contending for the top customers in high-end markets. They may feel that if they’re not in the middle of a cut-throat battle with competitors, they must not be succeeding.

Do these statements represent your approach to business? While much as been written about competition and businesses that have been highly competitive and won, in reality, some of the most successful companies have won using very different techniques. They have changed the way they do business. They have made a shift to the blue ocean.

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How to stop drifting and start living forward

Why do we sometimes drift off course and get caught up in meaningless activity? We see people wandering at all levels, even CEOs at times. The need to stay focused and produce seems obvious, yet our efforts to create opportunities too often fall short.


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Valuing the Differences of Others

Guest post by Dr. Andrew L. Thorn

I recently participated in two very different but similar meetings. The focus of each of the meetings was exactly the same, but the complexity of each group was completely different.

In one group, the people embraced a very similar philosophy and mindset on the proposed topic. The other group was filled with people who represented very different perspectives, viewpoints and backgrounds.

I gained a lot from both experiences, but after a while, I became very bored with the similar group. They definitely had every viewpoint from A to B well represented, but beyond that, it was hard to find any value. Unfortunately, we didn’t make much progress in accomplishing our purpose.

The diverse group challenged my thinking. There were view points represented that were difficult for me to comprehend because they were so different than my own. The meeting participants were energetic and courteous. They were not afraid to have their views questioned or examined by the others. They were very open to learning from the other group members.

Understanding Others

I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting with this diverse group and I left with a healthy appreciation and affection for each member. I never felt challenged to change my values, and as a result, I felt safe to open my mind to new ideas. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to examine the beliefs of others. Instead of judging them, I suspended my previous assumptions and allowed myself to see what they see. Because I was willing to extend this courtesy to them, they returned the favor to me.

I discovered that even though my values and opinions remained basically the same, my influence with my new friends increased. This dramatically affected our ability to work together. As a result, we made significant progress on our common interests.


Authentic Leadership

My experiences with these two groups reminded me of something my brother Larry taught me. Whenever we disagreed, he would say, “if we were all the same, there would be no need for all of us”.

This statement continues to guide my work. I understand that I am most effective when I surround myself with people who think and act much differently than I do. My association with friends of different opinions creates many opportunities to stretch my way of thinking.

Great leaders do not fear the fringes or the edges. They recognize that by creating space for all voices to be heard, they become an authentic agent of change. Because their influence is felt, their leadership is more highly regarded. When the point of decision arrives, they are seen as credible and trustworthy.

The Big Picture

Just because we learn to view things from a larger perspective does not mean that we must abandon our own values, it simply means that we learn to see what is going on in the complete system. When we do this, we create solutions that accelerate growth and development.

I realize that it is difficult to suspend our beloved biases and judgments, but it can be done without losing our individual identity, and a better solution almost always emerges when we do it. I invite you to consider the following questions:

How willing are you to consider viewpoints that are different from your own?

What benefits come from stretching to see the perspectives of others?

How do you feel when someone takes the time to see things as you see them?

Remember, the real point of leadership is not to change others, but to enroll them in a collaborative effort to achieve a common goal. You are free to draw the line in your personal values, most of us even expect you to do so and respect you when you do. When we become secure in who we are, we become more free about opening ourselves up to others, and that is when our effectiveness as a leader truly soars.

Dr. Andrew L. Thorn

Dr. Andrew Thorn is the founder of Telios Corporation and creator of The Telios Experience™.  He holdsa PhD in Consulting Psychology, a Masters in Personal and Executive Coaching, and a Masters in Business Administration from Pepperdine University.  Dr. Thorn is also the author of U-wun-ge-lay-ma: A Guide to Next-level Living and the upcoming book Who Do You Want To Be When You Grow Whole? The Future of Meaning and Purpose.  He lives in Apple Valley, California with his wife Stacy and seven children.     

The Product Management Perspective: One of the highpoints of being a product manger is working with a diverse group of people. From developers, to marketers to salespeople, to executives, we get to work closely with all of them. Sometimes they challenge us; sometimes they make life miserable. If we are open to new ideas and willing to learn from others, our products will be all the better. As Dr. Thorn says, “a better solution almost always emerges when we suspend our beloved biases.” Enroll your team in a collaborative effort to achieve great products.


Recognizing opportunities

The old saying goes “opportunities are all around us.” There are times when that statement is true for all of us, but the opportunities usually are not apparent.

Opportunities come in different ways. Some are easy to spot and gladly accepted (getting that promotion at work). But more often opportunities are obscure and usually difficult to perceive as providing benefit. If the old saying is true, how do you spot opportunities? I don’t have a magic bullet, but here are three actions that have helped me:

  • Seek: Look around you. Observe what’s going on in your daily life. Pay attention to what’s happening and look for ways to turn small things into big opportunities. Seek out advice from mentors and friends who care about you.
  • Accept: When you recognize an opportunity, say “yes” and accept that it can improve your life. Do your homework and make sure it’s something you want to do, but don’t get too caught up in the things you can’t predict.
  • Act: When you accept a new opportunity as something that can improve your life, run with it. Make a plan. Set aside the time and resources and go for it.

What are the big opportunities staring you in the face?

The Product Management Perspective: Opportunities can be difficult to recognize for product managers. They often come in ways you don’t expect. They are sometimes subtle and almost always difficult to detect. However, opportunities do exits. New products are out there waiting for you to discover them. Significant improvements to existing products are looking for daylight. Seek them out, accept them and go to work making new realities.

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Hire your replacement

Leaders at successful companies focus significant time and resources to hire the right people. The money and effort they spend pays big dividends as the company progresses and matures. The companies that excel at hiring the right people seem to take this one step further: at all levels the leaders hire people whom they can groom as their replacements. This may seem at odds with conventional thinking; generally, most people at most companies do not think about what the company will be like when they leave. However, those who really ‘get it’ make hiring better people than themselves a priority.

The importance of focusing on your replacement cannot be overstated. Following are three actions that will help you focus on successfully developing replacements:

  • Hire the right people: When you select candidates to interview look for people who have the skills and the personality to grow into your position. When making hiring decisions, look for and hire individuals who have the potential to do the job better than you can do it.
  • Train them: Hire the right people, then provide the training to accelerate their growth. Spend money on developing skills that will drive the results your company is seeking. Don’t let the cost of training deter you from training your people. Stephen M.R. Covey drives this point home nicely in his book The Speed of Trust:
I’ll never forget what one CEO said about the risk of investing in a focused training initiative for his company. Someone asked him, ‘What if you train everyone and they all leave?’ He responded, ‘What if we don’t train them and they all stay?’
  • Give them opportunities to grow: Once you hire the right people and give them the training they need, provide them with opportunities to learn and grow. Do not hold on to the most important tasks yourself. Give your team members new opportunities even if it means letting go of your pet project.
One of the key side effects of focusing time and effort on your replacement is your own growth. When you help others learn, you learn more. When you help them hone key skills, your skills improve. You cannot help others progress without advancing your own position. The more you increase the value of others the more your value increases.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are most often leaders by nature; however, they most often do not have anyone reporting directly to them. These principles still apply because, as a PM, you are a member of the team and have influence on the people who are hired on to the team. Leaders of product managers do themselves and their company a favor by hiring people who will eventually replace them and be more successful than they have been. It’s all about progression: the more you help others progress, the further you go.


Capturing ideas

Ideas are the seeds from which all greatness grows. Every book and every company started from the spark of an idea. Ideas come on their own time and in their own way. Those who understand this principle find a sure path to success.

The key to benefiting from ideas is to capture them. You need to write them down in a place where you can review them and use them when the time is right. In his audio book “Capturing Million Dollar Ideas,” Richard Paul Evans recommends keeping and “idea journal” with you at all times so you can capture ideas as they come. This is important because you can never control or predict when ideas will come. He further discusses five things to know about your ideas:

  1. Your life if the sum of your ideas.
  2. Ideas are like butterflies, they come at any time and they appear unannounced, flittering through your mind as if to find capture. Creating a place to capture the ideas seems to attract them, and in greater number. “A discovery is an accident meeting a prepared mind.”
  3. Ideas, no matter how brilliant, have a very short shelf life.
  4. You may not understand how big an idea is until later; some ideas need to age like cheese and wine to come to value. In come cases, you need to grow before you realize just how big a concept is.
  5. Ideas beget other ideas.

Remember, ideas come on their own time. When ideas come to you, write them down.

The Product Management Perspective: Ideas are the fuel for great products. The difficulty for many product managers is capturing ideas and filtering the potentially great ones from the not so good. That topic deserves its own post (or perhaps its own book). The key point here is that you, as the PM, capture the ideas that come to you regardless of the source. The more ideas you capture the more likely you are to get the perfect new product or feature. Many times ideas will seem silly or absolutely unobtainable; write them down anyway. Over time circumstances change, technology improves and opportunities appear that you do not expect. The more ideas you have captured the better prepared you will be to develop your ideas into the next great product.

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Three steps to the next big opportunity

One of the keys to career progress (advancement) is identifying and taking advantage of new opportunities. Most of the time the new opportunities are not obvious; after all, when things become obvious they are usually past the “opportunity” stage. The crucial habit for progress is watching, learning and becoming aware of trends and changes going on around you. Here are three steps to help you prepare yourself for the next big opportunity:

  • Demonstrate flexibility: The word ‘flexible’ has various meanings; in this context think of ‘willingness.’ Be the person at your company who is willing to do new things, like taking on the project that nobody wants. Don’t balk when things don’t go the way you want them to go.
  • Get out of your comfort zone: Face it, progress never comes without some level of discomfort. Look for ways you can improve your skills in new areas. Think of something you never would have considered and do it; even if it’s riding a bull.
  • Work with people: The only way to progress in this life is to work with other people. The teams that have people who work together win. Even in so-called “individual sports” such as running, race car driving or gymnastics, the athletes depend on many other people for their success. Be open and humble enough to learn from other people, and be willing to help others any way you can.

At the end of the day (or week, month or year) you are responsible for your progress. You need to take the steps. You will surely find many along the way who are willing to help you; take advantage. But don’t wait for them to bring success to you; that will never happen. Make the effort; take the steps.

The Product Management Perspective: The ideas for this post came from a question posed to me about how an engineer can become a product manager. Following these three things will help you progress from your work as an engineer (or support or SE or any other job) to becoming a successful product manager. And for you who are product managers, look for people who are trying to make the shift and reach out and help them. You’ll find satisfaction in knowing you helped someone else, and doing so will benefit your career.


Keeping the best

One of the keys to creating a successful organization is hiring and retaining the best talent available. During difficult times, management too often forgets that their people are their greatest asset.

The Wall Street Journal tackles the issue of retaining executives in a recent article How to Keep Your Best Executives. The key, according to authors Elizabeth Craig, John R. Kimberly and Peter Cheese, is this: “make it easier for them to leave.” In difficult economic times many companies focus less on retention and keeping their employees happy. That can be a big mistake. “That’s why it’s crucial that companies get serious about retention now. And that means giving executives opportunities to take on greater responsibility, broaden their skills and cultivate a network of relationships with their peers. These are the things that executives we have surveyed consistently say they want most from their jobs.” They cite three types of opportunities executives want most:

  • New Responsibilities: Provide employees with opportunities for new responsibilities. Increased responsibilities and the opportunity to work on challenging tasks rank among the top factors in career satisfaction.
  • Broader Skills: Skilled people are driven to learn more about other parts of the organization. They increase their value by acquiring knowledge from areas outside their main focus. Companies that succeed in growing their executive talent do so by providing opportunities for their people to grow.
  • Cultivating Relationships: Smart executives realize the importance of building their networks. “Networking is important to executives for several reasons. It establishes connections that might be helpful down the road in finding a new position, increases their visibility and lets them learn from their peers.” This could be seen as a downside to some who are afraid of losing good people as soon as they build out their skill set. However, perceptive leaders understand that providing opportunities for their employees to grow will ultimately help their organization prosper.

Though it seems like a paradox, the best way to keep your employees happy is to let go; let them grow. “Companies that apply these lessons will be in a better position not only to retain their most prized executives but also to attract new talent as the economy recovers.”

The Product Management Perspective: Like executives, product managers need opportunities to grow. Leaders who understand this find ways broaden the skills of their teams. Cultivating relationships and presenting new responsibilities will keep the team members happy and increase their commitment to helping the company succeed.

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Provide opportunities for success

I’m away this week, so I “pre-loaded” my blog with a link to a great post.

Too many leaders fail to provide opportunities for their team members to achieve things they might never have believed they were capable of achieving. Today’s links come from Art Petty at Management Excellence. In his post Taking Chances on the Talent Around You, Art discusses the importance of providing significant growth opportunities to the people you lead. “It’s time to take some chances.”