Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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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.”

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Book Review: Without Warning

Without Warning“Problems are our greatest challenge and opportunity, our greatest strength and weakness, and our greatest chance for success or failure.” According to Rodney Johnson, author of Without Warning: Breakthrough strategies for solving the silent problems taking aim at your organization, silent problems are one of the greatest challenges facing every organization, every business, and even public institutions. He writes about three types of problems plus one: simple, complex, wicked and silent. The first three are easier to deal with because people recognize them, they are out in the open and known to all involved. However, silent problems often get swept under the rug because they point to issues that are difficult to face; people don’t talk about them because they want them to go away.

In Without Warning Johnson recommends dealing with silent problems through what he calls the “CAP Initiative,” a process for solving silent problems. CAP is his acronym for Create-A-Problem. CAP is a process for bringing silent problems to light, putting context around them and arming you with tools to help you effectively solve and eliminate them. “The CAP initiative resets the silent problem, resets the questions, and begins to reset the behaviors and actions of the participants.”

To effectively use the CAP initiative to solve silent problems, Johnson recommends the following four steps:

  1. Make the problem visible and memorable: Bring the problem to the forefront; lead with the solution and create attention to the problem.
  2. Create a sense of urgency: Find ways to rally the team and help them understand the implications of the problems and the need to solve them.
  3. Allow anger — avoid fear: Fear leads people to avoidance. Anger, if channeled correctly, will motivate people to solve problems.
  4. The power of influence: The goal of a CAP initiative is to influence. Bringing silent problems out into the open makes them silent no longer. Once they are out you can deal with and solve them quickly and effectively.

Without Warning is a fast read with excellent real-world applications and pertinent information for leaders who are striving to move their organizations forward without the barnacles of silent problems.

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The right people

One of the common threads throughout Lead on Purpose is that people are assets. Their skills, knowledge, intellect, character and integrity provide the primary value to their company. Every positive outcome that transpires in any organization is a result of efforts of the people therein. Technology and automation certainly improve the work people do; however, no tools or equipment will ever replace the people in a successful organization.

Recently I decided to re-read (actually listened to) to the classic business book Good To Great by Jim Collins where he discusses, among other things, the value of people. Collins makes an important distinction with regard to the people in an organization: you need to get the right people. He discusses five levels of leadership, focusing specifically on Level 5 Leadership and the value it brings to companies. All of the good-to-great companies had Level 5 leaders who focused on getting the right people into the company (“on the bus”) and into the right positions on the team (“right seat on the bus”). Collins identifies three practical disciplines for hiring the right people in your organization:

  1. When in doubt, don’t hire—keep looking
  2. When you know you need to make a people change, act
  3. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems.

Hiring the right people into key positions in your company not only improves the value of the outcome in in those areas, but it also provides leverage to hire additional “right” people; this because successful people generally like to associate with other successful people. The decisions your organization makes about the people it hires will undoubtedly be among the most important.

The Product Management Perspective: The role of product management is a key role in every organization. If you have responsibility for hiring product management or product marketing professionals, take the time to find the right people. Be rigorous in your search and interview processes and put your best PMs on your biggest opportunities.

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Leadership and gratitude

An important aspect of successfully leading people is showing gratitude for who they are and what they do. Gratitude connotes a positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit you have received or will receive. It is recognizing the good things in your life and acknowledging those who helped you achieve them. Gratitude also implies helping others achieve their goals.

Why practice gratitude in leadership?

  • Gratitude develops success: Your success ultimately hinges on collaboration with others. Having gratitude for those who help you become successful influences them to do more to help your cause.
  • Gratitude opens doors: Opportunities often arrive from unexpected sources. Leaders who show appreciation draw the interest of those with whom they come in contact, and they attract other leaders who will help them become more successful.
  • Gratitude produces peace: Having a thankful attitude for your blessings inspires internal peace. The lack of internal conflict (within yourself and within your organization) frees you to pursue high-value activities that will more quickly lead you to success.
  • Gratitude increases trust: When you show others you value their hard work and contributions, their trust in your leadership and direction increases.

Show gratitude to others — through your leadership — and they will help you to succeed. At face value this may seem too simplistic; however, if you think about the people who have helped you get to where you are today, I’m sure you will feel grateful for what they have done. Always show an attitude of gratitude.

This post was inspired by the talk Finding Joy in the Journey by Thomas S. Monson, president of the LDS Church.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers have an often difficult task of motivating their teams (you know, the people who are responsible for a successful product release and also do not report to you) to work quickly and effectively to release quality products. Showing gratitude towards the people who are responsible for your success is not only the right thing, but also the smart thing to do.