Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Motivating leadership

The number of leadership blogs that take up space in my feed reader is growing. Two recent posts struck a chord with me:

In his post The Opportunity to Influence, Mark Sanborn points to the passing of the torch from Mark Spitz to Michael Phelps. Mark quotes Spitz’s comment that Phelps now has the burden to inspire youth. Mark goes on to say: “Maybe Spitz’s comment was taken out of context or incomplete as quoted. I hope so. He seems like a good egg, so I’m puzzled about why he’d think he had to inspire anyone and secondarily why he considered that a burden.” Building up others should never be seen as a burden; it’s an opportunity that drives people to become leaders.

The second post is from Art Petty: Back to School. Art discusses the exuberance shown by many children as they head back to school after summer break. They love learning and it shows on their faces. Art makes the point that many working adults lose the fire to learn when school is over and they get into the work routine. He says:

One of the things we often lose as busy working adults is that sense of excitement about learning. It’s easy to let years and even decades slip by and focus on everything but our own self-development.  Sure, we attend mandated training in our company and possibly even the periodic seminar to earn the Continuing Education Units (CEUs) mandated by our professional certifying organizations.  Unfortunately, neither of those formats creates the exhilarating sense of learning and discovery that we may have had at some time earlier in our lives, but lost along the way to becoming responsible adults.

Art gives a list of activities that will help to rekindle your love of learning. It’s well worth the read.

Taking the opportunity to really have a positive influence on others and pursuing education with a determined attitude will help us on our course of continued motivating leadership.


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It’s all about the people

The first principle of the Five Factors of Leadership is that people are assets. Every organization, be it a technology company or a non-profit charitable organization, is composed of people. The people – not the buildings, equipment or intellectual property – compose the true assets of any company. Everything that exists in the world today, that might be considered an asset in the accounting sense of the word, was once the idea of one or more people who did the work to bring it to market. Knowing this will help product managers (or anyone for that matter) understand the need to tune in to their teams and provide opportunities for their people.

A great example of this principle can be found in the history of Kingston Technology Corporation, founded by John Tu and David Sun. Kingston Technology took off as technology startup in 1987 (during a major stock market downturn). Rather than looking at their situation through the lens of scarcity, they looked for opportunities. They started a small company that produced nothing but memory for computers. To differentiate themselves from other companies (and allow a slightly higher profit margin) they:

  • Provided a five-year, no questions asked warranty (the industry standard was 90 days)
  • Focused on lifestyle for employees and their families
  • Paid the highest salaries for comparable positions
  • Paid 5% of pretax corporate profits directly to the 401(k) accounts of their employees
  • Guaranteed the employees that should the company ever go out of business, there was, in escrow, one year’s salary for every employee.

As a result, Kingston averaged less than 2% attrition, nearly unheard of in any organization. This meant that training costs were reduced, experience levels were high, and people performed to the very best of their abilities.

When the company was finally sold, Tu and Sun set aside $100M of the proceeds and divided it among the employees. The bonus was not as a traditional ‘pay grade relative’ bonus. Instead it was created and distributed based entirely on time with the company. The average payout to all employees, from highly trained engineers to assembly line workers, was $75,000.

As an organization, Kingston recognized the principle that people are the real assets. They understood, and subsequently proved, that it’s all about the people:

People who crave success
People who believe they can achieve
People who believe there is an abundance
People who recognize and appreciate other people.

Disclosure: Many thanks to my good friend Steve Reiser for his contribution to this post.