Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Leadership and persistence

Persistence is one of the key characteristics of great leaders. Gaining it requires determination and a mindset that — no matter what happens — you will stick to your principles and goals. Persistence in leadership is analogous to running a marathon. To run a successful marathon you have to spend ample time (months or more) preparing. The time you spend, and what you do leading up to the race, will determine how well you perform during the race. To succeed in leadership you have to work hard and continually hone your interpersonal skills. You find ways to motivate successful teamwork and positive interaction.

Great leaders are persistent. They persevere through trials and develop the ability to weather tough storms. Calvin Coolidge, 30th US President, summed it up nicely:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Success in leadership comes from developing and perfecting persistence and determination.


The Product Management Perspective: The importance of persistence in creating great products cannot be overstated. Things do not always go as planned. Great product managers learn from past mistakes and continue to press forward regardless of the obstacles they face. Product success does not come overnight, but instead comes over time, though consistent application of sound principles.


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Forward progress

A key axiom for today’s leaders is that forward progress comes through hard work and persistence. This applies not only to your progress as a leader, but also to the progress of the people you lead. The ups and downs of daily interaction can inspire or drain, depending on your attitude and perseverance. To make progress you have to look at each situation and determine what you can do improve to your success given the circumstances. As Tom Peters says so frankly, “Only those who constantly retool themselves stand a chance of staying employed in the years ahead.”

You need to look at your situation and determine whether you are progressing in the direction you want to go. If not, make the changes necessary and start moving in the right direction. The following quote by Frederick Williams provides additional insight: “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks that will help you move forward in the direction you want to go.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you need to focus on your products’ direction and success; you need to collect the right market input and turn it into great products. At the same time you also need to focus on your career and your personal progress. With the right attitude you can do both at the same time.


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The power of persistence

Great leaders are tested and tried in many ways. They persevere through trials and develop the ability to weather tough storms. Calvin Coolidge, 30th US President, summed it up nicely:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Success comes from developing and perfecting persistence and determination.

As a side note, I found an interesting (and somewhat related) article contrasting two of pro basketball’s biggest stars: Kobe vs. Lebron: how leadership trumps likeability. It brings out the importance of persistence in leading teams as a player.


The Product Management Perspective: The importance of persistence in creating great products cannot be overstated. Things do not always go as planned. Great product managers learn from past mistakes and continue to press forward regardless of the obstacles they face. Product success does not come overnight, but instead comes over time, though consistent application of sound principles.


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Book Review: Lead Well and Prosper

lead-well-and-prosper“‘I don’t have time’ is the most frequently used excuse for incompetence.” According to Nick McCormick, author of LEAD WELL AND PROSPER: 15 Successful Strategies for Becoming a Good Manager, by focusing on specific strategies you will use your time more effectively and improve your leadership capabilities.

Nick points out that management is in a state of crisis. Regardless of the numerous books on leadership and management, “we managers can’t seem to get it right.” This problem has lead to a cottage industry built upon ridiculing management — a comic strip, a TV show and numerous other outlets.

The book highlights 15 successful strategies to help managers improve their effectiveness:

  1. Adopt a serving attitude
  2. Teach
  3. Provide honest and timely feedback
  4. Share information
  5. Listen
  6. Treat people like human beings
  7. Set goals, plan and execute
  8. Learn
  9. Do the right thing
  10. Embrace the uncomfortable
  11. Clean up your own house first
  12. Persist
  13. Do what you say you’ll do
  14. Always follow up
  15. Plan your week

Lead Well and Prosper is a quick read with valuable information. The strategies are not new and have been written about in much more detail by numerous authors. However, the book’s organization makes it a valuable tool to help struggling organizations improve the capabilities of their management teams. If your organization is mired in mediocrity, your people will benefit by reading this book.

The book is organized into short chapters by strategy. Each chapter opens with dialog from fictional characters that help the reader understand how not to apply the topic for that chapter. At the end of each chapter is a concise list of “dos” and “don’ts” that apply to the strategy, and immediate actions the reader can take to apply what was taught. With these iconic helps you can easily grasp the main themes in under an hour.

The Product Management Perspective: Like other leadership books reviewed here, Lead Well and Prosper provides useful direction for product managers working hard to lead their teams to success. Nearly all the strategies can be applied to making you more effective in your work as a product manager, and building your credibility as a leader. It’s worth a self-evaluation to assure you are doing the basics (as described in this book) well.


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The habit of learning

The fact that you are reading this post is a good indication that you are a learner. A habit is an acquired pattern of behavior that is often associated with a vice. However, good habits are important, and the habit of learning is critical to success.

I believe people should study a little bit every day. It should become habitual, like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, having a shower or getting dressed. Study the mind, the laws of the universe and paradigms. There’s enough information on those subjects to keep a person studying forever. -Bob Proctor

In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists. -Eric Hoffer

Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence. -Colin Powell

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. -John F. Kennedy

Continue in your quest to learn new things; you will find treasures on your journey.

The Product Management Perspective: To enhance your learning in product management, take advantage of the many great resources available. A great place to start is the Product Management feed on Alltop.


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Persistence: key to success

Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) provides an excellent source or information. It covers stock markets, mutual funds, commodities and investing in general, as well as important industry topics and current issues in government and society (both nationally and internationally). However, IBD’s most engaging section to me is Leadership & Success (L&S). This section first attracted me to IBD and has held my attention for years.

Each day in the L&S section you will find 10 Secrets To Success. The fifth secret highlights the need to be persistent and work hard: “success is a marathon, not a sprint. Never give up” it states.

Persistence is one of the key characteristics of great leaders. Gaining it requires determination, a mindset that — no matter what happens — you will stick to your principles and goals. Persistence in leadership can be compared to running a marathon. To run a successful marathon you have to spend ample time (months) preparing. The time you spend, and what you do leading up to the race, will determine how well you perform during the race. And given the length of a marathon (26.2 miles, 42 kilometers), persistence is absolutely necessary to finishing the race.

Where running marathons is concerned, however, real success comes not from preparing and running single marathon, but from continued training, learning and determination. It’s the continuation of marathons that becomes the marathon.

Achieving success requires a continuation of effort. Mark Sanborn calls this Staying Power. When you face a big project, you spend time preparing and then exert increased effort to finish on time and with high quality. When you finish you do not pat yourself on the back as if you have “arrived” but you look forward to the next opportunity. You may (and should) take time to celebrate after completing a successful project, but the next day you get up and go back to ‘training’ for the next big project, just like you would train for the next race. It’s the continuation of successes that becomes the success.

Success is the journey, not the destination.


The Product Management Perspective: Persistence is a requirement for product managers. Obtaining the right inputs, understanding the market problems, determining the best way your product will solve those problems, creating requirements and defining releases (among other things) requires tremendous persistence. You do it, and then you do it again. Keep moving forward, be persistent, and while you’re at it, enjoy the journey!


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Leadership and learning

A recent post on the HubSpot blog, Rick Burns suggests the most important internet marketing skill is learning. Rick makes a point that no one is an internet marketing expert yet, but the ones who are trying and learning along the way are quickly becoming the experts.

Leadership and Learning

If you were to choose the most important characteristic or aspect of leadership, what would it be? Is it possible to determine the (single) most important aspect of leadership? The answers to these questions will no doubt differ from one person to another, and from one leadership guru to another. However, like Rick points out in the context of internet marketing, one thing that seems to be a common trait in great leaders, regardless of the time or place they have lived, is a penchant for learning.

The pace of progress in the world today requires that leaders be learners. The following quote by Eric Hoffer speaks volumes: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

The salient idea in Ricks post is the importance of not being afraid to make mistakes. Becoming a leader does not happen over night. You will make mistakes along the way; everyone does. The key to your progress is losing the fear of making mistakes. Success requires making mistakes. According to Conrad Hilton, “Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” Persistence is the key to leadership.


The Product Management Perspective: The subject of learning should course through every product manager’s agenda.  Just when you think you understand a market or a product or a buyer persona, it changes. To keep up with the evolution of product management, you need to understand where it’s at and where it’s headed. Read blogs, books and magazines. Make it a point to be a learner. Talk to your teams about what you are learning; you will gain respect and be seen as the leader.

Image: Courtesy of Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics


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You can’t fake leadership

The work fake has various connotations and degrees. In one sense it means not real or untrue. It can be as harmless as an actor who shows contrived emotions or as damaging as a criminal who uses deception to defraud people of their money. Regardless of the degree, the act of faking or being fake results in negative consequences and is the antithesis of leadership.

People become leaders in different ways: some are elected, others are appointed, still others become leaders without ever having the title. Regardless of how you become a leader, you can’t fake leadership. Sure, there are people who do and some even get away with it for a while, but at some point, usually not too far down the road, people clue into the false intentions and the phony front and quit listening to or following the “leader” (who is not really a leader).

Becoming a leader requires a careful combination of confidence and humility. Remaining a leader and growing leadership capabilities require persistence and integrity. An essential characteristic of leadership is trust. Leaders live and work in ways that let them gain the trust of their people. They also trust their people; trust goes two ways. Ultimately, you cannot fake trust, you have to earn it, and you earn it by being genuine and real.


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Success is a marathon

This morning while reading IBD, a favorite source of information, I reread the 10 Secrets To Success (they print the ten traits and highlight one each day). The fifth secret highlights the need to be persistent and work hard; “success is a marathon, not a sprint. Never give up” it states.

Persistence is one of the key characteristics of great leaders. Gaining it requires determination; a mindset that no matter what you will stick to your principles and goals. Having run three marathons I have found that the key is preparation; it’s what you do leading up to the race that determines how well it goes. It’s the consistent and persistent training that determines how well you run a marathon. Where running marathons is concerned, however, real success comes not from preparing and running ‘a’ marathon, but from continued training, learning and determination. It’s the continuation of marathons that becomes the marathon.

Achieving success requires a continuation of effort. We all experience ‘marathons’ along the way to success where we exert increased effort to finish a big project; we do not pat ourselves on the back because we have arrived. We may (and should) take time to celebrate after achieving successes on projects, but the next day we get up and go back to ‘training’ for the next project big project, just like we would train for the next race. It’s the continuation of successes that becomes the success.

Success is the journey, not the destination.


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Accidental Branding

Why do some few brands take off like a rocket while many (most we’ve never heard of) never leave the ground? A new book that expounds on this question will be released this week. The title is Accidental Branding: How Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands by David Vinjamuri.

Accidental BrandingIn Accidental Branding, David profiles the leaders of several companies whose brands took off seemingly out of nowhere and succeeded in different, but amazing ways. The people he profiles include Gary Erickson of Clif Bar, Julie Clark of Baby Einstein, Roxanne Quimby of Burt’s Bees, John Peterman who created the J. Peterman brand and Craig Newmark who founded Craigslist. David qualifies an Accidental Brand as one that has three tests:

  1. An individual who is not trained in marketing must create the brand.
  2. This individual must experience the problem that the brand solves.
  3. The individual must control the brand for at least 10 years.

The great news for all of us is we can create a great brand regardless of whether we came from a wealthy family or attended an Ivy League university. Some of the people profiled did not even go to college. In his research, David discovered six rules that were keys to creating accidental brands:

  • Rule # 1 – Do Sweat The Small Stuff: Make sure you understand every way a consumer will interact with your brand, and choreograph all of those interactions.
  • Rule #2 – Pick a Fight: Accidental brands take real risk by going against the status quo; they reap rewards for doing so.
  • Rule #3 – Be Your Own Customer: Successful entrepreneurs are their own products’ consumers.
  • Rule #4 – Be Unnaturally Persistent: Most brands profiled took between 10 and 20 years to reach the $20 million mark.
  • Rule #5 – Build a Myth: The trick is selecting the facts that you want to tell people and deciding how best to share them.
  • Rule #6 – Be Faithful: Figure out who really supports you and keep listening to them. Don’t be distracted by all of the other people who end up coming along for the ride as you become more successful.

To take an idea and make something great requires determination and focused intention. The people profiled in Accidental Branding offer great examples of how anyone can, by following sound principles, create something great. I highly recommend you add Accidental Branding to your reading list.

Disclosure: Other than receiving an advanced copy of several pre-release chapters of Accidental Branding, I have no affiliation with the author or the book.