Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Conversations that win

You want to win. Whether you are an athlete, an actor or a business leader you are “in the game” to win. You might be competing in a major event (e.g. summer Olympics in London) or in a crowded market (e.g. productivity software); regardless, you want to win.

What does it take to set you apart from the competition? In sports it’s pretty easy; you win competitions (ok, it’s not ‘easy’ to win for most of us, but it’s easy to measure). In business it most often comes down to the bottom line; how well your products and services sell compared to your competition. Measuring is not easy, but it’s possible. You need to know how you’re organization is doing and then do what it takes to leave the competition in the dust.

The book Conversations That Win The Complex Sale delves into the practices that lead to successful selling in complex situations. The concepts help you differentiate yourself and your products/services from the competition. “Rather than sell your own corporate story and brand vision, you need to tell customers their story—the one in which they are the heroes and they achieve success.”

The authors of the book, Erik Peterson and Tim Riesterer, are also executives for Corporate Visions, the organization that is “all about helping companies, like yours, be different in a rapidly commoditizing marketplace.” The book and their training (which I attended this week) focus on three key areas that will help you create more opportunities, differentiate your solutions and close more deals:

The Power of Change: Helping you overcome the status quo, your biggest competitor. Focusing on intentions and instincts to help you understand your customers and prospects better. Bringing in “a little bad news” to help them care about what you’re doing. The right conversations help them want to change.

The Power of Story: Everyone lives in stories whether they know it or not. Connecting with your potential customers through stories keeps them engaged through the discussion and helps them see it from their perspective. You learn how to create power positions, engagement and heroes. You’ll learn why “you phrasing” is critical to closing the deal.

The Power of Message: It is human nature for people to be mostly engaged at the beginning of a presentation, mostly asleep during the meat of the presentation, and wide awake when they hear the words “in conclusion” (because it’s about over). The authors call this “the hammock” and give great methods of helping you keep your listeners engaged. You’ll learn why grabbers, big pictures and 3D props help your stories come to life, and how the right conversations pique the most important part of the brain that influences decision-making.

A short blog post cannot begin to convey the depth and meaning of this book, and especially not the value of the training. The training delves in-depth into each of the key areas that will help you win. The average ROI for companies that have gone through Corporate Visions training (which this book is based on) and apply it immediately is really high – so high I can’t bring myself to write it (you wouldn’t believe me). If you’re serious about winning, regardless of your position in the company, this book is a must-read.

The Product Management Perspective: Why is a sales training/messaging book important to product management? You work with sales all the time as a product manager. The principles in this book will not only help your sales team sell more effectively, but they will also help you “sell” more effectively to the sales team. You can plant the necessary information in their minds that will keep your products at the top of their list and help your company increase its success dramatically.

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The power of influence

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the UPMA meeting; the keynote speaker was my former professor and mentor Eric Denna who gave a presentation titled “The Influencer: An Executive Look at Product Management.” The presentation was great and I want to share a few of the key discussion points (in my own words and subject to my personal biases).

At the heart of most problems that occur in business settings you find the following:

  • Lack of influence
  • Poor teamwork
  • Mediocre productivity.

At the core of the problem lies a lack of effective communication, which tends to show up in one of two ways: silence or violence. Silence means you turn quiet and stop communicating; you shut the other person(s) out and withdraw your efforts to solve the problem. In this context, ‘violence’ usually means you verbally attack the other person(s) and say things with the intent of deflecting blame. Neither of these reactions solves the problem at hand.

When you find yourself in a situation where the reaction is either silence or violence, you may face what Eric calls the succor’s choice – “I can be honest or I can be nice.” Those who tend towards being honest often say things that come across as mean or otherwise hurtful — violence. Those who favor being nice end up lying to the person to avoid hurting his or her feelings — silence. Either response leads to problems.

How do you avoid the silence/violence dilemma? Talk openly and candidly with the person about the problem. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings and views about the issue at hand. Take the time to clearly state how you feel about the behaviors the other person is exhibiting; be honest and do it in a nice way. Have the conversation and do it in a way that invites the other person to solve the problem with you. Use positive influence to drive to a mutually beneficial result.

Any time you are stuck, if you look closely at your situation you will find a crucial conversation keeping you there. Don’t let silence or violence trap you; take control of the situation by making the other person feel safe talking with you. There is not a conversation you cannot have. There is not a disagreement you cannot overcome.


Power in gratitude

Thoughts of gratitude have been on the minds of many in recent days. In the US we celebrated Thanksgiving last week; this holiday seems to bring people together like no other. There’s something about gathering together with family and friends that (most of the time) brings out the best in us all.
Albert Schweitzer

No matter what we are facing in life right now, there are things for which we can be (and absolutely should) be grateful. The act of focusing on the good things helps us keep moving forward during the tough times. We should be thankful for the people who make our lives happy. Albert Schweitzer said it well: “Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”

Think of a person who has made a difference in your life. Take a minute to thank him or her and express your appreciation for the positive impact he or she has made in your life. It will give you a renewed outlook and help you get through even the toughest times.

The Product Management Perspective: The topic of gratitude is not often addressed in product management circles. However, I have never met a product manager who was not appreciative of the people who work hard to make his or her product(s) successful. Take a few minutes to express your gratitude to the team; do it on purpose. That simple act will increase their trust in you.


Knowledge is power

To what do you attribute your success?

This question was answered in a very interesting fashion on a recent podcast Rock to the Top. Dr. Paul interviews Dayna Steele, a lively author and former rock-n-roll disk jockey in Houston. In the interview Dayna talks about meeting and associating with rock stars like Jon Bon Jovi, Sammy Hagar and other great rock legends. She provides interesting insight into their lives, how they think and what drives them.

In her book Rock to the Top Dayna talks about what drives these famous rock stars to be successful. What most caught my attention was her answer to the question posed above. She used Gene Simmons, from the band Kiss, as an example: Gene said he attributes his success to his ‘voracious’ reading habit; he reads every chance he gets. Dayna then quoted Fortune article she’d read where Warren Buffett said the same thing. Two very different people, both successful in very different ways, who attribute their success to their appetite for reading and gaining knowledge.

On a related note, George Ambler talks about the importance of taking time to stop and think. George points out that setting aside time to think is critical for effective leadership. Scheduling time to think allows the mind to tune in to the important nuggets of knowledge and filter out the non-essential and potentially detrimental thoughts and ideas.

The third item in the five factors of leadership asserts that knowledge is power, when it is applied. When the knowledge is applied it increases the success of the person applying it as well as those whom he/she leads.

Consequently, success comes from combining three important aspects of knowledge:

  • Reading: Acquiring new ideas
  • Thinking: Reflecting on the impressions gained through reading
  • Acting: Applying the knowledge gained through effort and hard work.

To what do you attribute your success?