Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Five rules for executive product leadership

The original idea for starting Lead on Purpose was a recognition that product managers have the need to lead (inspire, motivate, guide) people who do not report them. Their success depends, to a large extent, on people in other parts of the organization. The PMs who take a leadership approach to their job have the most success.

The leadership role of the product team (PM, PO, PMM, UX) is critical to the success of any organization. Much has been written about where product management should report. The most common departments for product management reporting are marketing, engineering/development and directly to the CEO. Different factors such as the size of the organization  play a role in where the product team reports.

Regardless of where the product team reports, the leader of the product team (the “product executive”) plays a key role in the success of the company. They play a crucial role in enabling their teams to succeed at leading product direction. Here are five rules that will help product executives effectively lead their teams:

  • Build the people on your team: First and foremost, the product exec needs to develop the people in his or her organization. Hire competent people who can do the work effectively. Give them opportunities to grow. And most importantly, support them in their endeavors to not only produce successful products but also to grow and develop in their careers. Work with them to set goals and measure their progress. Understand what motivates them. This takes time and effort, and it’s definitely not easy, but it’s the most important part of a product executive’s job.
  • Develop trust: Tied closely to building your team is developing relationships of trust with the people on the team. Team members thrive when they know their efforts are appreciated and their work is meaningful. They step up to greater challenges when they know someone has their back. They will go beyond what they thought they could do and have greater results when they know their work will be appreciated and rewarded. Building trust is the key to building a great team.
  • Represent the product team: As the product exec you need to promote the interests and needs of the product team to the rest of the company. Make sure your team has adequate budget to do their work (somehow this aspect seems to get overlooked; PM never has enough budget for travel and other key responsibilities). Be their advocate to the executive team, the sales team and others both in and outside of the company. Gaining a seat at the executive table (i.e., having key influence in the company) should be a high priority for product executives.
  • Cultivate stability: Creating great products takes time and consistency. The best way to build an effective team is to create an environment where people want to work. Spend time with your team both in and outside the office. Travel with your team members; the best relationships are built on the road. As the leader of the product team, make sure they know that the team is your first priority. Show it by your words and by your actions.
  • Remove roadblocks: Every team runs into problems. Effective product executives look for ways to remove or lessen the impact of problems that arise. Do everything you can to make sure your team members are working effectively.

The product executive is key to the product team’s success. A team with a capable product leader will create great products and generate success for their organization. Lead on purpose at the executive level.


The Product Management Perspective: Product leaders can and should exist at all levels of the organization. Regardless of your role, work and behave like the “product executive” and you will be pleased with the results.

Special thanks to Jim Holland for his contributions to this post


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Guest Post: 10 Secrets of Effective Leaders

By Maria Rainier

If you’re like most managers, you know how hard it can be to inspire and motivate your employees. What’s more, with so many different personality styles on your team, finding leadership tactics that work across the board can be a challenge. Fortunately there are a huge amount of resources out there that can help you become a more successful leader. Here are ten of the most proven tactics that have helped countless managers inspire their team to achieve greatness each and every day:

  1. Be a positive thinker. Every great manager knows that it’s impossible to create a positive work environment if they aren’t positive themselves. No matter how much pressure you feel as a leader, always make sure you think positive and visualize success. That way your team will be inspired to follow suit.
  2. Set clear goals. Making sure your employees understand what’s expected of them is your first step toward success. Set goals that are clear, reasonable and attainable. And stay committed to helping your team members achieve them.
  3. Grow your skills. Just because you’ve reached the management level doesn’t mean you’re done with your training. In fact, by keeping your skills fresh you’ll be able to engage more effectively with your employees who are out in the field. Take classes, attend seminars and join discussion groups to make sure your skills stay up to par.
  4. Be innovative. Following the crowd and being a “yes man” is one of the worst mistakes a manager can make. Be true to yourself and present your own ideas confidently. You’ll be seen as an innovator and not just someone who goes along with the group.
  5. Take responsibility for your failures. Yes, even managers are known to make mistakes. Never blame your failure on your team – you’ll lose integrity immediately. By showing that you’re just like everyone else, you’ll build trust with your group.
  6. Be analytical. As a manager, it’s vital that you have the facts before you make any big decisions. By analyzing the details, you’ll have the right amount of knowledge to set and attain achievable goals.
  7. Learn to communicate. Since there are so many different types of people on your team, it’s vital to know how to bring out the best in everyone. Learn who the introverts and extroverts are, and adapt your communication style to theirs.
  8. Lead but don’t manage. It’s vital to inspire your team to perform by example and not tell them exactly what to do. By enthusing and motivating your group, they’ll be passionate about achieving success on their own.
  9. Respect your team. A good manager always puts the needs of his or her team first. When you do this your team will know that you have their back and will go above and beyond to work hard for you. If there’s a performance problem with an individual, never call them out in public – and never pit employees against one another.
  10. Focus on the client. Since serving your clients is the most important part of your business, be sure you always put their needs first. This will help create a customer-driven organization and will help build longevity between your company and your client’s business.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching different social work degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

The Product Management Perspective: The ten actions above are important for successful product leadership. If you are leading a team of product managers, pay special attention to the following: #2: Goals point you and your team to the future. Product management focuses on releasing the right products to the right markets at the right time; set both financial and operational goals for your product line. #4: Being innovative ties closely with understanding your markets; be the market expert for your product line. #9: it’s all about relationships; your team needs to know, without any hesitation, that you have their backs and will do everything you can to help them succeed. Build relationships of trust.


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Book Review: It’s Not Just Who You Know

“No business will survive long if it can’t make a profit; but no business deserves to survive at all if it can’t make a positive difference in the lives of its employees, customers, clients, and community.” This powerful statement comes from Tommy Spaulding in his new book It’s Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts into Lasting, Genuine Relationships. According to Spaulding, success — in business and in life — is tied directly to relationships. The most powerful relationships come when we focus on helping others.

Perhaps the most common measurement of business success is ROI — return on investment. When it comes to relationship economics, Spaulding introduces a different concept — Return on Relationships (ROR). According to Spaulding, ROR comes in many forms and should be as important to individuals and organizations as profits, revenues and ROI — because with out generating ROR, the ROI won’t matter. He cites as proof a 2007 Gallop Management Journal survey that estimates that “actively disengaged workers” cost the U.S. economy about $382 billion annually. Developing relationships drives engagement (in school, in work, in personal lives) that pays dividends.

Spaulding describes relationships in terms of a five-floor building. The deeper the relationship, the higher the floor. While relationships seldom fit into a nice, tight definition, the “Five Floor” plan provides definition and gives boundaries that define relationships:

  • First Floor: We meet and greet. We exchange business cards. It typically involves a transactional exchange.
  • Second Floor: We begin sharing more information, but it’s very basic information; the type dispensed out of social obligation or because it’s a job requirement, not because we’re offering some insight into who we are.
  • Third Floor: People develop an emotional comfort level that goes beyond facts and information. We learn about the lives of our co-workers, vendors and clients and other professional associates. We begin to understand something about who they are as people, even if we don’t agree with all their opinions.
  • Fourth Floor: These relationships take on a deeper, more significant meaning. We share common interests, goals, beliefs and causes. At this level we’ve learned to work through conflicts, and we respond in ways that show we value the relationship for its own sake.
  • Fifth Floor: These relationships go well beyond Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People. In these relationships, vulnerability, authenticity, trust and loyalty are off the charts. They are relationships built on shared empathy — an intuitive understanding of each other’s needs, even those that aren’t necessarily expressed. We literally “feel” another person’s state of mind.
Building a relationship begins by focusing your genuine, sincere attention on the other person. It’s not about you. Find ways to move your relationships forward.

Success, in any endeavor, requires effective relationships. Leadership grows and develops through building effective relationships. I highly recommend It’s Not Just Who You Know as guidebook to building effective relationships and increasing your leadership potential.

The Product Management Perspective: Building effective relationships is absolutely crucial for success in product management. Product managers rely heavily on other people — engineers, sales people, support, etc. — to ship successful products. PMs that focus on building strong relationships experience more success. PMs who build consensus and inspire team members develop a high ROI on their products and ROR with their colleagues.


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The price of leadership

The topic of whether leaders are born or made comes up often and has created many interesting conversations. In their recent Wall Street Journal article Do You Really Want to be a Leader?, Preston C. Bottger and Jean-Louis Barsoux address the question “are leaders born or are they made?” with the simple statement “the answer is irrelevant.” You will not know whether you have what it takes to be a leader until you try really hard to express it. The real question is: are you willing to invest the effort and make the sacrifices necessary to take on the responsibility of a leadership position?

The authors propose three questions you should ask to assess your own leadership potential:

  • How far do you want to go? To help you measure your inclination and desire to rise to new levels of leadership, look at your immediate boss’s job and ask yourself if you could do it as well or better – answer honestly. Then take it another step; consider the most senior leader in your line of sight – perhaps the chief executive. Get a feel for the time, energy and capabilities required to do those jobs. What would those jobs require of you that you can’t do now or that you don’t enjoy doing? What do you enjoy now but would have to give up? It’s crucial to honestly assess the job you are pursuing and make sure it’s a direction you want to head.
  • What are you willing to invest? There will be pleasures that you must give up. Certainly, there will be implications for your personal life – raising questions not so much about balancing work and family in the short term, but about finding a sustainable mix for the long term.
  • How will you keep it up? If you envision another 10, 20 or even 30 years of leadership work, then you must find effective methods for maintaining your physical, emotional and intellectual well-being. Periodically you must create timeouts to review where you are investing your time and energy, to ensure that you remain capable of generating new behaviors to deal with new challenges.

Whether leadership is something you can learn is not the right question. Whether you want to pay the price to reach the leadership level of your dreams is the real question you need to sort out.


The Product Management Perspective: Most product managers do not “manage” other people (in the traditional HR sense of the word). However, the need to lead others to help you succeed is absolutely critical. Working with people on other teams, spending time with customers and understanding your markets take a lot of time. This often leaves you doing your “work” at weird hours after your coworkers are long gone. Regardless of the cost, the investment in building relationships is critical to succeeding in your current role and building the foundation on which to grow your career. The crucial question you need to ask yourself: is it worth the cost?


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Trust in business

One of the things I’m finding as I continue to read The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey is the abundance of leadership quotes he has included in the book. They give excellent insight into the importance trust plays in your success. The following quote points out the importance of trust in business:

You can’t have success without trust. The word trust embodies almost everything you can strive for that will help you to succeed. You tell me any human relationship that works without trust, whether it is a marriage or a friendship or a social interaction; in the long run, the same thing is true about business, especially businesses that deal with the public.

Jim Burke, former Chairman and CEO, Johnson & Johnson


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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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Success is not a zero-sum game

In game theory and economic theory, zero-sum describes a situation in which one person’s gain is exactly balanced by another person’s loss. In games like chess, one person wins and the other loses. The win (+1) added to the loss (-1) equals zero.

Life in the business world at times feels like a zero-sum game. As you move up the ladder of success the number of positions decreases and the pressure to succeed increases. The situation can leave you feeling like the only way you can succeed is if someone else fails. While this sentiment may be common, it is wrong. In fact, most successful people freely admit they achieved their success with the help of others. The following resources substantiate my claim that success is not a zero-sum game:

According to Steve Farber — author of Greater Than Yourself — the only way for knowledge to truly lead to power in a person’s life is for that person to give it away. The reason this principle works is seemingly simple: “Everyone will want to work with you. And because of that you’ll be able to accomplish anything you set out to do.” Invest in relationships with other people and be clear on your intentions to make a difference in the lives of others. Promote their welfare, fortunes, success and capacity for achievement. Give away your knowledge, connections, experience, advice, life lessons and confidence. Hold others accountable for their commitments.

In his book The Speed of Trust, author Stephen MR Covey discusses the value that comes from trusting others. Trust is the very basis of the new global economy, and he shows how trust—and the speed at which it is established with clients, employees and constituents—is the essential ingredient for successful people and organizations.

Chris Warner and Don Schmincke, the authors of the book High Altitude Leadership describe what happens when people do not work together. The act of placing a higher priority on one’s own desires or “needs” than on the desires and needs of other people defines the word ‘selfishness.’ Selfish behavior robs companies of profits, reduces job satisfaction and weakens organizations’ culture. Overcoming selfishness is critical to effective leadership. This is done by crafting a compelling saga — language and actions that inspire passion for a strategic result. The compelling saga drives performance, inspires value-based behavior and provides strategic focus.

Author and blogger Art Petty offers 8 suggestions to improve your team’s problem solving skills. Problem solving takes teamwork, and in the process, everyone involved grows and improves. Art writes: “The best learning opportunities in the workplace occur when individuals or teams come face to face with a vexing problem.  These situations provide outstanding growth opportunities and a great chance to generate and implement innovative and creative solutions.”

What examples have you seen where working together and helping others leads everyone involved to increased success?


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers rely on others to help them succeed. The most successful products and services come from organizations where teams collaborate effectively. Product managers are (or should be) the catalyst for this success.