Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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Why small habits make a big difference

The word ‘habit’ generates different thoughts depending on your situation. For some it’s that thing they are addicted to. For others it brings to mind the things they’re not doing and invokes anxiety. For many in this audience, it connotes the path to accomplishment, the things they are doing—consistently—to move forward and create success.

For me, habits are an integral part of the processes I put in place to ensure I take the best actions and follow the right systems. For example, I love what exercising does for my body. Years ago, I developed the habit of running; I found things that make it enjoyable—e.g. listening to books and podcasts—that encourage me to keep doing it. Running has become a part of my life, a habit I enjoy that delivers positive results.

What would it take for you to achieve the change or to make the progress that deep down you’re seeking? How would you get started? Why does it matter?

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How to accelerate your journey to success

One of the key objectives of Lead on Purpose is to provide ideas and motivation to my readers to help you improve your success, regardless of your area(s) of focus. When I find things that help, I share them.

What do highly successful people do differently than others? They talk, think and approach challenges differently. They think about money differently. They are motivated in ways that are not common or natural to most people.

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The five practices of leading for results

Guest post by Joan Bragar, EdD

“Whatever you can do, or believe you can, begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it!
–Attributed to Goethe in William Hutchinson Murray,
The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

Is there something you care deeply about accomplishing? Will you need to lead others to achieve this outcome? Whether or not you currently think of yourself as a leader, would you benefit from learning how to influence others to collaborate in achieving the results you have envisioned?

Himalayas

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Focus on what’s most important

You get results based on the things you focus on most intently.

Most people are driven to increase their performance and expand their abilities. They understand the need to work hard in areas for which they have great passion.

Regardless of how many things you want to accomplish, you must focus on the most important and let other things — which in the right context may be very good things — go by the wayside. Tom Peters sheds an interesting perspective on focus with the following quote:

Leaders focus on the soft stuff — people, values, character, commitment, a cause. All of that was supposed to be too (indefinable) to count in business. Yet it’s the stuff that real leaders take care of first. That’s why leadership is an art, not a science.

Focus on what you want to achieve. The results will speak for themselves.


The Product Management Perspective: Product management takes complete focus. Recently a friend told me his company’s CEO decided that their engineering managers would also be responsible for product requirements and roadmaps. Their (few) ‘product managers’ will only focus on marketing their products.

It’s never easy to predict how things will turn out in the future, but if I were a betting man I would NOT bet on this move. They will lose focus on what the product means to the market/people who use it. For a product to succeed, you need to have someone—a product manager—completely focused on its success.


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Taking leadership to the next level

I am admittedly a creature of habit. I like to run and when I do I listen to books, podcasts and talks. This is a great time for learning and really letting things sink down deeply in my understanding. I also (as a creature of habit) find myself going back to books I’ve listened to in the past. In recent days I’m re-listening to Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Though I love every part of this book, I’m most impressed with the chapter on Level 5 Leadership. Collins’ definition is simple: “Level 5 leaders blend the paradoxical combination of deep personal humility with intense professional will.” This is, as Collins puts it, a “study in duality.” The following are among some of the phrases Collins uses to describe the duality of a Level 5 leader:

Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation. Creates superb results, a clear catalyst in the transition from good to great.

Acts with quiet, calm determination; relies principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate. Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult.

Channels ambition into the company, not to self; sets up successor for even more greatness in the next generation. Sets the standard of building an enduring great company; will settle for nothing less.

Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors or bad luck. Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company – to other people, external factors and good luck.

So can you and I become a Level 5 leader? Collins was asked this question and after stating he wasn’t sure (because their research didn’t delve into that topic) he said there are two categories of people—those who don’t have the Level 5 seed within them and those who do.

The first category consists of people who could never subjugate their own needs to the greater ambition of something larger and more lasting than themselves. The second category consists of people who could evolve to Level 5; the capability resides within them, perhaps buried or ignored or simply nascent. Under the right circumstances—with self-reflection, a mentor, loving parents, a significant life experience, or other factors—the seed can begin to develop.

This inspires me and should give all of hope that we can lead teams and products and companies to success.


The Product Management Perspective: Product management provides a great opportunity to nurture leaders at your company. 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 — what you leave

How do you measure the effectiveness of leadership? A few common methods include:
  • The number of people reporting up through the organization
  • The quantity or amount of product or services produced
  • The “bottom line” or income produced by the company
  • The number of links, references or accolades to the leader or the organization
  • Other methods that focus on things and not people.

These are all valid and important ways to measure leadership, and many others exist. However, the true — and more telling — measure of leadership is long-term and cannot easily be seen. Leadership is best measured by what you leave behind.

Some people become frustrated by the lack of immediate results. The thought of waiting months or years to see the results of their labors is discouraging. However, if you look at the actions and attitudes of people whom you consider true leaders, you will find they focus on building others. They put as their first concern the growth and development of the people with whom they interact. The results of their success carry forward through the people they have influenced over the years.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers have a great opportunity to lead and influence others in their company. This opportunity grows out of the fact that PMs work closely with many people from other teams throughout the company. While working with others can be frustrating (do I hear sales?), if we keep a long-term perspective and focus on how we can help them and make a difference in what they do, the long-term benefit will remain with us as we move forward.


The theme for this post came from a talk by David A. Bednar.


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Trust

The recent theme at Lead on Purpose is trust. This focus has come primarily from reading The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey. He discusses the concept of building a trust account, which is similar to a bank account. By behaving in ways that build trust you make deposits, by behaving in ways that destroy trust you make withdrawals. The ‘balance’ in the account reflects the amount of trust you have at any given time. You have a unique trust account with every person you know, and all deposits and withdrawals are not created equal.

Trust is built or destroyed by behaviors. Covey teaches 13 Behaviors of high-trust people and leaders worldwide. These behaviors will increase trust and improve your ability to interact effectively with people in every aspect of your life. Here are the behaviors that will help you build trust:
  1. Talk Straight: Be honest. Tell the truth. Let people know where you stand.
  2. Demonstrate Respect: Genuinely care for others. Respect the dignity of every person and every role.
  3. Create Transparency: Tell the truth in a way people can verify. Get real and genuine. Be open and authentic.
  4. Right Wrongs: Make things right when you’re wrong. Apologize quickly. Make restitution where possible.
  5. Show Loyalty: Give credit to others. Speak about people as if they were present. Represent others who aren’t there to speak for themselves.
  6. Deliver Results: Establish a track record of results. Get the right things done. Make things happen.
  7. Get Better: Continuously improve. Increase your capabilities. Be a constant learner.
  8. Confront Reality: Take issues head on, even the “undiscussables.” Address the tough stuff directly. Acknowledge the unsaid.
  9. Clarify Expectations: Disclose and reveal expectations. Discuss them. Validate them. Renegotiate them if needed and possible.
  10. Practice Accountability: Hold yourself accountable. Hold others accountable. Take responsibility for results.
  11. Listen First: Listen before you speak. Understand. Diagnose. Listen with your ears…and your eyes and heart.
  12. Keep Commitments: Say what you’re going to do, then do it. Make commitments carefully and keep them at all costs.
  13. Extend Trust: Demonstrate a propensity to trust. Extend trust abundantly to those who have earned your trust. Extend trust conditionally to those who are earning your trust.
Mastering the 13 behaviors requires a combination of character and competence. You can (and should) work to improve your abilities in each of these areas. Focus on the ones you consider to be your weaknesses and take the attitude that you will improve. Building trust is not something that happens overnight. As Warren Buffet said: “It takes twenty years to build your reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”


Study these principles, then master them. Study Covey’s book and practice the principles he so eloquently teaches. Every aspect of your life will improve.

The Product Management Perspective: Trust is the most important characteristic a product manager can possess. To effectively work with development, sales and other teams in your organization you must gain their trust. Trust is key to understanding your customers and your market. Trust is a two-way street: you need to carry out your tasks in such a way that the team members will trust you. You also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do. The 13 behaviors listed above provide an excellent roadmap to developing and extending trust with others.


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Trust and credibility

How do you effectively develop trust in your organization? Trust is built over time as you follow through with the promises you make. Your credibility — the quality or power of inspiring belief — grows in much the same way. The principles of trust and credibility are tightly linked and build on each other.

In his book The Speed of TrustStephen M.R. Covey defines the “4 Cores of Credibility” as foundational elements that make you believable, both to yourself and to others. The first two cores deal with character, the second two with competence:

Core 1: Integrity: Many equate integrity with honesty. While honesty is a key element, integrity is much more. It’s integratedness, walking your talk and being congruent, inside and out. It’s having the courage to act in accordance with your values and beliefs. Most violations of trust are violations of integrity.

Core 2: Intent: At the core of intent are motives, agendas and the resulting behavior. Trust grows when your motives are straight forward and based on mutual benefit — when you genuinely care not only for yourself, but also for the people you interact with, lead or serve.

Core 3: Capabilities: Your capabilities are the abilities you have that inspire confidence — your talents, attitude, skills, knowledge and style. They are the means you use to produce results.

Core 4: Results: Your results comprise your track record, your performance and getting the right things done. If you don’t accomplish what you are expected to do it diminishes your credibility. On the other hand, when you achieve the results you promised, you establish a positive reputation of performing, of being a producer.

Each of these cores is vital to credibility. They work together to build trust. The strength of your character and competence equate to the strength of your leadership.

The Product Management Perspective: Trust is vital to successful product management. Product managers create value for their co-workers on other teams (e.g. development, support, etc.) by clearly defining requirements, roadmaps and portfolios. Trust grows through meaningful interaction with your teams and consistent application of proven principles. Trust is a two-way street: product managers need to carry out their tasks in such a way that the team members can trust them. They (the PMs) also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do.


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Book Review: The Pursuit of Something Better

Pursuit of Something BetterAccording to Jack Rooney, “Eighty percent of the failure in business is because of leaders. Yet 80% of the brunt of the failure is felt by the people who can’t do anything about it.” If you look at its opposite, this declaration clearly demonstrates the importance great leadership plays in creating successful companies. In the book THE PURSUIT OF SOMETHING BETTER: How an Underdog Company Defied the Odds, Won Customers’ Hearts, and Grew Its Employees Into Better People, the authors Dave Esler and Myra Kruger detail how Jack Rooney turned US Cellular into a company known for great customer service.

Jack Rooney realized that the main influence on how front-line employees treated customers was the way their leaders treated them. Prior to assuming CEO responsibilities for US Cellular in 1999 Jack had created a “virtual organization” where he and other executives provided leadership to the company; he empowered their employees to make decisions and run the business. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the word “virtual” became associated with outsourcing jobs to other countries, so Jack changed the name of his program to “dynamic organization” and implemented the program at US Cellular. To Jack, “the culture is not a separate entity that has to be brought in line with the business–our culture is our business.”

The Pursuit of Something Better describes in detail how Jack Rooney created a great organization where the employees provide excellent customer service and enjoy the work environment so much they want to stay at the company. In a world where many executives cut corners and provide scanty people leadership, “US Cellular has proven that adhering to high ethical standards is a competitive advantage in a marketplace that is starved for a little basic human decency.” Elevating employee fulfillment in their jobs greatly increases customer satisfaction, which leads to higher revenues and overall company success.

If you are searching for practical, actionable approaches to improving your leadership you need to read The Pursuit of Something Better. It will help you find new ways to help ordinary people achieve extraordinary results.