Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Why customer success matters

Think about a product you use regularly. Why do you use it? Why do you love it? What keeps you coming back?

When creating a product or service, you want your users and buyers to answer these questions with positive reactions. You hope they will get the full value of your offering and that they will have a positive experience as they use for their business. You want them to keep coming back for more.

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How to take a new offering to market

We live in a great time where, in most of the world, you can invent a new product or service and—with the appropriate up-front work—earn money from the value it creates for customers. This is remarkable!

Creating new products and services, however, takes a lot of thinking and hard work—especially in the technology space. Coming up with an initial idea is often the easiest part of the entire process. Forming the plan and doing the work just to get your offering ready to sell is where the big effort rests. How do you take a new product or service to market?

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Changing the game with decisive action

You have created the vision for your products; you’ve built trust among your teams; you’re working hard to motivate team members to do great things; and you’re working to develop your teams with insight and direction. The final step in my 5 Factors methodology is to act decisively. As the product leader you need to get things moving; you own the success of your products.

How will acting decisively change the game for your products?

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Building your position

I picked up the book The Sticking Point Solution: 9 Ways to Move Your Business From Stagnation to Stunning Growth In Tough Economic Times by Jay Abraham to give me something to read on a flight today. Given the book’s title I wasn’t sure what to expect (‘sticking point’ and ‘stagnation’ are not words I use very often). However, it didn’t take me long to realize this book has great content for taking yourself and your company to new levels of leadership.

I’ll do a full review when I finish, but for now I want to share Abraham’s fifteen ways to build your position into a strong brand. “These points are personality building blocks that will help you position yourself, your company, and/or your product as a preeminent persona in your marketplace.”

  1. Attach the suffix “In your service” to everything you do for your clients. You are their trusted advisor for life.
  2. Don’t be afraid to say what your competition won’t. In any transaction, tell your client, “Here’s what you’re not being told.”
  3. Don’t hesitate to extol your own achievements and value — but do it in the context of the benefit it brings to the client. Practice at it, do it with humility and humanity, and make it heartfelt and graceful, not overbearing.
  4. List your flaws. Your clients are human, and so are you. So acknowledge it. Doing so makes you real and honest in their eyes.
  5. Cultivate the habit of looking at each relationship as a long-term investment you’re making in the marketplace. It’s not a one night stand. It’s a total attitude shift.
  6. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and play to the former. The task is simple, but most people don’t do it; they get caught up trying to improve their weaknesses. No leverage there.
  7. Control your risk. But always point out the overlooked risks and dangers your marketplace is exposed to, and help your clients reduce or eliminate them.
  8. Use as much research and data as you can to make your point, prove your advantage, and demonstrate your performance. Just be sure to summarize, compare, interpret, and analyze this information so that people can appreciate and act on it.
  9. Challenge status quo thinking with a sharper, fresher perspective, a better strategy, or a clearer game plan for your market to follow.
  10. Continually add to your brand equity by doing more, caring more, contributing more.
  11. Form alliances and advisory boards.
  12. Use endorsements and testimonials properly and often. You can garner these from buyers, community influences, and press articles.
  13. Hire the best. Pay them richly. But pay them mostly on performance.
  14. If you’re invisible, you can’t become the go-to source. Make yourself, your product, or your company known. Do it impactfully. Do it with the right people. Make the impact worth the effort.
  15. Learn to project the image of true success — long before you’ve fully achieved it. It’s only a matter of time before it will occur.

The Product Management Perspective: Most of the fifteen points apply nicely to creating great products that people want to buy. Look through the list carefully and pick out three or four points where your products are the weakest. Make an effort in the next few weeks to improve in those areas. Over time, taking these specific steps will make your products preeminent in their marketplace.


Self leadership

Amidst all the talk of leadership and leading others, the importance of self leadership is often forgotten or downplayed. ‘Self leadership’ connotes attitudes and behaviors that lead individuals to a happier, more productive life. During difficult times, when you are stressed by world news, the economy, work or the lack thereof, the human tendency is to grasp for anything that will pull you up. The key to surviving and thriving through difficult times is self leadership. The following actions positively effect progress towards self leadership:

  • Give service: The best way to help yourself is to help others. Whenever you lend a hand to someone else you inevitably help yourslf. This works not only in your neighborhood, but also in cyberspace. Jim Connolly validates this principle in a recent post about three of the biggest names in blogging. He says the key to their success “is all about one word, contribution.” When you willingly give of yourself, without expecting something in return, great things will happen.
  • Be creative: Synonyms such as inspired, resourceful and productive describe the actions of creativity. Even in the worst of times you can always find ways to be creative, and that outlook will help see the world in a different, more positive light. Take action, but before you do pause and envision how your creativity will make a difference, then be creative on purpose.
  • Solve problems: Look for solutions, not excuses. Problems abound, which means opportunities for solutions are abundant. When faced with problems, don’t limit yourself to obvious solutions. Seth Godin illustrates this point beautifully in a recent post where he tells how the telephone destroyed the telegraph. Speaking of the people that developed the telephone he said, “they solved a different problem, in such an overwhelmingly useful way that they eliminated the feature set of the competition.”
  • Think positive thoughts: In all situations, every time, the optimistic approach will benefit you. Things will not always work the way you want, but by viewing them through a ‘positive lens’ you will always end up better off.
  • Be confidently humble: The words ‘confident’ and ‘humble’ are rarely used together. Confidence is often associated with arrogance, and humility with weakness. However, the positive behaviors associated with each, in combination, lead to powerful results. Rather than thinking of confidence as arrogance, think instead about words like self-assured, certain and secure. You know where you’re headed and you know you will get there. Rather than with weakness, associate humility with self-effacing, unassuming behavior. Give others credit. Inspire others through your willingness to build them up.

Pushing forward through tough times can seem anywhere from difficult to impossible. Instead of wringing your hands and spending energy worrying, take steps toward self leadership and you’ll be amazed where you end up.

The Product Management Perspective: To lead people on teams over which you have no authority requires a special kind of leadership. As a product manager, your ability to create great products will, to a large degree, depend on your ability to inspire others and gain their trust. Your ability to do this will be greatly enhanced through actions that inspire self leadership.


Sharing ideas

Great leaders share ideas. They often speak at conferences and similar events where they communicate their successes and give their audience ideas for their own path to success. I’ve noticed an interesting trend: great leaders share their ideas for free. They give their customers advice on how to improve their companies; they give individuals advice on how to improve their lives. While they always offer products and services for a fee, they share ideas — valuable ideas — for free. This “service-begets-commerce” model works, and we will see that people and organizations that focus on providing value to their customers will emerge from the current downturn as the leaders in their market.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers have been sharing ideas for years. However, when compared with other fields of expertise (e.g. IT, accounting, HR, etc.), product management has not provided nearly as many opportunities for gathering and sharing ideas. The good news…it’s changing. With the creation of product management associations (PMAs) such as the Silicon Valley PMA, the Boston PMA,  and the Toronto PMA, local groups are starting to pool resources, share ideas and help each other to improve the role of product manager. These and other organizations have collaborated to provide “product camps” (after the bar camp model) where product managers gather to share ideas and learn from industry thought leaders. Check out these upcoming events:

Product Camp Austin 2009
When: Saturday January 24th, 2009 from 8:00am to 5:30pm
Where: The ACTLab @: The University of Texas at Austin, College of Communications, CMB Building, Studios 4B-4E
Corner of Dean Keaton (26th) and Guadalupe St. in the “Big Grey Building”
Cost: FREE
Registration: Register here.
Check out Paul’s post on ProductBeautiful for more details.

Second Annual P-Camp Silicon Valley
When: Saturday March 14th, 2009 from 9:00am to 3:00pm+
Where: Yahoo! Building C, 701 First Ave, Sunnyvale
Cost: FREE
Registration: Sign up here.

If possible take advantage of these and other opportunities where you can get together with other people passionate about product management, share ideas and contribute to the community. Check out the PMA web sites for other upcoming events. For those of you in the Utah area, check back for an exciting (upcoming) announcement in our area.


Book review: The Servant

the-servantThe book The Servant: A Simple Story About The True Essence of Leadership, written by James C. Hunter, brings out timeless principles of leadership and integrity in a story form. The story is about a man named John Daily who has his priorities mixed up. At the insistence of his wife he reluctantly agreed to go on a week-long spiritual retreat where he would have an experience that turns his life around. The story itself is only somewhat engaging, and has several unfinished threads. However, the thoughts and principles taught are valuable and make it worth the (quick) read.

The author talks about the old paradigm of leadership where the employees (‘grunts’) are at the bottom of the pyramid, and as you move up you have supervisors, middle managers, vice presidents and the CEO. He turns that paradigm on its head and shows an upside-down pyramid with employees at the top, on down to the CEO. Through this point of view he shows how true leaders serve the people who work for them, and the front-line employees serve their customers. The role of a leader is not to rule over other people, but to serve them.

Servent Leadership

Servent Leadership

With the paradigm shift in place, the author uses another inverted pyramid to describe the Servant Leadership model. At the bottom is will, then love, service and sacrifice, authority and leadership is at the top. According to this model, the first step toward leadership is will, having intentions + actions, or aligning intentions with actions and choosing the appropriate behavior. With the proper will you chose love, the verb (in this case) that means identifying and meeting the legitimate needs (not wants) of those being lead. The next step in the progression is to serve and sacrifice for others. Through service one builds authority or influence with people, and once that is established, one earns the right to be a leader. The greatest leaders, therefore, are the ones who serve the most.

Leaders create the proper conditions for growth to occur. One important way they do this is through service.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers face an interesting challenge: they are (usually) responsible for the success of their products, yet the people they rely on to get their products successfully out the door do not (usually) report to them. This situation lends itself to servant leadership. This does not mean that product managers should run around doing whatever the Dev/Marketing/Sales/… manager tells them to do. Instead they must build relationships of trust with their teams and find ways to do things for them that will demonstrate their intentions to work together for success.

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Service providers

In today’s language the term “service provider” is often used generally to describe the company or organization from whom you get your Internet, phone and/or TV service. The emphasis seems to be on ‘provider’ not ‘service.’ It seems, in many cases, the service providers have forgotten the importance of providing service to their customers. They want to collect the money from their customers, but many do not actually provide real service.

Seth Godin wrote a cogent post about the importance of making the customer happy. In response to an experience he had calling a customer service organization, he wrote:

The only reason to answer the phone when a customer calls is to make the customer happy.

If you’re not doing this or you are unable to do this, do not answer the phone. There is no middle ground on this discussion. There are no half measures. Saving 50 cents a call with a complicated phone tree is a false savings. Think of all the money you’ll save if you just stop answering altogether. Think of all the money you’ll make if you just make people happy.

It comes down to the leadership through which the attitude is established in an organization. Focus on becoming a service provider and you will make people happy.

The Product Management Perspective: The importance of customer service in product management cannot be overstated. To the extent product managers focus on understanding and serving their customers their products will do likewise.

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Tell a great story

I recently had lunch with a friend who made an interesting comment that CEOs are looking for people who can coach them and help them to tell a good story. He had recently read an article that criticized the overuse (or abuse) of PowerPoint, which has lead to more mundane presentations and unexciting seminars. What people really want to hear is a great story.

I was thinking about this concept of telling a story as I was catching up on my blog reading. I came across two excellent posts that support this idea: The first is by Phil Meyers on Tuned In. Phil profiles Remember My Service by Story Rock. They focus on telling the stories of service men and women by creating a movie-quality DVD for their unit, its journey and impact.

The second post is by Seth Godin. Seth asks which comes first – the story or the work. Most of the time it’s the work that comes first, then we tell a story based on the work. But Seth suggests you turn it around and create the story first. “If you decide what the story is, you can do work that matches the story. Your decisions will match the story. The story will become true because you’re living it.”

One of the great story tellers was (the late) Dan Fogelberg; he told his stories through music. Songs like Same Old Lang Syne and Leader of the Band told powerful stories you could live in as you heard him sing.

Regardless of the work we do, to the better the story we tell the more success we will have. What are your favorite stories?