Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Leadership and effective communication

Effective communication is one of the most challenging aspects in life. Regardless of your role in any organization (company, family, church, etc.), understanding the intentions of others and communicating your objectives is trying at times, and occasionally downright frustrating. However, if you want to build strong relationships of trust, effective communication is absolutely critical. Here are five key considerations:

  1. Recognize the issue. In the majority of cases where poor communication is the problem, the primary issue is not recognizing poor communication. Too often it seems the problem lies with the other person, or they don’t listen, or they are just stubborn. More often they don’t understand your intentions. Step back and look at the bigger picture; you might be surprised by what you see.
  2. Look for solutions. Never try to pin the problem on the other person. Talk through the issues and look for signs of misunderstanding. Take the approach that you want to solve problems and the answers will follow.
  3. Exercise patience. It’s easy to get frustrated when you disagree with another person’s actions or behavior. Exercising (literally having or working out) patience is key to solving problems. Lead out in making things happen to improve your relationships. Be humble and open to things you did wrong.
  4. Forgive. Holding grudges and acting out of pride has brought down many companies, families and even nations. The simple solution is to forgive and move forward without holding grudges.
  5. Don’t wait. When you recognize an issue, don’t hesitate to act. The longer you wait the harder it is to approach the person and have the conversation. Act quickly and you will be surprised how much easier it is to resolve the problem.

Every relationship is worth the effort it takes to communicate effectively. Leaders, regardless of their role, need to focus constantly on assuring they communicate effectively and listen intently. Make it a habit; it will save you from having to face much bigger problems.

Did I communicate this message effectively? Please leave a comment with your ideas.

The Product Management Perspective: Communication is key to effective product management. Keep a close eye on all your relationships and make sure you are communicating effectively.


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.

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The No Complaining Rule

What is the cost of negativity? According to the Gallup Organization it costs the U.S. economy between $250 and $300 billion every year in lost productivity. Ninety percent of doctor visits are stress related, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number one cause of office stress is coworkers and their complaining, according to Truejobs.com.

In his book The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work, the author Jon Gordon provides answers to the cost of negativity and the benefits of focusing on the positive side of any situation. The No Complaining Rule imparts the benefits of being positive through a story (a business fable similar to his book The Energy Bus). Hope, the main character, is struggling at home and at work. Her company goes through a serious crisis that jolts her into realizing she needs to change her attitude and help others do the same. Through a series of events the author conveys the costs and problems associated with negativity and the benefits and opportunities for those who take a positive outlook on what life throws at them.

In the 1920s an author named Roger Babson interviewed the president of Argentina and asked him why South America, for all its natural wonders and resources, still lagged behind North America in terms of prosperity and progress. The president thought for a minute and said: “South America was discovered by Spaniards in search of gold but North America was settled by Pilgrims in search of God.” The intent made all the difference.

Too often organizations seek for the wrong thing. In The No Complaining Rule the author uses an analogy of tree roots and fruit. Too often people or companies focus on the fruit (results, profits, stock price, etc.), which is good to an extent and necessary for measurement and accountability. However, if they focus on the fruit too much at the expense of ignoring the root (people, culture, teamwork and spirit), then eventually the root dries up and so does the fruit.

Jon defines the ‘no complaining rule’ as follows:

Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their coworkers. If they have a problem or complaint about their job, their company, their customer, or anything else, they are encouraged to bring the issue to their manager or someone who is in a position to address the complaint. However, the employees must share one or two possible solutions to their complaint as well.

Toward the end of the story Hope discovers five steps to turn complaints into solutions and misfortune into fortune:

  1. Trust in a bigger plan.
  2. Find strength in adversity.
  3. Failure today leads to success tomorrow.
  4. The worst event in life is often a catalyst for the best.
  5. Positive or Negative. The choice is ours.

The book shows why having a positive outlook is worth all the work and will lead to success and happiness. The story is engaging and well worth the time and effort.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers often deal with negative team members, customers or executives. Occasionally it’s the product manager him/herself who has the negative attitude. Product managers can ill afford negativity given the immense effort required to produce and release products. Therefore, product managers must take the lead on ‘positivity’ (my word for making the best out of situations and encouraging others to do the same). If you find yourself working in a negative environment, take the lead and use “The No Complaining Rule” to initiate change.

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Creating the right conditions

A few days back I found myself running up the street to a neighbor’s house during the middle of the day. When I arrived I was a bit winded, hot and sweaty. I asked myself how I could be winded after such a short jog; I’m training for a marathon and it’s not uncommon for me to run six miles a day. Then it hit me…I was fully clothed and it was early afternoon on a hot (over 90 degrees F) day. When I train I run early in the morning and wear the appropriate gear. I create — and take advantage of — the conditions that enable me to get a good work-out.

As I was thinking through this experience I realized it applies nicely to leadership. Leaders make things happen. They evaluate their circumstances (which are often very difficult), make key decisions and do what it takes to successfully complete their task at hand. In every situation great leaders take into consideration all the surrounding factors and create the right conditions for success. They tune in to the people and their surroundings, and make decisions that utilize both effectively. The following quote by General Colin Powell sums it up nicely: ”Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”

Join Steve Johnson and me July 11 for our webinar: Tuned In Product Teams. Check out the Tuned In landing page for other great events and articles associated with the Tuned In release.