Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


Guest Post: A Leader’s Perspective on Failure

By Tim Eyre

Our culture has become increasingly obsessed with perfection. You see it everywhere. It’s pervasive in the entertainment industry, as depictions of celebrities contribute to an unattainable idea of what beauty really is. It also permeates the culture of higher education, as applicants vying for spots in prestigious graduate business programs are often made to feel that an A- in Economics 101 might as well have been an F. But in the business world and beyond, employers and employees alike should abandon their traditional notions of success and embrace the idea that an “F” every now and then isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact (dare I say it?), failure can even be a good thing.

Leaders today are well served to appreciate the positive aspects of failure. The following tips can help us adjust our mindsets and accept failure as a part of the process of success, rather than a defeat:

  1. Shifting Focus: As mention above, in many facets of our society, the prevailing point of view equates success with perfection. By those strict standards, Edison could have been derided as a colossal disappointment based on his initial attempts (and, thus, you very well might be reading this article etched on paper by candlelight). As Edison aptly recognized, if we ever want to move forward, we have to take chances. Invariably, by taking chances, the best of us will fall flat our faces sometimes. When we do, we have to stand up straight and move forward, taking note of why the last process didn’t work, why the last strategy was not well received, or why the last device didn’t function properly. The lessons learned through focusing on the process rather than just the end result can help you emerge as a risk taker and leader in innovation.
  1. Get Management Onboard: Particularly in the business world, managers should take the lead in creating a culture where employees are encouraged to explore their creative impulses. If the boss appears to embrace a trailblazing working style, employees will feel comfortable taking risks. But if employers adopt a less enthusiastic approach to innovation, employees will adhere to the status quo, thereby possibly missing opportunities for advancement. An environment where managers furnish employees with freedom to be creative, freedom to take their time and explore all the nuances of the problem, and freedom to think outside the box will undoubtedly translate into fertile ground for progress. Sure, employees who have been freed from the constraints of our perfection-obsessed society may suffer some scrapes and bruises along the way, but if we think of these obstacles as minor setbacks instead of defeats, we can revolutionize the way some companies do business.
  1. Reward Good Failures: Not only should managers permit employees to experiment in finding solutions to problems, they should also reward creative thought. Even if an inventive idea does not lead directly to the answer to the question, awarding provocative thought can create a whole culture of progressive workers.
  1. Punish Bad Failures: While managers should reward employees when they fail in pursuing a new idea in a smart, calculated manner, all failures do not deserve praise. To be sure, all failures are not created equally. Failures that result from a lack of proper planning are unacceptable. Failures that involve an abuse of resources should not be tolerated. And employers should take action when an employee’s failure results from recycling old theories that have already been dis-proven. A real leader must understand the difference between a good failure and a bad failure.
  1. Take Time to Reflect: True leaders don’t just accept failure and move on. Instead, they take time to consider the implications of the failure and why the idea did not work. Never losing sight of the ultimate goal will help you conceive a perspective that views these bumps in the road as a part of the process and as motivation to keep going.

In his role in the self-storage industry, Tim Eyre helps customers care for their cherished belongings that must be put in storage. 


Guest Post: 3 Great Leaders and Their Unlikely Successes

By Anna Miller

We often study the principles of leadership in order to become leaders ourselves. However, as helpful as reading about leadership from a conceptual angle can be, the most effective way to learn is by example. Here are a few well-known leaders who are perfect examples of the saying, “Great leaders are made, not born.”

1. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, celebrated CEO of Apple, didn’t start out with his vision of innovation that is the hallmark of his wildly successful company. He dropped out of college, and first worked a small-time job at Atari in order to save money to make a trip to India seeking spiritual enlightenment. Perhaps the greatest lesson leaders can learn from Jobs is that developing an ability to anticipate future needs is central to leadership. Jobs famously said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” This ability of anticipating future needs can only be developed by actively working on relationships in order to know people on a deeper level.

2. Henry Ford

Henry Ford is the quintessence of a great leader. Ford made affordable cars a reality with his model T, he pioneered the idea of assembly-line production, and eventually became one of the most successful industrialists to date. Like all great leaders, Ford was not afraid to take risks. He was sharply criticized for his offering $5 per day wage during the Great Depression. Nobody thought that doubling workers’ wage could possibly reap more profit for a company. But it worked; there was less employee turnover, the best workers from the nation flocked to his company, and as a result, less training was required, cutting costs enormously. Another leadership quality that Ford emphasized was life-long learning. Ford had various interests and actively cultivated each one. He once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning is young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

3. Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, among thousands of other useful inventions, failed spectacularly many times before finally being successful. And it was his attitude toward failure that kept him persistent. Edison once said, “I have not failed, I’ve only found 1,000 different ways that won’t work.” Edison is thus a perfect example of that one quality that all great leaders possess — accepting failure as part of the process that leads to eventual success. Where others become disheartened by failure, leaders use it to fuel their motivation.

There are millions of examples of successful leaders out there, and not all of them are as famous as the ones presented here. The key thing to remember about leadership, as evidenced by these inspiring lives, is that persistence in the face of failure, ridicule, or just regular old stagnation, and above all, trust in one’s self and others, is what separates leaders from followers.

This guest post is contributed by Anna Miller, who writes on the topics of online degree.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id: anna22.miller [at]gmail.com.

The Product Management Perspective: These three leaders provide good examples of leadership in product management. Steve Jobs is a great (perhaps the best) example of understanding your markets. He understands his customers perhaps even better than they understand themselves. He is the master at anticipating future trends and turning them into reality. Henry Ford became the subject matter expert not just in cars, but in getting cars to market at a low-enough price that consumers could afford to buy his products. He took calculated risks and was rewarded accordingly. Thomas Edison brought new meaning to the word ‘persistent.’ He continually looked for new ways to do things, and never settled for ‘good enough.’ He was the thought leader of his time. Learning and implementing behaviors from these (and other great) leaders will improve your success as a product manager.



Solving problems – creating opportunities

Think about someone for whom you have a tremendous amount of respect. What are the characteristics that draw you to that person? Most likely he or she has the ability to plow through difficult circumstances and come out on top; to learn from mistakes and create successful outputs. Successful people solve problems and create opportunities.

When times get tough, and problems seem to abound, remember these cogent words of Thomas Edison: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

The Product Management Perspective: A central component to solving problems is problem statements. Well-thought-out problem statements have the potential to create new and exciting opportunities for your products. The interesting thing about problem statements — as compared with inputs (Enhancement Requests, Call Reports, Market Research, etc.) and outputs (Requirements, MRD/PRDs, etc.) — is that product managers are left to do these on their own. They do not have pressure from sales people as they might with capturing some of the inputs. They do not get feedback from the development and QA teams as they do with requirements and MRD/PRDs.

Problem statements might be the only output from product management that is truly their own. Product managers who understand their markets well, filter the inputs effectively and create compelling problem statements will increase their success at producing great products.

Disclosure: The ideas for this post came from an invigorating conversation this morning with my friend and colleague Stewart Rogers.