Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


Guest Post: How to Encourage Your Team Members to Stand Up and Lead

By Andrea Gordon

To be successful in today’s market, team members need to step up and be ready to take a leadership role. It is not easy to develop leadership skills in others, however, so it’s very important to understand that some people do not share your goals and aspirations. Keep an open mind and learn to use varied techniques to inspire different team members to stand up and lead. 

1.    Challenge – Issue a challenge. (In today’s market environment, you probably have many challenges to issue!) Some people need a specific challenge to motivate them. By laying down a challenge, you also create a very clear and measurable goal for a staff member to achieve.

2.    Appeal to noble motives – Many employees think that their work does not make a difference. By appealing to a team’s noble motives, you can increase morale while also setting higher standards for your staff members.

3.    Be sympathetic – Never tell someone that they are wrong. Even when you disagree, listen and be empathetic to another person’s ideas and desires.

4.    Evidence – Back up your ideas with proof. By providing evidence, you can give instant credibility to your ideas. If you have evidence, even staff members who have a different perspective will take notice.

5.    Listen – Listen to what your staff members have to say. Some employees may not want to reach top corporate positions; instead, they may simply be content if their opinions and ideas are valued.

6.    Ask questions – Instead of giving direct orders, ask questions to guide your staff members to think through the issues and come up with their own solutions.

7.    Value your staff – Make your staff members feel genuinely important. Faced with the market challenges today, your employees must be reassured that their contribution and leadership DOES have a huge impact on the company’s survival, stability, and growth.

Andrea Gordon and Dale Carnegie Training want to contribute to the online conversation about leadership and business management with the blogging community. Dale Carnegie Training was founded in 1912 by one of America’s most influential speakers and leaders. Today the company continues to work with individuals and businesses to build leadership, public speaking, and management skills that result in success.

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Sharing the success

The word “sharing” is one you won’t find used very often in business. Competition has increased in every market and those who succeed have to spend time, money and effort to win. And winning itself has become the end game for too many people.

There’s nothing wrong with winning, and if you go into business (or anything for that matter), you need to focus on succeeding. However, success at all costs is not worth the price. If you place all your focus and desires on winning you will ultimately lose – friendships, relationships, and possibly even your sanity.

UNLESS you focus on helping other people win. You need to have the vision, and have a huge desire to succeed, and then help other people win as you go. You need to share your vision of success with others and help them find the desire and drive to succeed.

Here’s simple way to help others succeed: once a week for the next three months write a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn. Make sure your endorsements are meaningful and sincere, and be creative in the ways you give praise. You will make a lot of people happy and will help them in their careers. You will see the value you’ve created for others as they respond in kind.

The Product Management Perspective: Good product managers know their success depends on the work – and success – of others (dev, QA, support, etc.). One of the best (and easiest) things you can do is acknowledge the contributions of others on the team. Make sure the VP of engineering knows how much you appreciate the developers working on your products. Tell the VP of sales how the account manager helped you with a customer. You get the picture. Make sure you’re generous in sharing success with your teams.

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Creating value in 2011

Every New Year brings new opportunities. Something about turning over the calendar causes people to take a hard look at what they can do to improve on their current situation. Ultimately, we all want to create more value — for ourselves, for the organizations we associate with and for the people we care about. 

The word value has many meanings. The one most applicable to this discussion is “relative worth, merit or importance.” The more we improve in these areas, the more value we create. Our efforts will build over time and improve our self-confidence. Now that we’re off and running in 2011, let’s explore a few ways to increase our value:

  • Improve skills and knowledge: Instead of hunkering down and running below the radar, take specific actions to improve your skills. Look for opportunities for training. Read books. Read blogs. Make an effort to learn new skills and practice them as much as you can in your current job. Remember these cogent words of Eric Hoffer: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
  • Help others: One of the best antidotes to self-pity and fear is to help other people. When you make the effort to assist someone else to become better at what they do, you become better yourself. When you help others your confidence grows and you increase your value to those around you.
  • Develop trust: People naturally want to surround themselves with people they trust. Developing trust takes time and consistent effort. Trust goes two ways: you need to behave in such a way that people will trust you will do what you say. And equally important, you need to trust others. Developing relationships of trust increases your value.
  • Believe in yourself: As your skills increase, you gain more confidence; you begin to understand your significance to your organization. Trials and difficult circumstances can diminish these feelings, but they should not. Believing in yourself, your skills, and your ability to succeed — without becoming arrogant — is a good thing. Confidence is key. Never forget the people who have helped you increase your value along the way.
  • Work yourself out of the job: This one may not make sense at face value. If you work yourself out of the current job, what will you do? The idea is to work effectively and close the loop on what you are doing. Think in terms of projects: each one has a beginning and an end. You plan what you are going to do, work at it and when it’s finished you move on to the next project. When your project is successful, it’s easier to land the next project. Jobs are the same way. Make your work so effective and make it run so well that anyone could step in and take over. As you do that you will automatically make yourself more valuable to your company, and they will have no choice but to promote you or find something more challenging for you to do.
If you’ve been hunkered down over the past year, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone in 2011. Let’s get out there and create value!

The Product Management Perspective: Jim Holland has a great article about making 2011 the year of product management. As a product manager you are in a unique position to create value. The PM role lends itself to working with many people in different parts of the company and with customers and others external to the organization. Practicing the five actions listed above will increase your value to your company and accelerate your career growth. And when you work yourself out of the product management position, perhaps you’ll find yourself in an executive seat.

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Embrace, then apply

What was the last training or career development session you attended? How long did it take to put into practice the things you learned? Conversely, how long did it take to forget the details of the information conveyed in the training?

No matter how good a training session or how compelling the information conveyed, if you do not apply what you have learned the value will be lost. The concept of embrace, then apply is critical to the practical application of any training or educational programs. To convince participants to embrace the ideas taught in a training session, the instructor has to deliver compelling content that is applicable to their daily lives. The presenter must establish credibility with the attendees and deliver the content effectively, thus creating a need for them to adopt it.

Once participants have embraced the concepts taught they need to apply them to their work; the more quickly the better. If possible the company or people responsible for the training should have a follow-up mechanism through which they can provide additional services and direction. Many companies are skilled at delivering compelling training, but lack the resources or abilities to help their customers implement the training they have received. In such cases the participants are left to their own to implement what they have learned or to find another company/person who can help them implement it. Helping others implement what they have learned presents a great opportunity for individuals and services companies to increase the value of their training.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers play a key role in helping their teams to embrace product vision and direction. In many cases they also have to help executives do the same. They must learn to present their roadmaps with passion and work to convince their teams they are headed in the right direction. When the teams are on board they will apply their efforts to creating and launching successful products.


Five questions to ask each week

I ran across a great audio blog post by Mark Sanborn where he poses five questions we should ask ourselves at the beginning of each week. These questions serve as a guide to live by design and not just react to things as they come. They will improve your personal and professional situation.

Here are the questions:

  1. What will I learn this week? Identify what you need to learn, want to learn and how you will learn it. Growth and development rarely happen accidentally.
  2. What relationship will I improve? What relationship needs repair or nurture? Think in terms of both who and how.
  3. What problem will I address or avoid? Look for a problem that is looming on your horizon and head it off.
  4. What opportunity will I seize? Too often we’re fixated on our problems and miss our opportunities. Look for opportunities in the midst of challenges, struggles and difficulties; they’re out there.
  5. How will I increase my value? Think in terms of what you can do to increase your value to your employer, your customer, to your family. Providing more value than you consume makes you a producer.

To improve your business or life, ask yourself these questions and then act on the answers. “Do business by design rather than by default.”

The Product Management Perspective: We will improve our effectiveness and our ability to work with others by giving careful thought to these questions. As product leaders we need to plan and then move forward with focus and energy.


Creating value

What are you doing to create value for your organization? What significance do you bring to the table? As a leader, how do you inspire your people to give their best to your cause? Take a minute to answer these questions.

The following quote from The Artist Farm links earning money to creating value:

Next time you are stressed out about money be self-reflective. Rather than stressing about how you can get more money for money’s sake, focus instead on how you can provide more value to more people. All sorts of wealth will flow from this mindset.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are in a prime position to provide value to their organizations. One the most effective ways to create value for your company is to become an expert at market sensing. To the extent you guide your company to create and sell the right products and services for your market, you will become the hero of your organization.

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Customer expectations

The expectations customers have of business leaders are different today than they were even a few years ago. They expect marketers to stop pitching things and start helping them understand how they can get what they need. They expect product managers to show them how their products can solve problems and help them succeed. The sales process now is about providing value to customers on their journey to figuring out what it is they are going to buy. When you understand that you do everything differently.

I invite you to listen to a podcast I recently recorded with April Dunford where we discuss how these principles apply to startups. Please see Product Marketing for Start-ups on the Product Management Pulse.

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Hire your replacement

Leaders at successful companies focus significant time and resources to hire the right people. The money and effort they spend pays big dividends as the company progresses and matures. The companies that excel at hiring the right people seem to take this one step further: at all levels the leaders hire people whom they can groom as their replacements. This may seem at odds with conventional thinking; generally, most people at most companies do not think about what the company will be like when they leave. However, those who really ‘get it’ make hiring better people than themselves a priority.

The importance of focusing on your replacement cannot be overstated. Following are three actions that will help you focus on successfully developing replacements:

  • Hire the right people: When you select candidates to interview look for people who have the skills and the personality to grow into your position. When making hiring decisions, look for and hire individuals who have the potential to do the job better than you can do it.
  • Train them: Hire the right people, then provide the training to accelerate their growth. Spend money on developing skills that will drive the results your company is seeking. Don’t let the cost of training deter you from training your people. Stephen M.R. Covey drives this point home nicely in his book The Speed of Trust:
I’ll never forget what one CEO said about the risk of investing in a focused training initiative for his company. Someone asked him, ‘What if you train everyone and they all leave?’ He responded, ‘What if we don’t train them and they all stay?’
  • Give them opportunities to grow: Once you hire the right people and give them the training they need, provide them with opportunities to learn and grow. Do not hold on to the most important tasks yourself. Give your team members new opportunities even if it means letting go of your pet project.
One of the key side effects of focusing time and effort on your replacement is your own growth. When you help others learn, you learn more. When you help them hone key skills, your skills improve. You cannot help others progress without advancing your own position. The more you increase the value of others the more your value increases.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are most often leaders by nature; however, they most often do not have anyone reporting directly to them. These principles still apply because, as a PM, you are a member of the team and have influence on the people who are hired on to the team. Leaders of product managers do themselves and their company a favor by hiring people who will eventually replace them and be more successful than they have been. It’s all about progression: the more you help others progress, the further you go.


Value comes from work

Have you ever noticed that (in most cases) when you receive something for free you put less value on it than you otherwise would? This is especially true when the ‘gift’ comes from a person or entity with whom you have no relationship. No doubt you are thankful to have something new and have the opportunity to use it for its intended purpose, but after a few days or weeks have passed the value is usually gone. A few examples will illustrate:

  • Children and toys: When parents give a child every toy she wants, she gets bored with them and they end up scattered all around the house. Every time they take her to a store she cries for the new toy. Conversely, a child who has assigned chores that result in the right to buy a new toy will value the toy and wear it out playing.
  • Teenagers and cars: When parents buy their teenager a brand new car for his 16th birthday, he’s no doubt happy to have the car, but too often doesn’t take good care of it and crashes it or burns up the engine (or does something else to ruin it). On the contrary, when a young man works, saves the money and buys his own car, he takes great measures of care for the car.
  • They family business: Too often when it comes time to pass a family business the next generation the recipient is not prepared. When this happens it’s usually because he or she has not carried the responsibility of the business and does not have the work ethic his or her parents had. Too often the business fails because the heirs did not learn the value of hard work. Granted, in many cases the hard-working parents who created a successful business took the time and effort to teach their children to work and the transition goes smoothly, but unfortunately that is not always the case.

If you really want to value something you have to work for it. Ultimately you will not find joy in what you do without working diligently, and you cannot achieve success without making a concerted effort. As Vince Lombardi so eloquently said: “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

For me it’s simple: when you invest your time and your own money, talents, resources and effort into creating or improving some thing, you value the end results. It’s simple but true.

The Product Management Perspective: Nothing comes easy in product management. However, when PMs work diligently, and effectively with their teams, they find satisfaction in the resulting success of the products, and ultimately the company.

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Providing value

Previous posts have discussed the word ‘value’ as a verb — the act of appreciating, respecting or esteeming others. However, when it comes to providing value, words like worth, importance or significance apply.

What are you doing to provide value to your organization? What significance do you bring to the table? As a leader, how do you inspire your people to give their best to your cause? These questions should coarse the minds of all leaders, especially during difficult times.

This topic is admittedly broad reaching and sufficient answers are well outside the bounds of one blog post. However, when it comes to providing value from a leadership perspective, my good friend Art Petty takes this complex topic and simplifies it into 5 Simple Rules To Be A Great Leader:

  1. Surround yourself with great people
  2. Provide them with challenging opportunities
  3. Expect the extraordinary
  4. Work like crazy to provide support
  5. Stay out of the way until you’re needed.

You have a great opportunity to add significant value as a leader in your company. Look for ways to put these rules into practice today.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers are in a prime position to provide value to their organizations. One the most effective ways to be the star of your company is to become an expert at market sensing. To the extent you guide your company to create and sell the right products and services for your specific market, you will become the hero of your organization.