Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Creating a vision statement

Looking into the future and thinking about what might happen is a scary proposition for many people. Some look to the future with excitement and anticipation. The difference between these two feelings often comes down to the degree to which the individual has planned for the future.

A simple tool to help you plan for the future is a vision statement. Last night I attended a PMCNW meeting in Seattle where Carol Vecchio from CenterPoint spoke about taking control of your career. She led the group through a process of creating an individual vision statement. It was a revealing exercise. To create an inspiring vision statement you need to:

  • Visualize success: If you want to succeed you need to see yourself doing the things that meet your definition of success.
  • Write in present tense: Describe the vision you have for yourself as if you are living it today. This helps you to envision the outcome.
  • Inspire yourself: Picture yourself doing something you truly love, then write in in a way that will inspire you to pursue your dream. Don’t let fear stop you from achieving what will truly make you happy.

Creating a vision statement takes time and effort, both of which will pay off as you move forward with anticipation for what lies ahead.

The Product Management Perspective: As the product manager, you own the vision for the success of your product(s). Your leadership will, to a large degree, determine whether your product team looks forward with fear or excitement. Your ability to inspire your team will improve significantly when you have a clear vision of where you are headed. Create and use your vision statement as a tool to strengthen your leadership.


Envision the outcome

What attribute most distinguishes leaders from non leaders? According to James Kouzes and Barry Posner it is “being forward looking — envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future.” Their article To Lead, Create a Shared Vision — published in the January 2009 Harvard Business Review — derives its conclusions from extensive research through surveys and interviews. Their survey asked what traits people look for and admire in a leader and what traits they look for in a colleague.

The number one requirement of a leader, honesty, was also the top-ranking attribute of a colleague. But the second-highest requirement of a leaders was that they be forward looking. They need to present a vision for the future that not only embodies their view of the outcome, but also includes reflects the aspirations of their constituents (i.e. the followers). Therefore, leaders must spend time reading networking with other leaders — developing and absorbing ideas as they grow — and also mingling with constituents, taking their feedback and making them a part of the outcome.

My friend Greg Strouse sums it up nicely: “Here’s your lesson. Education is nice. Experience is nice too. As for me I’ll bet on the person with vision, passion and that magic touch every single time.” Vision, passion and the “magic touch” allow leaders to look into the future and provide direction while at the same time including the people who will be most affected by their decisions. (Note: Greg’s quote comes from his post Remembering Bonnie, a moving tribute to his wife who passed away in September ’08.)

The Product Management Perspective: By its nature product management requires a high degree foresight. As the leader of the product it is the product manager’s responsibility to envision the outcome. In the process you include people from other teams in decisions and invite them (by your actions) to share in the results.


Leadership and vision

The word vision has several meanings and is used in many different contexts. Even within the context of leadership you will find varying meanings; things like goals, objectives, mission statements and motivation to name a few. While they are all important and have meaning in their particular contexts, the foresight of leaders might be among the most important combination of leadership and vision.

Steve Farber released an audio CD set — called Extreme Leadership — that is packed with great information about taking leadership to a higher level. Referring to leadership and vision he states: “the role of the leader is to make the vision meaningful.” Companies can have a ‘vision’ or a vision statement, but if it’s not meaningful to the people it will fall flat. To truly provide a vision for the company (or organization), the leaders need to understand, communicate and instill a sense of what’s important: to the company, to the customers, to the employees, to the company leadership. Steve says: “Real leaders take us to places we’ve never been, turn nothing into something, transform good into great, help us grow as human beings and change the pieces of the world that they touch for the better.” It has to be real and true; flattery or insincerity will not fly.

The Product Management Perspective: Leaders make decisions regularly. Successful product managers understand their markets and provide the foresight and direction for their products. They accept the responsibility to make tough decisions and communicate them effectively. They make choices and stand behind them. Ultimately they create a vision that leads their teams and their products to succeed.

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The Energy Bus

What does it take to run a successful organization?

There is obviously no one right answer to this question. However, positive thinking and energy are among the attributes featured in the book: The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon. The Energy Bus is a story (written in the style of other bestselling business fables) of George, who’s struggling at work and at home. His car breaks down, which forces him to ride the bus to work. He ends up on a bus with a driver named Joy. Joy is not the average bus driver; she helps her riders recognize and understand principles of success that affect every aspect of their lives.

The book presents principles, through George’s story, in an easy-to-understand format. The story has its banal moments, but it makes for an easy read, and more importantly provides a vehicle to deliver important principles in an understandable format. One of the key principles discussed is “contagious leadership.” When a person in a leadership role (or any role) exerts energy with the intent to motivate others, it’s contagious. To clarify this point the author gives five ways to “love your passengers” (or motivate the people you lead):

  • Make time for them
  • Listen to them
  • Recognize them
  • Serve them
  • Bring out the best in them.

The overall story of the energy bus is captured in the 10 rules for the ride of your life:

  1. You’re the driver of your bus.
  2. Desire, vision and focus move your bus in the right direction.
  3. Fuel your ride with positive energy.
  4. Invite people on your bus and share your vision for the road ahead.
  5. Don’t waste your energy on those who don’t get on your bus.
  6. Post a sign that says NO ENERGY VAMPIRES ALLOWED on your bus.
  7. Enthusiasm attracts more passengers and energizes them during the ride.
  8. Love your passengers.
  9. Drive with purpose.
  10. Have fun and enjoy the ride.

The book motivates its readers to focus on the positive, use the energy that comes from it to improve their production, and inspire others to do likewise.

The Product Management Perspective: Team energy is critical to the success of a product. When product managers focus on building up and inspiring their teams they will increase the energy that goes into all aspects of product development, and increase the likelihood for success.

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Leadership and sneakers

Does the number of pairs of sneakers you own improve the likelihood that you are/will become a leader? According to a Mindset Media study, people who buy more than three pairs of sneakers a year are far more likely to be a leadership type than the population at large. They surveyed 7,500 people and found those who purchase three or more pairs of athletic shoes per year are 61% more likely to have ideas and vision, and leadership qualities such as decisiveness and assertiveness. Their poll found these to be true regardless of age, income, or gender.

There’s a lot of buzz around this topic and various theories as to why owning sneakers makes a person more likely to be a leader. I’m no expert on shoes, but it seems reasonable to me that people who own sneakers are more likely to put them on and go and do something in them. I refer to this as “rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.” It’s not owning the sneakers (or any shoes) that makes you a leader; it’s what you do when you’re wearing them that really makes the difference.