Lead on Purpose: How Product Managers Lead Teams to Success

By Michael Ray Hopkin
August 01, 2009

How do the principles apply to product management? The role a product manager often plays in an organization resembles (at a macro level) the role a person’s brain plays in influencing individual thoughts and actions.


The Pragmatic Marketer: Volume 6 Issue 1In a recent article in The Pragmatic Marketer, Alyssa Dver states that the success of product managers is measured by how well they get other people in the company to do their jobs. There’s a lot of truth in that statement! In most organizations, the product manager does not have direct reports, but still is responsible for assuring that the right product is released on time and under budget.

This dilemma puts pressure on the product manager to inspire others to do great work—even though he or she cannot hold others accountable. As a result, product managers must be persuasive, flexible, persistent, and optimistic; they must lead on purpose.

Seven guiding principles

I derived the title “Lead on Purpose” and many other ideas and practices from a seminar called “Live on Purpose” given by my friend and coach Dr. Paul H. Jenkins (“Dr. Paul” www.drpaul.org). Dr. Paul is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping people encounter, recognize, embrace, live, and share true principles of abundant living. Dr. Paul teaches the importance of letting principle guide through seven key points:

  1. People are assets. He describes how people—not things—are the true assets that add value to our lives.
  2. Trust is vital. When we focus on building relationships and trust with others, we all grow together.
  3. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is actually potential power; only when it is applied does it become true power.
  4. Be decisive. We make decisions every day, and when we are decisive, things fall into place.
  5. The victim paradigm. Victims shirk responsibility for their actions, blame others when problems occur, live in scarcity, and consume more than they produce.
  6. The agent paradigm. Agents take accountability for their lives, live in abundance, and produce more value than they consume.
  7. The choice. As individuals, we ultimately choose the paradigm in which we live.

These seven principles provide direction for those who desire to live their lives with purpose—those who want to take control of their actions and live abundantly.

Applying the principles to product management

How do the principles apply to product management? The role a product manager often plays in an organization resembles (at a macrolevel) the role a person’s brain plays in influencing individual thoughts and actions. The product manager must choose to work with other team members who are responsible for different aspects of the project in such a way that allow them to function as a single unit. For most product managers, the team consists of managers and individual contributors who design, develop, test, market, support, and sell the product. Without the team, products go nowhere.

In much the same way (also at a macro level) that a CEO runs the company, the product manager acts as the catalyst to drive unity in purpose and action, which ultimately leads to the timely release of quality products.

If a product manager wants to lead product teams with purpose and energy, practicing and applying the principles of living on purpose to the daily work of product management inspires that unity and synergy among team members and develops a more efficient and successful creation of a product. Here is a look at how product managers can apply the seven principles to their jobs:

Principle 1: People are assets

In today’s world, when people talk about assets, they most often refer to their house, car, boat, or investments. In the business world, technology and products—along with their associated intellectual property—are the assets that typically get the most attention.

Naturally, in the world of product management, most product managers think about the products they manage as the true assets. The success of those products creates revenue for the company and results in praise and commendations for the product managers.

Unfortunately, many companies view their employees as another expense on the income statement. Simply put, things of monetary value are most commonly thought of as assets; and, often, people become tools or objects to help an individual or company acquire more “assets.”

In truth, the real assets of any organization are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization.

Because of the nature of the work, it is vital that product managers treat their colleagues as true assets. Toward that end, a product manager must spend time with the team. This means talking with them, listening to their concerns and fears about the current phase of the project, and occasionally taking them out for lunch. I’m always amazed at how much a lunch motivates people.

When team members feel valued, they care more about the product on which they are working. Face-time with the team also helps product managers understand individuals and personally assist them. Time spent with the team pays financial dividends as high-quality products make it to market on time and with enough vitality to excite the sales force. When product managers focus on the people with whom they work, the products succeed as a result.

Principle 2: Trust is vital

Gaining the trust of the team goes hand-in-hand with treating people as assets. When product managers value the work and the efforts of their teams, they gain the trust of team members. When teams know they are working on a great product that will sell in the market, they are freed from worries about job stability as well as from the boredom of less exciting products.

Product managers gain the trust of their teams by rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. When the development team has an alpha version of the product ready, a sharp-witted product manager will install it, exercise the functionality, and provide feedback to the team. When the documentation team has a draft of the new documents, the product manager will carefully review and provide comments. As the product gets closer to a beta-and ship-ready state, great product managers will work closely with marketing and operations to make sure plans are laid for a successful product launch.

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About the Authors

  • Michael Ray Hopkin

    Michael Ray Hopkin has over 13 years experience working as a software engineer and a product manager for companies ranging from startups to major corporations. He is a proven communicator who has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to gain the trust and commitment of large, cross-divisional teams. He is eager to communicate with you about improving the leadership role of product management. To contact Michael, visit his blog,Lead On Purpose or email him at mrhopkin@gmail.com

Categories:  Leadership

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