Character-Based Leadership

A few years ago, after discussing ideas and principles of leadership with a great cross-section of contributors, I packed my bags and headed to sunny Florida for the first Lead Change gathering.

Since that initial gathering, Mike Henry, a catalyst for change in leadership along with dozen of others have collaborated to deliver The Character Based Leader. Since receiving a copy, I have highlighted it’s pages, made some notes and would like to shares a few ideas.

So, What is Character-Based Leadership?

From Lead Change discussions a definition surfaced, “Character-based leadership is leading from who you are rather than from power or position.”

Lead Change as a group recognized that “we have a crisis of leadership and a need to personally be involved in changing the world of leadership for the better. It’s not that we feel leadership development is the problem, rather that the current methods aren’t keeping pace with the need expressed by individuals. In a way, individuals in the world are in search of leadership help faster and in a greater variety than is being provided.”

The Simple Truth of Leadership

John Maxwell famously stated, “Leadership is influence, plain and simple.”

It’s not meant to be a power trip or laden with methods and a roadmap on how to get there.

We constantly read and hear about leaders how misuse their power while in leadership or positions of influence. “The crisis is in people’s character, not in the positions that people attain” shared Don Shapiro.

Shapiro continues, “To produce a world of great leaders at home, in the community and in organizations, the time has come to make people’s character priority number one.”

Underlying Principles

The three core principles highlighted throughout the Character Based Leader include:

  • Leadership is influence
  • influence is given
  • People give influence based on competence, trust and purpose.

These principles are the essence of great leadership and happen as we inspire.

Simon Sinek stated, “We can only inspire or manipulate.” Each of us possesses the freedom to make choices and it’s up to us to decide whether we inspire or manipulate.  Where will you lead? Where do you stand?

Lead from Where You Are

While we have to lead from where we are, we have to understand who we are. Lisa Petrilli shared, “There is no escaping the fact that when we show up for work and for our leadership roles, we bring the entirety of ourselves to the table. We bring our convictions, our strengths, our ideas, and our weaknesses, along with our insecurities, knowledge of our past failures, pride in our past accomplishments, and our desire to lead our teams successfully.”

When’s the last time we sat in a quiet place and assessed who we are, what we stand for, and looked at our strengths and weaknesses along with life’s lessons and what we should be learning and doing? Do we accept our whole selves and truly understand where we are taking ourselves and not just those we lead? How can we lead others when we may be lost on the leadership trail?

How Can I Make a Change?

Page Cole surfaced that “leading from your strengths is more than just admitting you are good at something. It also involves the next phase of leadership which is discovering what it is that you do really well.” Page continues, “The challenge for leaders is that this is less like a mining expedition and more like working in a laboratory.”

Each of us has a laboratory whether at home, the office, in the committee, and we need to consistently experiment and discover who we are, surface and assess our strengths, admit we have weaknesses and allow those in the labs to contribute to our change while we provide an avenue for the same.

I believe we need to tell more stories about our experiences and allow others to ask questions. Not too long ago, one of my children, a new homeowner called with a few questions. He said, “Have you ever renovated a bathroom that was built on solid concrete? Do you know how much labor it’s going to take and what it’s going to cost to complete the renovation?”

We discussed the project and the options he could take. I let him know that he was on the right track, validated the options and gave him a few suggestions. While this may seem like a conversation, he was telling me a story. I was able to share my experiences (some not so good) and we laughed some, but it gave him the outlet to move forward with the renovation.  Both of us led from our strengths and experiences and opened the door to change. (As a side note, he learned that a jack hammer was crucial for the job.)

The laboratories I experiment in have surfaced things about me that I may have known or didn’t. I was asked to share what my strengths were to several people I had never met. I thought about it for a second told them who I was, what I believed and how I led. Immediately, there was a connection and the conversation continued as an open and less guarded discussion.

Reading the Character Based Leader has reinforced a few things I know about character-based leadership and taught me a few things I didn’t know. First, we have to persevere and be steadfast. Second, we have to surface concerns in leadership and address those head on. You can’t wimp out no matter what the consequences. Third, “Character-based leadership is the conscious choice to be an ambassador, to place the greater good, the purpose of the organization and the needs of others above your own desires” shares Chery Gegelman.

Each of us can make a change and we can start now.

Thanks to the authors for their insights, passion and desire to lead a change in leadership. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book and he how much of a revolution you can instigate.

That Sucking Sound…

While we all know that product leaders in product management and product marketing can be pulled in all directions, I’m hearing more and more sucking sounds that indicate it’s more of a pull than I thought.

Recently, I was talking to a product manager and he said, “Man, it’s been a tough week. I’ve been designing the new user experience for our product, I’m a referee for the product team and I’m trying to manage my day job at the same time.” Immediately, I heard the sucking sound.

You know. The sucking sound that’s made when product leaders forget to lead and other priorities and disruption suck out what’s important in product leadership.

Just like the example of my friend, I recognize that product teams are sucked into inside out thinking, are pressured into becoming the UX guru, but when did it become fashionable for product management to become the delivery person for user experience and not customer experiences?

When did product marketing become the referee for inside-out thinking and not the leader of outside-in views and what’s really going on in the market.

Not too long ago everyone said “Product management is the CEO of the product.” Now, we’re lucky if product management is recognized as an extension to an administrative function in the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, the life of a product leader isn’t easy, but if we don’t get back to our true roots and bring an understanding of the market and customers in from the cold, the sucking sounds will continue, until your organization starts believing you are sucking at what you do and are expendable.

It’s not time to stand up and shout, “I’m a product leader,” it’s time to show up.

So, what’s it going to be product leaders?

If you like, dislike, agree or disagree with the post, please comment.

If you’d like to share it on Twitter, feel free to use, That Sucking Sound, a new post by @jim_holland – Time to step up #prodmgmt, #prodmktg, leadership http://wp.me/pqeWU-re.

Want to share it on LinkedIn or Google+? That Sucking Sound… A new post and call to action by Jim Holland @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-re

Associations – the Power behind Innovation

This is the third in the series focused on The Innovators DNA and how product leaders and others may acquire and develop their innovative DNA. It’s my goal to introduce concepts and ideas that will have product leaders of all types, think, act and engage differently. This post focuses on associations, their value and role in the innovation process.

Merriam-Websters online dictionary describes association as:

a) the act of associating.

b) something linked in memory or imagination with a thing or person.

Considering these two definitions, what do associations provide and why are they important?

In my last post The Courage to Innovate, I shared an innovation model from the authors. This model should be at the core of every product and marketing leader and drive our disruptive thoughts and actions. When you think about your role as a product leader, do you possess and use Questioning, Observation, Networking and Experimenting? If you do, then what’s missing?

Associations – “or the ability to make surprising connections across areas of knowledge, industries, even geographies– is an often-taken-for-granted skill among the innovators we studied” shared authors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen. “Innovators actively pursue diverse new information and ideas through questioning, observing, networking and experimenting– the key catalysts for creative associations.”

Associations aren’t new. Throughout history, they’ve been used and perhaps are the keystone of innovations. In his book, The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson shares. ” When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.”

Johansson calls this the Medici Effect named for the fifteenth-century banking family who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines.

Where does associating happen?  Today, we recognize Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Walt Disney and many others as innovators with the creativity to spark ideas in others.

While many organizations believe that innovation happens at home, I believe what Pragmatic Marketing teaches in, “Nothing Important Happens in the Office or NIHITO.” 

However, for innovators, I think we should change it to “No Innovation Happens in the Office.” 

While you’ll agree that you have to get out of the office to question, observe, network or experiment, how often should you get out and with whom and when?

“Innovation flourishes at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or our own” shares the authors. The DNA of an innovator is one that “intentionally maneuvers themselves into the intersection, where diverse experience flourish and foster the discovery of new insight.” How often should you get out and observe, experiment and build new associations? Everyday.

As an example, last year I met Brice Sloan, President of Sloan Security Technologies. Now, I know almost nothing about about the security market where they succeed, however, they do and the Sloan brothers bring vast experience in large scale perimeter and other kinds of high-end security that would require government clearance to talk about. Brice found me through an intersection and the network.

He intentionally found me. Why? He’s has an innovators DNA and was experimenting with new ideas. He sought a variety of people, background, experiences and those that could experiment with him.

Why does an innovator connect with a person that has spent a large majority of his career in software? Simple. To question, experiment and connect with others who may not question “why,” but are willing to say, “Why not.” Since our first meeting, Brice and I have gotten together several times. He’s invited me and others to experiment with his ideas and how it applies his world.

With a strong desire to seek out unique problems and to engage with others that have ideas and expertise, Brice has introduced a series of solar powered surveillance solutions not dependent on the grid. Basically, they’re smart video cameras that run on solar power and transmit video wirelessly to any location. Can you think of hundreds of applications and uses, I can.

Intersections – “Disruptive innovators shine best at associating when actively crossing all kinds of borders, (geographic, industry, company, profession, discipline, and so on) and engaging the other innovator’s DNA skills.”

Where can this happen? For product leaders, it can happen at BarCamps, Product Camps, wondering through a local retailer, a lawn and garden center or a child’s classroom. The intersections are limitless, but we have to be willing to step into them and not expect anything to happen but another idea or the unexpected.

You have to engage with your neighbors, friends, friends of friends, people who say, “You have to meet this person” and a thousand others. I’ve heard stories of people who give time to private investors, angel funds, and micro-lenders as well as volunteer in their communities with start-ups and small businesses to break into new intersections.

To grow your innovators DNA as a product leaders, we need to get out, get busy and extend ourselves. Please join me in taking the challenge this week to jump into some new intersections, collect ideas and experiment outside the office and leave your non-innovative comfort zone. As Edward de Bono author of Lateral Thinking shared, “You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.”

In my next post, we’ll discuss Innovation for the Risk Adverse. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, , Associations, the Power behind Innovation – a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-qj #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

The Courage to Innovate

This is the second in a series based on the book The Innovators DNA and how the research and principles support the discovery, growth and creativity of product leaders and their organizations. I acknowledge the research, content and messages of the authors and personally value the impact it may have on product leaders, especially those in product management and product marketing.

I’ve wondered and often been frustrated with why a company and its management team don’t seem to have an innovative mindset, appear to have an innovators DNA nor care to foster one with product leaders?

This attitude, realized or not, often squelch creativity and innovation in product management and promotes complacency or worse, a division in the teams and their creativity. This post explores why some senior executives don’t think differently, how it impacts product leaders and why courage is a critical step to innovation. We’ll also review a way to assess your innovative DNA.

Why Most Senior Executives Don’t Think Different – With eight years of interviewing scores of senior executives – mostly at large companies, Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen found that when they asked executives to describe the most novel or valuable strategic insights, they rarely mentioned an innovative business idea they had personally generated. “In contrast to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, products or process, most senior executives work hard to efficiently deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model. That is they work inside the box.

Innovating while working inside the box - What happens when you work in an organization where innovative thoughts and actions are not promoted, nor welcome. Usually you have limited choices. (You know what they are. Leave – Stay – or Suck it up.)

As an example, I worked with a company a number of years ago where innovation was often acquired. In that example, innovation was misunderstood and product management left in the shadows to figure it out. The authors share, “Innovators must consistently think different, to act different.” To maintain an innovative mindset, product management assumed the innovators role along with the Chief Technology Officer. Together, with engineering we discovered, experimented and innovated solutions while integrating with our buy, build, partner strategy. Product management stepped out of the shadows and began to infuse new ideas, conversations and associations. The importance of associations will be discussed in another post.

The Courage to Innovate – If you work in a delivery-centric organization, it may be difficult to consistently think and act differently. “In short, it takes courage to innovate– an active bias against the status quo and an unflinching willingness to take smart risks– to transform ideas into powerful impact.” Why? Most executives are focused in delivering and need someone to step out and make an impact.

So, I have the courage and I’m willing to step up, what’s next? The innovators DNA model illustrated by the authors is a great place to start.

Take time to review this and personally assess yourself and then your team to see if you have the behavioral skills required. If you’re not sure, ask yourself:

  • Do I understand how questioning influences innovation, ideas and creativity and do I question enough?
  • Do I observe outside the office and in native habitats where my customers and markets are? Do I observe in other habitats and learn from those environments?
  • Do I effectively network within and outside my comfort zone and am I willing to share my ideas with others?
  • Am I willing to experiment in areas that may not make sense to my organization or me and try not rationalize it away before I try?
  • Who do I know that excels in questioning, observing, networking and experimenting in my organization, team, circle of acquaintances and others outside my circle, and do I learn from them?

Next ask yourself the following:

  • Am I willing to risks on a regular basis?
  • Do I challenge the status quo in my organization?
  • Does my team challenge the status quo on a regular basis?
  • Does my organization handle challenging the status quo?

As we look at our innovative DNA, there will be vast differences in our ideas, answers, and how we build, acquire and obtain more. It’s a progressive process and starts with some level of personal or professional disruption and change.

In summary, as product leaders, we need to determine if we have the courage to innovate and where we lack key DNA to really impact our organizations, people or areas around us. I welcome your comments and ideas on how you’ve acquired and grown an innovative mindset, displayed the courage and any experiences you’re willing to share.

In my next post, we’ll discuss Associations, and how connecting these accelerate ideas. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, The Courage to Innovate, a new post in a series by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-pe #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

If you’d like to learn more about formal innovator assessments, check out the Innovators DNA site.

Innovation and Product Management DNA

When you think of innovators, it may conjure different ideas, thoughts and names of people in industries recognized and at the forefront of great and interesting products. But, what makes an innovator and are you one of them or can you be? The authors of The Innovators DNA shared, “Creativity skills are not simply genetic traits endowed at birth, but they can be developed. Nurture trumps nature as far as creativity goes.”

Almost every product leader possesses some innovative DNA, but often we may not know it’s there. It may be under-nourished, undiscovered or under-valued at your company due to the organization, its maturity, personality, innovation practices or how it attracts, grows and rewards innovators.

Whether your background is technical, sales or marketing oriented, product management has to understand its innovative DNA and what we need to modify, learn or apply to lead products in our organizations. I’ve met some product leaders who think that everything they learned in business school qualifies them as an innovator. It doesn’t. “Business schools teach people how to be deliverers, not discoverers” and “Innovators must consistently act different  to think different.” This presents an interesting question for product leaders.

Do I possess a delivery or a discovery mentality and how does that impact me as a product leader? I shared the elements of good innovators from Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen previously. As a product leader, which of the DNA elements do you possess and which ones do you lack?

  • Questioning – “Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquiry. Their queries frequently challenge the status quo.”
  • Observing – “Innovators are also intense observers, They carefully watch the world around them including customers.”
  • Networking – “Innovators spend a lot of time and energy finding and testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals who vary wildly in their backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Experimenting – “Innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. Experiment unceasingly explore the work intellectually and experimentally, holding convictions at bay and testing hypothesis along the way.”
  • Associating – “Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others’ or our own.”

Thinking about the five attributes and considering a delivery or discovery mentality as a product leader, plot where your innovation DNA is based on what you possess. In the example below, you’ll note the networking skills are high and more aligned to the discovery and innovation side, while observing is middle of the road and could be an area of improvement. Are there areas where you need to improve or add? In areas where you excel, offer to work with a peer or better yet, volunteer to share this in a discussion internally or present at an upcoming product camp.

Now that you’ve considered where your DNA lies, how do you begin to build the DNA that a product leader needs to be successful? Consider the following questions as you look at areas where you have strengths and where you need to grow your innovative DNA;

  1. How often to do I challenge the status quo in my product leadership role?
  2. Do I have regular opportunities to question and discover in my role? Does our team?
  3. Do I know how to really observe without preconceived ideas and solutions in mind?
  4. Do I have a broad network outside of my market and industry and comfort zone?
  5. Do I experiment with an open mind and on a regular basis?
  6. Am I unafraid to pilot and sponsor new innovation with my company?
  7. Do I know how to articulate across and throughout my organization with authority and passion?
  8. How diverse is my experience and do I associate and learn from those who do?

While each of us will have different answers and have to consider the different organizations we work for and any constraints, product leaders have to add new DNA one conversation, observation,  experiment or association at a time.

In my next post we’ll discuss the unique ways to infuse innovative DNA into your product leadership and how to traverse through an organization that is innovation-free or limited in its ideas and execution. please comment on the post and feel free to share on LinkedIn or Twitter. New post, “Innovation and Product Management DNA” by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-oi #prodmgmt #innovation

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