Why Should Leadership Replace Our Personality?

What is a leader suppose to look like?

How do they act? How do they dress? What shows are they watching? Do they watch TV? What’s their workout routine? Beard or no?

Am I meditating hard enough???

Having the opportunity to lead within an organization is a privilege, but that privilege can be accompanied by uncomfortable pressures and expectations – real or imagined. Some of these pressures and expectations are concrete, while some are obscure. Some expectations should certainly be met, while some would be better challenged, and others even ignored altogether. The key is learning to sort through the pressures and discern which ones are coming from external agents, and which ones we’re placing on ourselves, unnecessarily.

While there may be some universal, “best-practices” in leadership, there’s no one-single best way to lead people. We each have different characters and styles, and should take advantage of these aspectsrather than try and hide them in some misguided attempt to be “what a leader should be”.

Be the kind of leader you should be.

Be proud of your personal quirks and oddities, even (and especially) in the face of the surmounting pressures and expectations that come with leadership. Staying true to who you are, and what you believe in, will make you a better leader. One that inspires and elevates their team members and colleagues.

Collected here are a few tips and reflections from my time so far as a leader in business and tech. 

Tip 1: Don’t hide your personal life at work.

Early in my career, I was hesitant to open up much about my life outside the office. When I’d go on vacation I’d leave a cryptic OOO message in my email. Part of me felt guilty for taking off time. Divulging any details of what could possibly pull me away from the office felt like a confession of disloyalty.

“OOO” leaves room for interpretation… Out of office could mean I’m attending a conference. Out to an important meeting. Sent by the company on a secret mission to establish partnerships in China.

But, somehow, I think people just usually assumed I was taking my PTO like a normal person.

Eventually I realized that small, furtive behaviors like this one were really just missed opportunities to share who I was with my team.

Pardon the cliche, but the truth really does set you free. It’s a relieving weight off your back to not feel like you have to switch into different modes in every environment. It can feel incredibly liberating to be open about who you are as a person, and show how that has contributed to your professional path.

I now use my out of office message to give a glimpse into what I’m up to: “Gone Backpacking”, “Skiing Monday”, etc. I feel more authentic by this simple adjustment, and I also think that, as a leader, it’s good let my team members know that I support them finding ways to relax and enjoy these other areas of life, too.

[Auto-Reply] I’ll be out Monday skiing with my wife

Much of what can be accomplished within a company is based on trust. Can you do what you say you’re gonna do? Are you being candid with me? And if there’s a rapport, both parties are more likely to help each other succeed.

By sharing your whole self at work, I’ve found that I’ve been able to more quickly establish trust. And as I’ve done more of it myself, I’ve also found the opposite true. Those that are heavily guarded and private raise questions to me about whether they are also hiding work-related info.

Me as “Madison Bumble-garner” for Halloween at Work (Oct 2014)

Tip 2: Don’t always assume management is right.

Aside from those fields where instant decision-making is the difference between life and death, most organizations provide a means for their leaders to push back and challenge the decisions of management.

Other times you may need to take it into your own hands. Either way, being able to effectively say no to your boss is an important part of leadership.

As you lead others and move up the ranks, it’s easy to lose sight of who you are and become the instrument of an organization. There may be times when you need to dig deep, and keep what’s important to you in sight.

In the end, it’s important to own your actions, and stand firmly behind your team’s approaches.

Tip 3: Listen to your gut.

Some situations feel out of your control. Set in stone. Like when you’re ordered to deliver the message from a higher up authority that someone needs to be let go.  

Even in these situations, be mindful of the process. If the words don’t feel right, find truer ones to employ. If you can’t, perhaps there’s something wrong about the whole situation that needs to be challenged.

On a few occasions over my career, I’ve had to lay people off. More often than not it’s for one of two reasons: (A) a larger restructuring of the company, or (B) a team member simply isn’t a fit for the role they’re in.

In both of these situations, I’ve found that I’ve had to look inward to maintain who I am, and not just act as the management function I’m serving at the time. It’s easy to get lost and resort to corporate non-speak.

Fight this.

I try to own the wording of the messages I carry. And if I don’t like the words coming out, I push up the management chain to come up with a better solution.

When delivering the message of a layoff for reason (B) above, it’s critical that you separate the person from the role. If you think the person could ultimately succeed, help them. Give honest feedback. Provide course correction. Reflect feedback you hear from others (360 reviews are extremely valuable here).

Be a manager.

However, if that’s not working after a reasonable effort, perhaps this person is just in the wrong role at the moment. I’ve found there really are no “poor performers”, just people in the wrong roles. Or the person may have once been fine in this role, but the company requires a different style at this point in time, for whatever reason. In this case, the person would benefit from finding a new role, perhaps even within the same company.

It’s good to think about how you’d want to be treated if you were in the other chair in these situations, and be genuine about it.

“The reality is that no one can be authentic by trying to be like someone else. There is no doubt you can learn from their experiences, but there is no way you can be successful trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not an imitation.”

— Bill George, True North

Tip 4: Stay Balanced

While working at eBay for a leadership class that was part of my MBA curriculum,  I had the chance to interview our company’s president John Donahoe. John told me about a story back when he was consulting at Bain and Co. His wife had taken a role clerking for a federal judge, and he had to find a way to bring his kids to school a few days a week. John and his managing director were able to agree with their client that John would arrive on-site at ten o’clock, every morning. To his amazement, the clients actually appreciated his family-oriented choices, and he did some of his best work during that time.

This story really stuck with me. At a time when I was balancing my own work while earning an MBA, and carving out as much time with my family as I could, my wife and I having just had our first child. I continue to take a proactive approach with my schedule today, and make adjustments when necessary. I now work from home one to two days a week, and leave early on one other day so I can help coach baseball teams or simply be present after school and home for family dinner.

Me with my crew one afternoon dying Easter eggs being silly

Albeit I still find ways to make up the work in other ways. Staying late at the office a couple times a week along with a fair amount of travel. But in almost every case I can think of, these “tradeoffs” have enhanced the overall experience of my daily life at work, and at home. And I think it’s led to me being able to find more authenticity in my leadership.

Tip 5: Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

At the end of the day, regardless of your role at work, you’re still your mother’s child. You may be a sibling. A parent. A spouse. Friend. Goofball. We all share something in common with billions of other people on the planet. I go on dates with my wife. We make plans with friends. And even just playing with my kids seems to go a long way in grounding me.

There’s nothing quite as humbling than your own kids pointing out your various shortcomings (for me it’s usually my cooking).

These lessons have helped me in my career, and perhaps they can help an aspect of your own. I’m always on the look for tips and secrets that others have found true, and encourage anyone to share them with myself and with others.

Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera.

Further Reading:

People come in all shapes and sizes. How does your individual personality enhance your leadership?

When to Ask Forgiveness and Secretly Build a Product Anyway

It feels counterintuitive to keep something secret at work. And yet we all see situations where organizations kill really good ideas. Organizations with and without models for disruptive innovation in place. If an idea is perceived to detract focus from the current top-down directives, it’s likely to face insurmountable opposition.

You can’t get the green light to build an idea without some sort of proof. And often you can’t get any proof without actually building it.

So what do you do?

Give up?

Not if your idea is a baby tiger, you don’t.

Yawning tiger cub
New ideas are like “baby tigers” that need your protection [photo by?tambako]

Baby Tiger Ideas

Tigers may be an apex predator, but baby tigers need protecting until they’re more developed and able to fend for themselves in the wild. The baby tigers are those ideas that could be unstoppable, if only someone would see their potential and protect them.

A while back at eBay someone spotted a baby tiger and a group of us took it upon ourselves to work together and protect it until it grew into a $2B business.

It was 2008.

“Mobile”? hadn’t quite taken off yet. eBay’s mobile site was underperforming in comparison to desktop. Management decided to fire the whole team. Forget about this mobile thing, our focus should be on the core business. Soon after this, Apple made an announcement to a select number of developers inviting them to participate in a new service they were preparing to launch at WWDC: the App Store. Some of these developers were at eBay.

Well luckily for eBay, these developers saw the opportunity in this and formed a band of renegades to get it built. One of these people was a designer on my team who came to me about the project. We got all of her other work covered by other team members and she was able to focus solely on the app so we could have it built in time for the launch. By the time the launch came around and the app was built, the project was shown to management and they were quickly on board with the whole idea.

Steve Jobs introducing eBay as an App Store launch partner (WWDC July 2008)

The eBay iPhone app was a major success, and a significant factor of the success came from the opportunity of being featured as part of the App Store launch – which lead to even further exposure and positive relations with Apple that helped as this whole “mobile” thing really took off. In 2010 while only 12% of top 500 Internet retailers had mobile-optimized Web sites, 7% had mobile apps, and only 2% had checkout features. eBay accounted for 50% of mobile eCommerce in the U.S. that year and 70% of that came from the iPhone.

These unexpected opportunities come up, and you really have to know how to spot them and take advantage of them.

Here’s a few things to think about when doing this.


Release an idea into the “wild” of an organization before it can defend itself, and it may very well be killed before it ever stood a chance.

Think about what dangers your idea may face when it’s proposed. What aspects will be scrutinized? What if it’s brought up to the C-level? How will it do then?


Often there can be a mismatch between the actual scope of something, and how much required effort various stakeholders perceive. If an organization’s general wisdom is that a feature is impossible or a lot harder than it really is, it will likely get killed.

Build your PoC or proposal in a strategic way so that it can specifically invalidate these kinds of assumptions.

Putting in the Hours

It may be necessary to put in some extra time to lay out the groundwork for your idea in any off hours you can find. Take advantage of opportunities like company Hack Days, where employees are encouraged to work on personal projects and share what they’ve done. Occasionally I’ve seen folks use these moments to share ideas they’ve worked on outside the office as well – whatever works.


But remember, it may not be wise to show all of your cards until your hand is ready to be played on the table of internal appeals. Mind the lasting importance of first impressions. It may be to your advantage to keep aspects of an idea behind the curtain until you’re ready to withstand its potential critiques.


If the opposition you’re aiming to circumnavigate is within your personal management chain, there’s a high risk of resentment and retaliation (however the idea pans out). Be mindful of what you broadcast and who may be involved and affected by these efforts.?


Seek out assistance and support in these situations.

People often gripe about middle management. But middle management can actually be a valuable asset in coordinating these, sort-of, guerilla collaboration-efforts when it appears necessary.

If you’re in middle management, don’t underestimate the liberty you have in your role to facilitate these projects. And if your approaching someone in middle management about an idea, find a way to contextualize it in terms they’re likely to sympathize with.

We all have to take some risks in life.

Don’t let your ideas get thrown to wayside without a fair fight.

Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera. A version of this article was featured on the homepage of Medium in October 2018.

Don’t let your organization kill your next baby tiger. Learn from an example when keeping secrets at work paid off for everyone.

The Unsuspected Danger of Building Good Products

What makes a good product?

Best-in-market technology? Stellar user reviews? Right time of entry? Each of these factors indicates potential, but in truth, a product could have all three of these items going for it and still tank-it in the market. Just ask any of the 75% of venture-backed companies who fail to return their cash to investors.

So what’s happening?

Turns out, a lot of times, people are just focusing too much on quality.

The Difference Between Quality and Product-Fit

Sounds strange, right? Focusing too much on quality. But it’s true. In the early stages of building a product, more attention should actually be allocated towards the overall fit of your product within the lives of your users.

There’s an important difference between the quality of a product and product-fit. “Quality” is how well a product solves a customer issue. “Product-Fit” is a product’s ability to make the customer solve the issue, using your product. And beyond picking your product just once, Larry Page looks for it to pass the “toothbrush test” and be used twice a day.

The quality of a product is important. And quality does factor in to the overall fit of a product. But quality is not everything. Factors like price also play a significant role in the overall fit of a product vs. the other options in the market.

The original Echo was nothing to look at and lacked “skills” but sure found Product-Fit

Take the Plaxo story for example.

As a division of Comcast, the team at Plaxo was developing a product to solve the issue of Contact List disorganization. At the time I was the GM at Plaxo and working hard with the team on this shiny new product: The Plaxo Personal Assistant. It had premium, automated features. Integrated, cutting-edge database technology (Cassandra). Machine Learning. It was a beautifully-crafted product in a wide-open market. To boot, seemingly every working business professional griped and groaned about the issue of Contact List disorganization, and there we were: proudly holding the answers.

And then we went to market…

Our quality was through the roof. Demand was high, and competition was low. What better conditions could you ask for?

Product Page for Plaxo Personal Assistant (2011)

Well, there we stood. And what we got…



… was crickets.

As a product person, this hurt. Everything I had built up to this point in my career had worked. How could I expect people to trust my judgement after a huge failure like that?

Around the same time as this letdown, Eric Ries was gaining traction with his Lean Startup movement. I went to the meetups and heard Eric talking about the hundreds of other failing startups out there. He argued that ideas should be built simpler and proven faster to avoid overinvesting in them. Everything he was describing was exactly my pain at the time.

We invested two years’ worth of time and money developing a high quality product that no one would pay for. Dwelling on quality and neglecting product-fit With Lean methodologies failure still happens, but it happens faster, and allows you to move on sooner to the next idea. Failure becomes a valuable part of the process and not some ominous threat.With concepts like Minimum Viable Product we could’ve spent under six months teasing out these unknowns earlier on in the process. The fact that our price-point was too high and our entire initial business plan needed major adjustments would’ve been quickly evident.

I came away from this experience with a conviction that that overinvesting in a product’s quality, and waiting too long to shift that focus over to its overall fit within the market, is a serious pitfall. Equipped with these new methodologies, we then tried out some other ways of pivoting the business, and they, too, seemed not to fit in their markets. But we had found a way to get to this point in the process in a fraction of the time it had taken us before.

Team whiteboard at Plaxo as we explored possible pivots (2011)

At this point we had verified that there was no way to grow the business and recommended Plaxo be shut down. I expected I would part with the company but the management team at Comcast noticed the value in what we had gone through and asked me to apply what we were learning to their TV business. And so my work at Comcast Silicon Valley began.

We’re still applying the Lean methodologies today for our new product offerings and seeing success with it. Even if that success means failing quickly and getting to those products that do fit in the market and ultimately succeed in influencing the lives of our customers. Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas is still a great way to flesh out a variety of business models–I’m even using it on a project today.  And never again will I over-build large and expensive products without testing for product-fit early on.

Lean Canvas by Ash Maurya

Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera.

Too many companies get distracted by quality when building new products. Focus your efforts to quickly establish “product-fit” with the market and real influence over user’s daily life.

Billy Bean character in 2011 Moneyball (via Filmofilia)

The Dos and Don’ts of Leading Inherited Product Teams

Know Your Game Plan before Stepping into a New Locker-room

How do you Product Manage teams that know more about a product than you do?

When Product Managers inherit pre-existing products (whether it’s a change of company or an internal re-org) there are a lot of factors that need to be locked-down. Team Dynamics. Product Strategy. Performance Assessment Timelines.

Having a clear game plan in these situations can help you stay on the offensive, and not just feel you’re digging your product out of a hole. Below are some dos and don’ts I’ve picked up along the way after going through this process a number of times myself.

Game plans often need adjustments, but some truths remain constant and can be used to guide decisions as you move forward.

Do: Establish the Right KPI’s

Right as you step into a new product, figure out how the teams are measuring success.

How are we tracking performance? I’ve seen both extremes here. Teams that are drowning in data, and teams with no data at all. What’s the objective of your product? And what is the best metric to measure this objective? Getting to the right metric for your product is important.

I like Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics, “AARRR!”, as well as Jonathan Kim’s refresher of the model.

What’re your retention metrics? You’re being judged on how much you’re moving it forward – it’s your responsibility to find the best way to measure success.

Define success for your product and illustrate that you’re doing a good job. This is your best chance to setup the goal posts–because if you don’t someone else will.

Don’t: Lead Blindly

Just as you shouldn’t blindly go along with whatever KPI’s were previously in use, you also want to avoid blindly doing what you think execs want you to do. Don’t build products without actively understanding why you’re building them.

Following orders without reason is not a strategy.

Analyze the issues your product is aiming to solve and make data-driven decisions. Read more on How to Say No to Your Boss in a previous post.

Do: Focus Your Strategy

Are the teams utilizing random, or no, feature prioritization? Are there disorganized backlogs? Is there a software methodology in place?

Whatever the current picture, these items need to be established from the outset.

Consider bringing in outside perspectives. Whether it’s a design consultant, or someone who can help to shape your strategy. It helps on multiple levels to seek fresh and objective approaches to the problems the team’s been living with for months or years. While you may be thought of as the “outside” perspective it may be more effective for you to facilitate that process and have an ally.

Seek to build a strategy that’s based on the objective of the product, and centered on customer needs.

An outsider’s perspective in Moneyball really helped Billy Bean (via Filmofilia)

Don’t: Think You Have Nothing but Time

People can tend to think too long-term in these situations. Deciding they need to completely redo the app. Start all over, in a new direction. Thinking, “it may take us a year and a half but it’s going to be worth it once we get there.”

Leaders often underestimate how much time they have. They take a long term, waterfall approach to rebooting the app of the team but fail to realize they need to produce results in the short-term in order to get to make it to those further-out time-frames.

The reality is, as a leader, you’re often judged much sooner than you’d like to be.

Do: Get Early Wins

It’s important to have a long-term strategy and make investments that are going to pay-off in the long run. But it’s also important to get some smaller wins under your belt along the way. Identify ways to move the product forward between now and the three month mark. Then again at the sixth month mark.

These may seem small, but it can signal to the rest of the organization: look, things are changing. Things are getting better. We’re making improvements.

Some of those early wins that you chose to go after can be useful teaching moments for your teams, and they can also buy you time to go after the goals you’ve set further-out. In business school a good deal of focus was spent on “change management” principles like those of John Kotter’s Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail [$] in the HBR. Around that time, I posted some thoughts on large company inertia on my website as well.

Don’t: Create Toxicity

It may sound obvious, but some leaders who step into an environment with poor cross-functional relations, see an opportunity to create camaraderie around their shared, negative sentiments. It’s “Us vs. Them”. Essentially fanning the flames of dysfunction and creating toxic cross-functional dynamics.

While this may create an instant gel around you and your team, it won’t pull the cross-functional teams together. And until you’re able to unpack that and create a collaborative environment amongst the other teams you have to work with, you’ll be drudging through a negative work environment.

Do: Get In-Tune with Team Dynamics

What’s going on? Are the different functional areas collaborating with each other?

When stepping in to manage a product team a couple years ago I found that Engineering, UX Design, and Product weren’t communicating. They were all completely silo’ed, which wasn’t helping the product. This is a good example of an instance where I brought in an outside perspective who was able to reboot everything and get it humming along. I was given a different area to manage after doing well with that team and to this date they’re still a well-functioning unit.

See what other dysfunctions there may be. Who’s getting in the way? Move them out of the team, or the company – quickly.

Who’s being undervalued? Find the diamond in the rough. Can they take on more responsibility?

Don’t: Think You Have All the Answers

Between implementing all your clever frameworks and reboots, don’t forget to listen to the team members.

Leaders seem especially prone to this mistake – failing to listen to the teams – when a product is failing and they step into fix it. It’s intuitive to think the quality of a product is reflective of the teams but sometimes this just couldn’t be further from the truth. Often you’ll find the team members themselves are frustrated with the product and have a pile of ideas that nobody seems to be listening to.

So listen.

If you were a coach stepping into to work in a new organization, you’d want to understand who your star players are. Who are the people that are going to be creating problems in the locker room? Who’s really talented but has a bad attitude? In sports though, the KPI’s are straightforward.

You’re judged on your wins. In Product, wins can be much more ambiguous. Getting clarity on what type of wins you and your teams should be going after will bring a lot more focus and success to your efforts.

Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera.

Inheriting product teams can be tricky. Side-step common mistakes to get early wins and maintain success in the long run.

How to Say “No” to Your Boss

Or Worse: Your Boss’s Boss

It’s a product manager’s worst nightmare:

An Exec gets an idea from a teenager that lives next door. Imbued with optimism, the higher-up urges you and your team to drop everything and put all hands on deck. This is where we should be focusing right now.


Well, not only do you disagree with the efficacy of this proposed feature, but you’ve also seen the train wrecks these situations can cause. Teams get frustrated by being told to do something without understanding why it’s important. Execs get frustrated by a lack of production.

Your instinct is to push back.

But is there any good way to say “no” to your boss? And if there is a good way to do it, is it ever a good idea in the first place? For me, the answers are: yes, and definitely.

If you’re in a leadership role, working within a hierarchy, being able to say no to your boss can actually be an essential skill for success. If done correctly, it can make you a better leader, a more valuable employee, and a more reliable teammate.

Plus you’ll never actually have to say the word “no” to your boss.

Here’s how:

1. Stop Thinking in “Yes” and “No’s”

The first step in effectively saying “no” to your superiors – when it seems necessary – is to stop thinking in “yes” and “no’s”. This part’s really about good listening.

When a superior gives a sudden order, it’s natural to analyze the order itself. But by immediately jumping to that step, you’re missing the bigger picture. Before rushing to give this person an answer, ask them some questions about the idea they’re proposing.

Create a dialogue with them and, eventually, your team members.

2. Identify the Issue

Just as great art often comes from pain and suffering, great ideas often come from problems and difficulties. But in a business, some issues are more important than others. Find out where this idea came from. What customer issue would this feature be solving?

The issue at the root of an idea is more important than the idea itself. An idea may be interesting, but if the problem it solves isn’t that important, than the idea really isn’t as valuable as it may seem.

3. Enable Your Team Members to Weigh In

Once you’ve identified the underlying issue, go back with your team members and evaluate the problem. adult-analyzing-brainstorming-1080865

Bring in the data: Are we losing customers from this issue? Might we gain users by solving it? Are we already solving it? Might this new idea, in fact, be a better solution?

If it becomes evident that this issue is significant, take a moment to explore other viable solutions, and weigh them against the original proposition. If, on the contrary, the underlying issue is revealed to be insignificant, it’s probably best the feature not be built.

4. Sleep On It

Whether you found the underlying issue to be significant or insignificant, take a page from old wisdom and sleep on it.

Even if you manage to complete this process within the same business day, you don’t want this person to feel like they’re being brushed off. Aside from the notion that you probably owe it to this person to give their idea at least a full day or two’s worth of consideration, you never know. This part may surprise you.

You might have an idea yourself. Someone from your team may send you an overlooked piece of data they stumbled across.

I could’ve used this advice earlier in my career. There was a instance at eBay years ago that I can remember clear as day. While figuring out how to enable users to find items that accepted PayPal, an Exec suggested we have the logo pop up on every search result that featured the service (already accepted by 95% of sellers). At the time I was a very-much green UX designer and I’m thinking in my head, this guy wants to make the website look like the sidewalls on a NASCAR track. Only the problem was I wasn’t just thinking this in my head. I actually jumped out of my chair and shared my reaction. At the time I was so green I didn’t even understand that my actions were unadvisable. It just seemed so wrong I had to stand up.

drawing of eBay search results on a whiteboard illustrating a PayPal logo listed next to every item for sale.
Whiteboard drawing of proposed eBay Search Results with PayPal logo on EVERY row (2002)

I realize now that while my stance may have been justified, there was a better way to go about expressing it.

If the circumstances allow it, give yourself a chance to process the findings before presenting them.

5. Present a Data-Driven Decision

Most of all you must follow up.

Never assume that, if you’ve found the idea to be something you shouldn’t pursue, that you just leave it there. If you don’t follow up with the Exec they will naturally think you ARE pursuing the idea. And if they ask you about it later, you’ll be on your back-feet in terms of reporting on your earlier process (steps 1-4)–and will need to start over.

In the end, you can let the data speak for the decision.

Demonstrate that you’ve analyzed the issue at the root of the idea. You’ve explored viable options. And ultimately you’ve landed upon the solution that best aligns with company goals.

And if this means essentially saying no to an Executive’s idea, at least you’ve followed a judicious and egalitarian process. You’ve done what you’re paid to do.

A good executive will be able to see that.

Preston Smalley produced in collaboration with Mark Mizera

Five steps to pivot prescriptive solutions proposed by execs in a way that leads to effective outcomes for your products and teams.

Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations (SVPMA)

Given the key role Product Managers play in creating the environment for their teams… what must they do to avoid the bell curve of mediocre products that unfortunately are the norm? I shared my perspective as the guest speaker at the SVPMA (Sept 3, 2014) based on my own experiences and other authors/speakers that I trust.

Presenting @ SVPMA

I discussed specific ways to set clear goals and establish the right metrics. Dipping into my eBay days, I shared a little known story of the importance of asking for forgiveness rather than permission in driving innovation that resulted in the launch of the eBay iPhone app.

Some other takeaways from this talk include:

  • How to focus on the right, few, customer adoption metrics (e.g. AAARR). More is often not better and can distract from the main goal
  • How defining your product’s purpose often improves working relationships with designers and engineers so you aren’t left arguing about the “what” or the “how
  • How to avoid getting in the executive micromanagement web especially if they are distracted by the “flavor of the month” or “pet feature” ideas
  • How to drive stealth projects or go through quick business case or product prototyping within a big company.

I was pleased to host the event at Comcast Silicon Valley where I work.

A full review of the talk posted on the SVPMA website.

Given the key role Product Managers play in creating the environment for their teams… what must they do to avoid the bell curve of mediocre products that unfortunately are the norm? I shared my perspective as the guest speaker at the SVPMA (Sept 3, 2014) based on my own experiences and other authors/speakers that I […]

Play by your own rules

Listen to your users more than the press. Don’t get sucked into the gravity hole between you and your competition. Ruthlessly run your own path, not someone else’s. – Josh Williams

An excerpt from an insightful piece by Gowalla’s co-founder on how he let the competition and the press shape his startup’s priorities. A must read for anyone building a product.

I see it also as a classic case of letting “vanity metrics” drive decisions rather than focusing harder on rate-based metrics that might lead to the kind of breakthrus he alluded to in his piece (e.g. Instagram).

Listen to your users more than the press. Don’t get sucked into the gravity hole between you and your competition. Ruthlessly run your own path, not someone else’s. – Josh Williams An excerpt from an insightful piece by Gowalla’s co-founder on how he let the competition and the press shape his startup’s priorities. A must read for anyone building […]

Drive: Why carrots and sticks don’t work anymore.

Drive - Book CoverI just finished Daniel Pink’s Drive last night and am fired up. 

At it’s core, he shows us how extrinsic motivators popularized in the early 20th century manufacturing management of carrot and stick just don’t work anymore and in many cases actually demotivates people.

We must focus on intrinsic motivation. We do this by connecting people to a broader purpose, allowing them to set their own goals as well as how best to achieve them (autonomy), and encouraging practice and mastery of abilities. 

I recommend this book to any manager, teacher, or parent looking to kindle the motivation within those that we lead. It means bucking many seemly given best practices such as “if-then” rewards, how bonuses should be given, and your control of the process. 

I just finished Daniel Pink’s Drive last night and am fired up.  At it’s core, he shows us how extrinsic motivators popularized in the early 20th century manufacturing management of carrot and stick just don’t work anymore and in many cases actually demotivates people. We must focus on intrinsic motivation. We do this by connecting people to […]

Building Versatile Relationships

I attended the Wilson Learning workshop on Building Relationship Versatility last week, facilitated by Suzy Hillard. A key concept to the workshop is focused on understanding the people you interact with most so that you can better adapt your social style to their needs.

Social Styles Diagram

Here are the four social styles they’ve identified:

  • Analytical – thorough, focused on high quality, deliberate
  • Driver – focus on results & business, direct, clear, concise
  • Amiable – values people & team, support org over long-term
  • Expressive – enthusiastic, feeds off energy of others

The four types are based upon two axises which identify tendency to Ask vs. Tell and to focus more on the Task or on the People involved. As part of the workshop your co-workers submit a questionnaire which identifies your Social Style. By understanding yourself better and by guessing the social styles of others you work with, you can develop more effective working relationships with them.

I’ve already found it useful and would guess that if you like assessments which identify how you interact with others (e.g. Myers-Briggs, Six Styles of Leadership) then you’ll probably like this one as well.

I attended the Wilson Learning workshop on Building Relationship Versatility last week, facilitated by Suzy Hillard. A key concept to the workshop is focused on understanding the people you interact with most so that you can better adapt your social style to their needs. Here are the four social styles they’ve identified: Analytical – thorough, […]

Six Styles of Leadership

Daniel Goleman who writes on emotional intelligence, also lays out six distinct styles of leadership. Last week, Ryan Lahit of OrgLeader visited eBay to give my organization’s management team an overview of these concepts. I found this vocabulary useful in understanding and observing the styles of leadership I see in others.

Six Styles of Leadership:

  • Coercive (aka Directive) – Demands immediate compliance (telling)
  • Authoritative (aka Visionary) – Mobilizes people toward a vision (selling)
  • Affiliative – Creates harmony and builds emotional bonds (relationships)
  • Democratic – Building commitment thru participation (consensus)
  • Pacesetting – Sets high standards for performance (showing)
  • Coaching – Developing people for the future (supporting)

I think it is important to understand which style is most important given the situation as well as where the organization is in its development (more on this later).

Want to learn more?

Daniel Goleman who writes on emotional intelligence, also lays out six distinct styles of leadership. Last week, Ryan Lahit of OrgLeader visited eBay to give my organization’s management team an overview of these concepts. I found this vocabulary useful in understanding and observing the styles of leadership I see in others. Six Styles of Leadership: […]