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I thought I was Superman. Big S on the chest. Leap tall buildings, faster than bullets; a man of steel. I’m not. Fallible and I make mistakes; too many small ones to remember and too few big ones to fly off course. Do you want to be the best leader that you can be? Are you ready to do ALL the work it requires?

On the set of a movie or television program, the director is responsible for everyone–or so I’m told. They are expected to know where everyone is supposed to be and what they are supposed to say and do. The director has to know it all, but they only get a by-line and some royalties if the production does well. The stars get all the glory and the rewards for the good directing. There are very few directors that carry a bigger name than the stars that they have made in their movies or television programs. When was the last time you saw a movie or program that was marketed “From the Director blah, blah, blah”? Never happens. Not good movies. They are focused on the stars and you should be too.

Sure, there are the Steven Spielberg’s and George Lucas’ of the cinematic world. Who directed the cast of the show Friends? How about Seinfeld? You might be surprised how many different people directed the cast of Friends and Seinfeld. Either way, it was probably a difficult job, and these shows both had long runs because of how well they were done. You can be a great director too and work with great people to make them shine. The glow from a great team is just what every product leaders needs to rise to the top of their trade.

On a Mission Here

I make a great business director/executive. Bold statement, I know, right? I do (pumped out chest). Ask anyone that has worked with me. I’m going to get in trouble with this post because it is not the typical me. I’m the quiet “leads by example” type that gets the job done like fictional character Jackie Moon from the movie Semi-Pro (most of the time) as a player, coach, and general manager. I’m tooting my horn for a minute because there are not real platforms that provided a candid view of co-workers and the professionals that lead us. I have reviews, emails, comments, and conversations that have all been fuel during my career. I simply got tired of working around those that don’t lead well. Is that you? I know that I have had times that I have failed at it too. The key is daily evaluation and improvement. You have to take a moon shot to land among the stars, right?

I share here because I’m simply tired of working around those that don’t lead well and need a little guidance. Is that you? I know that I have had times that I have failed at it too. The key is a growth mindset, daily evaluation, and real incremental improvement that is disguised as hard work. You have to take a moon shot to land among the stars, right?

Our mastery blog is used to educate and improve our product leader community at large. We are not always going to say or do things with kid-gloves on. Sometimes you need your bell rung in order to get clarity. I’m going through that period right now. So, if too much of what I write resonates with you on how you’re leading incorrectly and working day-by-day, then CUT. IT. OUT.

Moving Forward

I’m going to help you be better than that and have a team that loves and respects you. It will take effort. You can’t delegate it. If you look for the shortcut, the easy path, or whatever you want to call it, please stop reading now because you are not in our tribe. I’m serious; you’re not. You’re in the wrong place, and the tribe has spoken. This is just going to make you angry. Take the shortcut again and read something else because we are going to work for marketing, design, and product professionals that want to get better and do the work.

Okay, “Fortune favors the bold!” Thanks for reading on. When you hire someone to lead your organization, they should have a vision and be able to outline the steps that it takes to make the vision a reality. I do that well. In fact, I do that better than most of the directors and executives that I have worked with in my +20-year career. Too many of them are busy trying to manage the inputs of the job they have been hired to do because they don’t understand how to get the work done.

Jason Fried from Basecamp fame has synthesized all the best practices around managing a remote organization in Remote: Office Not Required. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter. Gold. The man consistently produces beautiful insights and resources that are counter to some in Silicon Valley and fixed mindset leaders struggle with daily. Have you read about any large organizations that are centralizing their workforce lately? Idiots. Manage the work and let you people be makers of value. Why is this SO hard for some?

You’re Failing to Give Direction

What do I mean? Narrowly banded managers (not makers) are more concerned with when you get to work or when you can get something done, then understanding the effort that it takes. We should be able to give the expectation of when it should be completed and holding someone to that time frame when we ask for it. When you miss a deadline because what you are working on is hard, poor leaders have no idea how to guide you—they simply want to correct it through some bully management rhetoric and take your focus off of the work. Are you managing the inputs or being managed by someone that is doing that? If so, they are likely a bad boss who has no clue on how to give direction. They likely suffer from a fixed mindset too according to Carol Dwek’s book on the new psychology of success.

You might be a nice guy or girl, but deep down the team does not like working for you because you will not help them get to the next level or learn anything in the process. Bad direction. If you are a director and your team is not getting promoted out of your group because of the great work that the team is doing, you have failed at your job as a director. Good directors get people that want to grow up to the next rung in their career. They get people that don’t want to grow to grow and people that stop growing to go. Yes, getting bad people to leave is good for everyone.

If your team has had the same group for more than two years, this is where you evaluate what you are doing as a director and look for steps to improve them. You should have been doing this from day one with your vision and plan, but plant that tree today if you have not or it will never grow. Who is ready to move up? Who should move on? Some organizations outgrow an individual and it is okay to push the baby bird out of the nest. I’ve outgrown roles. You don’t have to be a jerk about it like most poor managers and directors do when it is more than likely a cultural fit issue (not work performance) or the classic poor leader tactic of firing people from their team to deflect their poor leadership. It.Happens. Daily. Stop it!

You’re reading this, so you must want to improve. Here are some practical steps to practice to take corrective action.

Step 1: Take Direction

When was the last time that you learned anything on the job that was not at someone else’s direction—like HR or your boss? I’m talking about self-directed learning; the act of being proactive with your own career. Good leadership starts with action–not rhetoric.

If you said “not recently,” I’m guessing that you don’t want to learn the work your team is doing, but the learning days for you are not over. I’m not sure if you forgot how, but it is never too late to get back on the bus. Surely you are not so far removed from those entry-level positions in your field of work that you have forgotten what it takes to get the job done on a daily basis, right? No, that is not you.

Yes, some people are just better at managing relationships to get them in a role, then being able to do the role competently. It is a sad fact of life. Unfortunately, the Peter Principle has been alive and well in a couple of the organizations that I have dedicated my time to recently. Not familiar with the Peter Principle? Use the link, but the gist of it is that we rise to our level of incompetence in the business—we can’t do the work that we have been hired to do. I think Peter observed a few too many people while developing this management theory that earned a corner office and set the cruise control on their career when they moved in.

You can’t do that. The learning never stops; it is a daily event. If you are not learning, then you are failing. It does not have to be regimented, complex or strictly academic. Learning is about discovery and practice. If you can uncover something in your work-life and put it into practice, you have learned something. If you have the ability to do that with another, or for someone else, that’s even better.

Step 2: Find a Program That Works or Create One

I have always sought after the wisdom of others. Early in my career, I would pine away for a mentor or a coach. After all, we all “stand on the shoulders of giants” (attributed to Sir Isaac Newton’s quote “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”) Several of the big organizations that I have worked for in my career had mentor programs or executive development programs that I was lucky enough to participate in. The sad thing is that all of them fell short of adding any real value. They all sucked, to put it bluntly in my opinion. Maybe other individuals got a better experience out of them, but they failed to provide any real value for me or those I worked with at these companies. (I hear the pitchforks and screaming howls of HR executives outside–fear not, read on)

Here is what I see as the issue. Most of these career development programs simply established a program to get us to do side projects on our own time that pulled our focus away from the work at hand. I had to learn to manage the VP’s expectations in order to participate. The same person that nominated me for the program also questioned my involvement because he needed my attention for 60 hours a week already. I always wondered if that was the test. Did they want me to turn it down? If I was going to dedicate an extra 10-20 hours week, he wanted that time too, because they managed the inputs and had no idea how to manage my output. It ends up being a nice line for the resume, but more than likely it is a distraction if not addressed. Also, I’ve not had any offers of employment because I was in a mentor program.

Mentors need to be close enough that they can answer a question that you have directly or indirectly, but far enough away that they and/or you don’t feel like it is another “job”. That is when you will have a successful program. I really got this idea from a conversation that Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferris had at the conclusion of Ryan’s book The Obstacle is the Way. You will need to listen to the Audible version of the book (Get a free book when you sign-up) in order to hear their conversation.

So, if you don’t have access to a development program or you are less than thrilled with the one available–take action. Be that corporate superhero that dives into action and helps develop a program that builds time into the schedule to improve the participants and offers real, actionable opportunities to improve leaders who understand output–not just inputs. Don’t be the passive feedback provider that gives negative feedback (or no feedback–the silence is not golden) and no solutions for change because these programs can work wonders for improving and creating leaders when well executed.

Step 3: Leadership from Mentors and Coaches

I’m still waiting for that “mentor moment” in my life. What exactly is it? For me at least, I’ve always dreamed that someone would recognize my talent and want to offer sage advice to me. It has been 20-years, and I am still waiting for that mentor to come into my life and teach this “grasshopper” all their tricks. If this describes you too, wake up? Like me, you have been romanticized by Hollywood because that Sage is not coming. It is a myth as old as time used to tell stories (see Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With 1,000 Faces or something a little more digestible like The Hero’s 2 Journeys).

I’m a good listener. I take action. It is probably why I love watching the original Cars movie with my kids. The “hot shot rookie” racer finds out that his reckless actions put him in the wrong place at the right time in the hero’s journey. He soon develops a relationship with the sage Doc Hudson who once raced as the Hudson Hornet, and won 3 Piston Cups. Doc teaches him a lot about what it means to be a winner. Until my Doc Hudson and I find each other in my Radiator Springs, I will instead pass along the knowledge that I have received and hoped that it helps others race to success.

I’ve not a had direct mentor relationship, but I have had a lot of good coaches. This might be your situation too…especially if it is paid and not in your present budget. Everyone needs a coach to help us see the areas that we can’t. We have blind spots. We are in the game and too close to the action. A coach has a sideline view to the field of play and can make the necessary adjustments or give directions to make sure the team knows what is going on. Even professional athletes at the highest levels of their sports have a coach. LeBron James and the now Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot of great players on their team, but even LeBron needs a coach to help with perspective on his play and that of the competition.

Your greatest mentors and coaches might already be in your life, directly or indirectly. The quote from Jim Rohn that says “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” is true. Who are your 5? If you don’t like your chances with those 5, it is time to bring some new people into your life that can help you. Also, if you have the resources, a paid coach is the quickest way to find one. I offer coaching services for product leaders–but I only do so when it is a good match for both our time. I created the PMrounds mastermind for product leaders because I saw a need for myself and others I had worked around in product marketing, design, and management. If that sounds interesting, email brian@pmrounds.com.

Take Direction, Give Direction to Better Leadership

You might have noticed a lot of links in the blog today. I’m a voracious reader like Bill Gates and the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, as well as listen to podcasts and Audible books daily. I listen to over 400 podcasts a year and read or listen to 40 books. I’m not shamelessly plugging Amazon links in the blog to pad my coffers (these pockets are empty), but anything that is purchased goes right back into the community. I will be putting together a bigger list of my own favorite online resources which will be available soon.

Are you still reading, my island castaway who doesn’t wish to learn and grow daily? Fear not, for we have some great free resources on the site that will help you. Also, I respond to emails and will on occasion have a call or webinar that covers a topic that might help you out. The only way to stay connected is to get signed up for our newsletter and stay connected to the tribe. If you have made it this far, I like your spunk, passion for learning and look forward to growing with you in our community.

You know what to do now–Take Direction, Give Direction.

Thanks for your time!

Brian Stout

Chief Direction Officer

You can find me here on LinkedIn or at our blog www.pmrounds.com/blog where we tackle the issues facing product leadership professionals. We are peer group for product professionals.

Better Than Today

I created a program for my teams back in 2008. It is about encouraging the practice to Be One Better. In sports, the difference between winning and losing can be as small as a fraction of a second, a stroke, a goal or shot. It only takes One. I built the Better Than Today program for our group. If that sounds like something that could help you or your team, contact me and I get you a summary of the program. The Better Than Today program is no longer available for purchase, but you can have it if you send me a request through the PMrounds peer group contact form or shoot me an email at brian@pmrounds.com.