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The post title comes from a connection on LinkedIn … an author who enjoys teaching others about the differences between management and leadership … one of many inputs I value on my own leadership journey. So what does the question posed in the image have to do with leadership?

Over the years, I’ve had many posts centering on the topic of purpose.  Taking some of those thoughts to heart, I would argue the question has everything to do with the role we serve as Product Management leaders.

81396be8-443d-4320-9875-410e6af34fdd-originalMany years ago I attended a Leadership Summit where the concept of thriving was described as the intersection between your passion, your skills, and your point of purpose/impact. The intersection can be found by answering these questions:

  1. What makes you come alive (Passion)
  2. What are your innate strengths (Skills)
  3. Where do you add the greatest value (Not just what are you good at, but what do you enjoy)
  4. How will you measure your life (Values)

In other words, why do you do what you do? Do you feel a sense of passion & purpose in your role?  Are you thriving?  Or simply surviving?

“He who has a why can endure any how.’ Knowing your why is an important first step in figuring out how to achieve the goals that excite you and create a life you enjoy living (versus merely surviving!).” German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche

Sometimes you can only gain an appreciation for this in hindsight.  For example, I know my role and purpose in Product Management centers on the value software brings to the equation.  I love being a student of the disruptive nature of newer digital technologies and what it means in the context of what I do.  But I only gained this understanding by experiencing what it meant to work for a hardware company (NCR).   I am a big Jason Mraz fan (my daughter even jokes I have a man crush), and in his song 93 Million Miles he illustrates this point:

Son sometimes it may seem dark
But the absence of the light is a necessary part

I only appreciate the light because I have experienced the dark. Let me state upfront my intention is not to disparage NCR with these comments, I am only using this as an example to illustrate my point.  I joined NCR in 2010 because of the opportunity presenting itself.  A hardware company trying to become more software oriented.  Factor in my expertise in the specific area they were focusing on and it felt like a good fit.  It wasn’t.  I was a square peg, the role was a round hole. Despite what they said at the time, and by the way I have seen a more recent article with a similar stance, what I experienced was a culture/nature that was hardware to the core … an environment where my ability to lead was greatly diminished, and I was merely surviving.

So, back to the lead in for this post … the bird chooses the tree, the tree does not choose the bird.  Making sure the culture of the company is one you can thrive in is an important part of the process.  Does their nature, what they stand for, and how they go about doing things align with your purpose, your skills, and your values?  If not, despite how lucrative the tree might seem, choose another one.

Steve Johnson is another source I rely on when it comes to all things Product Management, and I thought his response to a Quora question on this topic was spot on – Why are you interested in working for a company?

My interest in a specific company is a combination of the challenge of the job I’m being hired to perform and the company’s vision for its future.

I’ve read that roughly 50% of Americans don’t like what they do. Isn’t that sad! In my past, I’ve had “jobs” that I wasn’t particularly passionate about. But, to paraphrase Simon Sinek, I’m interested in WHY the company exists. What is their purpose? And how I can help them achieve it.