How do you lead? Do you have all the ideas, yourself? Or, do you struggle with how to move forward, hoping ways to improve will ‘come to you?’ Worse yet, have you resigned yourself to believing that yours is a business that is uncontrollable, subject to the whims of whatever industry you’re in?
How you answer the question may suggest whether you’re really leading or simply managing. Similar questions show up frequently, either in current discussion, or in innumerable articles. It amazes me how so few ‘leaders’ seem willing to ask interested parties for their input. As a product manager, my most successful ‘ideas’ often came from directly asking the consumers of my products or services.
A few weeks back, a Product Manager started a discussion in LinkedIn. He was trying to map out a new strategy for his product line. We discussed the value of reaching out to his customers for their input. Who better to give you input on the current state of your product/service than those using it daily? Regardless of the reason the organization simply refused to ‘ask’ its customers for input. How can you keep customers happy, returning, engaged, if you do not work to understand their needs?
Customer input on the current state of your product will only lead to incremental improvements (e.g. Release 1.0, 1.1, 1.X). They’ll give you ideas on how to improve some shortcoming in today’s products. With this input, you can make decisions on how to lead your own team’s efforts forward.
To make significant strides forward (e.g. Release 2.0, 3.0, X.0) you need to look beyond your customer. While your customer can help give you incremental guidance, it is up to you (and your organization) to provide them leadership. Whether you’re a captive business unit (internal customer) or deliver value to external customers, they look to you to figure things out. Customers are not normally able to tell you what they need (beyond what they have) so you need to take the risk and figure it out for them.
Moving your business forward, determining the direction your products or services take, requires you provide leadership. Alan Keith of Genentech is credited with describing leadership, “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leader)
Sometimes you need to be humble enough, to simply talk with people. Ask for their thoughts. You’ll be surprised at what they can provide.