Book Notes: The New Extraordinary Leader

The New Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders by John H. Zenger and Joseph R. Folkman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a few points the book makes – crucially that leadership can be developed and is not a fixed quantity. Leaders can have a huge impact and yet organisations provide very low levels of support and development especially early on in peoples careers. They describe the skills as a tent with 5 pillars, developing any one increases the value of the others.

  • Personal Character – principled, honest, trusting, credibility
  • Personal Capability
    • Technical/professional acumen – technical and product understanding plus being able to communicate is concisely.
    • Problem-analysis and problem-solving skills – define, analyse and recommendation for resolution
    • Innovation – ability to have a fresh outlook to problems
    • Learning agility – willingness to act on personal feedback
  • Focus on Results
    • Results driven – Setting deadlines, reinforcing the importance of hitting targets and holding others accountable
    • Stretch goals – ability to set and have accepted stretch goals
    • Initiative – sponsor initiatives or actions to push things forward
    • Making decisions – make decisions and more forward in the face of ambiguity
    • Risk taking – a willingness to take acceptable risks
  • Interpersonal Skills
    • Communicating powerfully and prolifically – communicate in an efficient and interesting way
    • Inspiring other to high performance – installing inspiration and motivation.
    • Building positive relationships – strong and positive relationships with others
    • Developing others – increasing team effectiveness and productivity and engagement
    • Collaboration and teamwork – naturally people horde and compete but collaboration and teamwork is key
    • Valuing diversity – building engagement and valuing everyone’s input
  • Leading Change
    • Develops strategic perspective – understanding distinctive advantages
    • Champions change – helping teams navigate change as opposed to resisting
    • Has customer and external focus – staying close to the customer and understanding their current and future needs

Character is key – grow it by focusing on your behaviours this will change your attitudes and improve your character.

Your niche is the combination of your competencies, passion and the organisations need.

Organisational cultures:

  • Genteel – focus on kid and consideration
  • Candor – strong feedback culture
  • Learning – innovation and self development
  • High-integrity – doing the right thing, being honest and ethical
  • Fair – strong desire to treat people fairly
  • Political – political and connections are the most critical factors
  • Bureaucratic – many norms to uphold, great adherence to processes and procedures
  • Clan/Club – nurturing and mentoring people
  • Lofty – people held to a high standard
  • Fun/Celebration – high priority on making work fun
  • Technology – technical expertise are highly regarded
  • Execution – a drive forward to achieve results on time and budget
  • Error-Avoidance – excellence, quality and conformity with errors being punished
  • Customer – a focus on satisfying the customers needs and responding to their requests
  • Commendation – individual efforts are rewarded
  • Adhocracy – fast and first with entrepreneurial spirit
  • Sales – everything revolves around sales and bussiness development
  • Process – efficiency through slavishly defining and following work processes
  • Virtual – people contribute to the same goal but work independently
  • Start-up – fast growing, ill-defined, high energy and excitement

Don’t start with your worst characteristic unless it is a fatal flaw – else focus on your strengths.

The fatal flaws:

  • Not inspiring due to a lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Accepting mediocre performance in place of excellent results
  • Lack of clear vision and direction
  • Loss of trust stemming from perceived bad judgement and poor decisions
  • Not collaborative or a team player
  • Not a good role model (failure to walk the talk)
  • No self-development and learning from mistakes
  • Lacking interpersonal skills
    • Sins of commission – abrasive, insensitive…
    • Sins of omission – look people in the eye, learn names, listen, laugh, prise, smile…
  • Resistant to new ideas, thus did not lead change or innovate
  • Focus is on self, not the development of others

Book Notes: Good Strategy Bad Strategy

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard P. Rumelt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A strategy is a pathway to substantially higher performance.

  • The first advantage of a good strategy is that others fail to have a strategy
  • Good strategy tends to come from insight into an organisations strengths and weakness
  • Bad strategy
    • Fluff – the illusion of thinking. True expertise and insight is making a complex subject understandable.
    • Failure to face the challenge – you need to identify the challenge or opportunities, analyse obstacles/bottlenecks to overcoming this then formulate a plan to overcome them. Good strategies are not quick – e.g. “improve underperformance” is not a challenge – underperformance is an outcome, the true challenge is the reason for the under performance. Good strategy is choosing which challenges are both worthy of pursuing and capable of being accomplished – if you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.
    • Mistaking goals for strategy – many strategies are a statement of desires rather than a series of actions or policies to overcome obstacles. Business is not simply a battle of strength and will, but also competition on insight and competencies.
    • Bad strategic objectives (subgoals) – effective senior leaders don’t choose arbitrary goals, they critically decide which goals are worthy of pursuing. Goals being overall desires and objectives being specific operational targets.
  • The kernel of good strategy
    • A diagnostic of the challenge – taking the complexity of the situation and identifying the critical aspects. Understanding “What’s going on here?”. Growth is not a strategy – growth by itself does not create value, growth is the outcome of growing demand for special, expanded or extended capabilities, the outcome of superior products or skills, reward for successful innovation, cleverness, efficiency and creativity.
    • A guiding policy – how to cope with or overcome the diagnosed challenge, using the specific sources of power:
      • Leverage
        • Anticipation – others expected behaviors, especially rivals – this is not some “high, medium, low” forecast but understanding what others would do in these situations e.g. if the price is high then others will try to enter the market
        • Pivot points – a natural or created imbalance e.g. pent up demand or competence in one field which can be applied to another
        • Concentration – rising from constraints and threshold effects e.g. the constraint on advertising budget and the threshold effect of TV advertising meaning that a small amount continuously is much less valuable than a lot in a short time.
      • Proximate objectives – a target that the organisation can reasonably hit. This resolves ambiguity, where the situation is volatile the objective must be more proximate to achieve it.
      • Chain-link systems – strengthening any link but the weakest will not strengthen the chain as a whole
      • Using design
        • Premeditation – a plan in advance, “winging it” is not a strategy
        • Anticipation – a judgement of others thoughts and behaviours
        • Design of Coordinated action – a strategy is designed with capabilities, not just making a decision. This design should provide powers derived from interacting and overlapping effects focused against a target.
      • Competitive advantage –
        • If you can produce at a lower cost than competitors or deliver more perceived value (or a mix of the two).
        • Subtlety arrives because costs vary with product and application, buyers differ in their locations, knowledge, tastes, and other characteristics – so an advantage only goes so far.
        • It must be hard for others to replicate to stay isolated.
        • Competitive advantage does not mean financial gain. An interesting advantage is one where you can increase its value on your own.
          • deepening the advantages – increase value to buyers or reduce cost (or both)
          • broadening the extent of advantages – taking the advantage to new fields
          • creating higher demand for advantaged products or services – either though more buyers or more demand from each buyer
          • strengthening the isolating mechanisms that block easy replication and imitation by competitors
      • Changes in the environment
        • Rising fixed costs – might cause the industry to consolidate
        • Deregulation – incumbents find it hard to adapt to the new world
        • Predictable bias – people tend to think there is infinite growth, but there is a peak and this is important to identify
        • Incumbent response – they are resistant and slow to change because of inertia and entropy.
          • Inertia of routine, culture and proxy (as in their current customers what what you currently sell so there is no desire to cannibalise yourself)
          • Entropy (gradual decline into disorder) e.g. product line bloat, keeping unprofitable stores etc
        • Attractor states – what is the direction of the market, you might not like it but resisting will be worse
    • A set of coherent actions – steps which together will accomplish the guiding policy

Book Notes: Product Management in Practice

Product Management in Practice by Matt Lemay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The practice of product management

  • Don’t become upset if your day-to-day work is not visionary and important-seeming, so long as it is contributing to the goals of your team.
  • Find ways to align, motivate, and inspire your team that do not require formal organisational authority.
  • Be proactive about seeking out ways that you can help contribute to the success of your product and your team.
  • Be a connector between teams and roles.
  • Get out ahead of potential miscommunications and misalignments, no matter how inconsequential they might seem in the moment.
  • Don’t get too hung up on the “typical profile” of a successful product manager. Successful product managers can come from anywhere.
  • Don’t let insecurity turn you into the caricature of a bad product manager! Resist the urge to defensively show off your knowledge or skills.

The core connective skills of product management

  • Embrace the uniqueness of the product manager role.
  • Pursue clarity over comfort to build your communication skills.
  • Seek out opportunities to solve organisational problems on the systemic level rather than the individual level. If the rules aren’t working, change them, don’t break them.
  • Don’t let the day-to-day organisational conflicts of your work pull you out of your user’s reality. Remember that what your company cares about and what your users care about are different things, and be a relentless advocate for the latter.
  • Remember that there is no work beneath you, and no work above you. Be willing to do whatever it takes to help your team and your organisation succeed.
  • Even if you don’t self-identify as a “technical” person, avoid saying things like “I’m not a technical person, so I could never understand that!” Trust in your own ability to learn and grow.

Showing up curious

  • Reach to people before you need them and say, “I’m curious to learn more about the work that you do.”
  • Be just as vigilant about getting to know people outside of your immediate team, and take the time to understand their goals and motivations before you need something from them.
  • Cultivate a “growth mindset” and open yourself up to learning from people whose skills and knowledge exceed your own.
  • Resist the urge to avoid situations that test the limits of your abilities or knowledge.
  • Embrace “the gift of being wrong” by choosing the plan that best meets your organization’s goals, even if it is not your plan.
  • Shake up the work that people are doing and cross-pollinate knowledge and skills to keep your team curious and actively learning.
  • Model the value of curiosity for your team and organisation.
  • Avoid saying “I’m too busy to deal with that right now” and other things that might implicitly discourage your team from asking open and curious questions that don’t have an immediate transactional value.
  • Encourage your colleagues to learn from one another, and pair up folks who want to learn about one another’s skills.
  • Organise “demo days” and other opportunities for product teams to share and discuss their work with the organization at large.

The worst thing about “Best Practices”

  • Approach best practices as a place to start, not a prescriptive one-size-fits-all solution.
  • Ask yourself how a particular best practice might help your team deliver user value, instead of just how it will change the way you work.
  • If you’re curious about how a particular company approaches product management, try to find some people who have actually worked there and ask them.
  • When you are bringing a best practice from one organization into another organisation, acknowledge and appreciate that every organization is different.
  • Take the time to truly understand the goals and needs of your organization before rushing to implement any specific practices.
  • Use a “slow and steady” approach to implementing best practices, so that you can test and measure the impact of every incremental change.
  • Avoid the temptation to solve the problems that seem the most familiar to you, as opposed to the problems that are having the most impact on your users.
  • Utilise the “organisational halo” effect of best practices to get buy-in toward trying new things, but be prepared to continuously adjust course based on what is working and what is not working.

The art of egregious overcommunication

  • Err on the side of overcommunication. When you aren’t sure whether something is worth mentioning, mention it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask “the obvious.” In fact, the more obvious something seems, the more insistent you should be about making sure everybody is in fact on the same page.
  • Create a document like “Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager” that clearly lays out the behavioral expectations for product managers in your organisation.
  • Avoid the temptation of being a “meeting-hater.” Don’t apologise when you’re asking for somebody, but make sure that their time is well spent.
  • Ask your teammates about the most valuable and well-run meetings they’ve ever attended, and work with them to set a clear vision for what a “good” meeting should look like in your organisation.
  • Make sure that people are given a chance to voice their opinions in meetings by using “disagree and commit” or any other approach that achieves similar goals within your organisation.
    • The goal of a meeting should not be to get consensus, but rather to get commitment
    • Encourage people to share dissenting and complicating information that might prove critical in deciding upon a path forward.
    • Avoid consensus-driven compromise solutions that placate meeting participants but fail to meet underlying goals.
    • Force a clear decision, and create shared accountability around that decision.
    • Allow participants to pick their battles by committing quickly to low-stakes decisions that are often prone to disagreement (i.e., “What’s for lunch?”)
    • Interpret silence as disagreement, ask for affirmative commitment
    • Don’t completely misinterpret the entire point of this and say, “Well, it doesn’t matter if you agree because we’re doing disagree and commit!
  • Create and protect space for informal communication in your organisation, like team lunches and coffee breaks.
  • Acknowledge that distributed and remote work is simply not the same thing as colocated work, and cannot be transformed into an exact proxy for colocated work through tools and technologies.
  • Remember that people have different communication styles. Don’t write somebody off as a “bad communicator” or assume that they have bad intentions if they are not as open and extensive a communicator as you are.
  • Avoid starting sentences with phrases like “It would be great if…” or “Do you think it might be possible to…” that deflect responsibility. If you are asking for something, ask for it—and be clear about why you are asking for it.
  • Level up tactical conversations about things like design choices or development timelines to strategic conversations about goals and user needs.

Working with senior stakeholders

  • When working with senior stakeholders, don’t set out to “win.” Help empower them to make great decisions, and demonstrate that you can be a valuable and supportive thought partner.
  • Push upward for clarity around company strategy and vision, no matter how challenging it is. In the absence of this clarity, you cannot succeed.
  • Don’t try to “protect” your team from senior stakeholders by talking about how ignorant, arrogant, or out of touch these senior stakeholders are. Instead, bring your concerns directly to these senior stakeholders and help walk them through making the trade-offs that will best serve your company’s overall goals.
  • Never surprise a senior stakeholder with a big idea in an important meeting. Socialise ideas slowly and deliberately in one-on-one meetings.
  • Don’t let company politics drown out the needs of your user. Let user needs guide your decision-making, and bring the user’s perspective to life in meetings with senior leaders.
  • Make sure that business goals and user needs are not seen as at odds with each other, but are instead aligned with each other, both for specific product initiatives and within the organization’s overall vision and strategy.
  • When senior stakeholders ask you questions like, “Can this be done by Tuesday?” take their questions at face value. Let them participate in making tactical trade-offs, rather than rushing to make yourself the Product Martyr.
  • When confronted with a swoop-and-poop, don’t try to litigate the details of past conversations. Look for opportunities to diagnose and address the underlying issues so that that the swooper/pooper does not feel out of the loop moving forward.
  • If a senior stakeholder suddenly wants your team to work on something different, find out why. There might have been an important high-level conversation of which you were not aware.

Talking to users

  • Talk to your users!
  • Accept and acknowledge that talking to users is a real skill that takes time to develop.
  • Remember that talking to users and working with stakeholders are different things, and require different approaches.
  • Don’t try to impress users with your knowledge or expertise. Create as much space as you can for them to explain their reality to you, even if it feels like “playing dumb.”
  • If there are user researchers in your organisation, reach out to them and ask for their help walking you through the tools and approaches that they use.
  • When talking to users about their experiences, ask about specific instances rather than broad generalisations.
  • Don’t ask users to do your job for you! Do everything you can to understand their needs, and then think about the specific products and features that might best address those needs.
  • Use “leveling up” questions and prompts to get to core goals and motivations without an accusatory “why.”
  • Let your users lead you to what they think is important, rather than making that assumption for them with lots of detailed “zooming in” questions.


  • Recognise that a data-driven approach still means that you will have to set priorities and make decisions.
  • Avoid using the word data to generalise specific information. Say what that information is and how it was gathered.
  • Rather than hiding or erasing the assumptions that go into working with data, document those assumptions so that you and your team can address them together.
  • Have a clear and strong point of view about what metrics matter and why.
  • As a thought exercise, ask yourself to decide on the “One Metric That Matters.” If you’re having trouble focusing in, go back to your high-level goals and see if you can make them more specific and actionable.
  • Think through how you will measure a product’s success before you launch it, to avoid having to go back and add instrumentation after a product is already released.
  • Be just as curious and active about understanding metrics moving “the right way” as you are about metrics moving “the wrong way.”
  • Rather than being accountable for a number hitting a target, seek to be accountable for knowing why that number is moving toward or away from that target and having a plan for addressing whatever underlying issues are within your control.
  • Resist the siren call of scores and numbers that purport to tell you “everything that you need to know” about anything. Take the time to understand how these quantitative proxies are developed, and do the work of figuring out what specific questions they can and cannot answer based on your goals and priorities.
  • No matter how complex the data systems you’re working with, resist the pull of jargon. Keep conversations about technical decisions rooted in high-level goals that can be understood by everyone in the organization to make as much room as possible for collaboration.

Realistic roadmaps and painless prioritisation

  • Give up on being the person who “owns” the roadmap. Instead, look to facilitate the way that your entire organisation uses roadmaps.
  • Don’t make assumptions about how your organisation uses roadmaps. Ask lots of questions, and create a clear and well-documented understanding of how roadmaps are to be used within your organisation.
  • Open up the roadmap. It should be a conversation starter and a tool for alignment, not something to be closely guarded and manipulated under cover of darkness.
  • Give your colleagues the opportunity to suggest ideas for the product roadmap, but don’t let it turn into a free-for-all.
    • Product idea
    • Suggested by
    • Which of our users (current or prospective) this is for
    • How this idea will improve their experience
    • How this idea will help our business
    • How we will measure success
  • Advocate just as fiercely for ideas that are not your own, if not more so. Don’t get hung up on wanting to be the “idea person.”
  • Don’t spend so long on product specifications that you close off avenues for true collaboration.
  • If you are using a formal practice for writing product and feature specifications such as “user stories,” remember that a formally correct spec is not necessarily a good spec.
  • Make sure that everything on your roadmap is tied back to a “why” so that if that “why” changes, you can adjust the roadmap accordingly.
  • Be prepared for short-term prioritisation to be much more challenging than creating a long-term roadmap.
  • Dealing with emergencies
    • What is the issue?
    • Who reported this issue?
    • How many users is it affecting?
    • Is there revenue directly tied to this issue?
    • If so, how much?
    • What would happen if this issue were not addressed in the next two weeks?
    • What would happen if this issue were not addressed in the next six months?
    • Who is the contact person for further discussing/resolving this issue?
  • Do everything in your power to make sure that the goals against which you are prioritising are clear, well understood and actionable.
  • If you can, take your goals for a “test drive” with the senior leaders who are setting the company vision and strategy. See if the goals can serve as a stand-in for their vision, and change your goals if they aren’t giving you the guidance you need.
  • If your team is excited to build something new and shiny, don’t reflexively shoot it down for “not meeting our goals.” Find out why your team is so excited, and see what you can do to direct that excitement toward whatever solution will deliver the most value to your users and your business.
  • Remember that learning, testing, and experimenting is still valuable work, and should be treated as such. Prioritise tasks like creating prototypes and researching implementation approaches alongside the work of actually building your product.


  • Avoid ambiguous and misleading jargon around Agile—say exactly what you intend to do and why you intend to do it.
  • Understand the core values and principles of Agile before evaluating any specific practices or frameworks. If you just start implementing process without purpose, then you have no way to evaluate whether the process is working or not.
  • Socialise a North Star vision around Agile values and principles, so that everybody on your team knows why they are “doing Agile” in the first place.
  • Start with an off-the-shelf Agile methodology so that you have an impartial “referee” to resolve any specific questions about whether you’re “doing it right”—and then be fearless about changing that methodology if it is not helping you reach your North Star vision.
  • Create and protect time for your team to evaluate Agile practices against the goals you’ve set. Document process changes along with their intended goals, so that there is clarity around what people are doing and why.
  • Don’t let the operational details of doing Agile distract you from higher-level organisational goals. Remember that if you are executing against a product roadmap that delivers no value to your users or your business, it doesn’t matter how Agile your execution is—your product is still going to fail.
  • Don’t let user-centric Agile rituals serve as a stand-in for actually talking to your users.
  • Communicate the goals and rhythms of your Agile practices to people outside of your immediate team, so that they know what to expect and how to work with you.
  • Understand that “no process” is still a process, and take the time to really understand how your organization is currently building products.
  • If you feel that your organization is becoming too zealous about Agile, feel free to print out a whole bunch of blog posts by people who actually wrote the Agile Manifesto, describing how Agile zealotry and ornamentation have derailed the movement they started.

Day to day

  • Be wary of your organisation and team falling into autopilot. Actively bring new ideas and challenging perspectives to your team at all times.
  • Use time-boxed prototypes to explore alternate product directions, even when there is no immediate or obvious pressure to change course.
  • Remember that a good product organisation is not one free of conflict, but rather one in which conflict is handled openly and without personal attacks.
  • Try to bring the energy and enthusiasm from your best and most exciting moments as a product manager to every day of your work.
  • If you begin to feel like you are the only person keeping your team or your organisation from falling apart, take a step back. Make a list of the things you can’t control, delegate impactful work to your colleagues, and make sure you are protecting your team’s most valued routines and rituals.
  • Understand that the connectedness of your role carries great responsibility, but also great opportunity. Do everything in your power to protect and embody the very best things about your team and your organisation.

Book Notes: The Advantage

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The three biases:

  1. Sophistication – people think that solutions need to be complex, but in reality the solution is simple
  2. Adrenaline – people like to rush, instead you need to slow down and deal with important but not urgent issues
  3. Qualification – overly analytical leaders feel they need to quantify everything, where as the reality is that success is the compound of many small things multiplied up

Smart and Healthy

Good at:
and technology
Minimal policies,
low confusion,
high moral,
strong productivity
and low turn over amongst good employees

Being smart is permission to play, a healthy organisation will get smarter over time.

The four disciplines:

  1. Building a cohesive leadership team – the people at the top are not behaving cohesively in the five fundamental ways
  2. Create clarity – leaders must be intellectually aligned and committed to the same six critical questions
  3. Overcommunicate clarity – communicate clearly, repeatedly, enthusiastically and repeatedly
  4. Reinforce clarity – every policy, program, activity etc should be designed to reinforce what is important

Building a cohesive leadership team

  • A small group of people, over 8 is problematic and never over 12.
    • Larger groups advocate for their own case
    • Advocating is common but dangerous
    • Inquiring is rarer and more important
  • A team has collective responsibility – selflessness and shared sacrifices
  • Common Objectives – most measures should be collective
  • Behaviours
    • Building vulnerability-based trust – being completely comfortable being transparent, honest and naked with one another. Happy to say “I screwed up”, “I need help”, “your idea is better than mine”
    • Mastering conflict – when there is trust conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best answer. Conflict will be uncomfortable, and it must be leaned into to the point of constructive conflict but not beyond.
    • Achieving commitment – when leadership teams wait for consensus before taking action, they usually end up with decisions that are made too late and are mildly disagreeable to everyone. This is a recipe for mediocrity and frustration. Teams must have the discipline to review their commitments and clarify anything which is not crystal clear.
    • Embrace accountability – peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on a leadership team. Leaders need to confront difficult situations and hold people accountable so others follow suit. To hold someone accountable is to care about them enough to risk having them blame you for pointing out their deficiencies. This is especially important for behaviours.
    • Focusing on results – an organisation must meet it’s results to be a good team. To do this the team needs one score and that should be more important than individual scores.

Create Clarity

  • Why do we exist?
    • Customer – to directly serve the needs of an organisation’s customer or primary constituent.
    • Industry – to be immersed in a given industry
    • Greater cause – the company plays a role in a greater purpose
    • Community – to make a specific area better or group of people supported
    • Employees – to be a great place for people to work
    • Wealth – to make the owner wealthy
    • Two similar companies can act very differently if their reason to exist are different
  • How do we behave?
    • Core values – a very small number of traits that are fundamental and long held by the company
      • Is this trait inherent and natural for us and has it been present for a long time?
      • Would our organisation be able to credibly claim that we are more committed to this value than 99% of companies in our industry?
    • Aspirational values – characteristics the company wishes they already had
    • Permission-to-Play values – the minimum standards that are required in the organisation and usually common in the industry
    • Accidental values – these are evident but not not intentional
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
    • The company should make an exhaustive list of everything related to the bussiness. Then search for patterns within everything.
    • These need to be reviewed but the cadence is situation specific – where barriers are high and innovation low the they will last a long time, but where barriers are low and innovation is high these will likely not last very long and need regular review.
  • What is most important, right now?
    • One priority
    • Thematic Goal
      • One thing
      • Qualitative
      • Temporary
      • Shared across the leadership team
    • Defining objectives
      • These are the general categories of activities to achieve the thematic goal
    • Standard operating objectives
      • The day to day measures which people should be following
    • All the above on one page
  • Who must do what?
  • With all of the above – capture it but keep is short – one page, two at most. Then keep it to hand.

Overcommunicate clarity

  • Tell true rumours – it is the best way to get the word out
  • Consistent message
  • Timeliness of delivery, does not need to be the same time but within 24 hours
  • Live/real-time communication, not email as this is less effective
  • Ask the question “What are we going to tell our people?” to align on the key points of a message, not a wordsmithed to death script
  • Don’t get feedback if it is not going to be used.
  • Great organisations are never run by democracy.
  • Communication silos will exist as long as people want them to – how you communicate is irrelevant

Reinforce Clarity

  • An organisation has to institutionalise it’s culture without bureaucratising it
  • Your people are your culture so structured hiring is key
  • Onboarding is a memorable and impactful part of an employees life – make it count
  • Performance management, compensation and rewards – against the companies values
  • Recognition by authentic and specific expressions of appreciation
  • Keeping a relatively strong performer who is not a cultural fit sends a loud and clear message to employees that the organisation isn’t all that serious about what it says it believes

The Centrality of Great Meetings

  • “If someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organisation, I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting.”
  • One meeting to cover everything – does not work. The human brain can not jump between things like this. There needs to be greater clarity and focus.
AdministrativeDaily Check-In5-10 minutes most days
TacticalWeekly Staff45-90 minutes weekly
StrategicAdhoc Topical2-4 hours as needed
DevelopmentalOff-Site Review1-2 days quarterly
  • Tactical
    • Real-Time Agenda – deciding at the start what are the pressing topics
    • How are we doing against the things we said are most important?
  • Off-Site Review
    • Step back from the bussiness to get a fresh perspective
    • Review the organisation’s strategic anchors and thematic goal
    • Assessing the performance of key employees
    • Discuss industry changes and competitive threats
    • Review the team members in regards to cohesiveness

Book Notes: It’s The Manager

It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The workforce is changing and businesses need to evolve to get the most out of their people.

My PaycheckMy Purpose
My SatisfactionMy Development
My BossMy Coach
My Annual ReviewMy Ongoing Conversations
My WeaknessesMy Strengths
My JobMy Life

Why is change so hard? Humans are hard wired to distrust outsiders. This distrust can result in teams working against each other, and as such against the best interests of the company.

Leader need to bringing multiple teams together. It is easy for a leader to blame someone else – another team or manager, how connected managers feel will impact their safety and cooperation with other leaders.

Making great decisions. Know your limits, don’t have the ego to think you know it all realise you don’t and pull in other expertise to cover areas you don’t know. Apply critical thinking, identify risks and blind spots to prevent confirmation bias and groupthink. Use analytics-driven evidence, analytics when done right overrule hierarchy, politics and bias.

Culture – what is your mission, purpose and brand? Do these align with policies, programs and communications? Build culture through coaching by line managers.

Hiring stars – Hiring managers must reduce bias to choose the best people for the role.

  • Glare factors. Disproportionate weight to visual characteristics e.g. a candidates look
  • Experience fallacy. Assume everyone the same company or university will be successful
  • Confirmation bias. Only hearing comments that confirm beliefs about a candidate
  • Overconfidence bias. Hiring managers having special ability to select applicants
  • Similarity bias. Choosing people similar to yourself
  • Stereotype bias. Unconscious stereotypes of gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity and age
  • Availability bias. Relying on memory of an interview rather than a complete perspective
  • Sunk cost fallacy. Continuing with a candidate because so much time already invested
  • Escalation of pressure. Pressured to a candidate because its taken a long time to fill a role

How to hire

  • Prior experiences & achievements. What have they already done which aligns with the role
  • Innate tendencies. Evaluate on
    • Drive for achievement (motivation)
    • Getting work done (workstyle)
    • Taking action and inspiring others to succeed (initiation)
    • Building quality partnerships (collaboration)
    • Solving problems with assimilating new information (thought process)
  • Multiple interviews. Input from multiple interviews will reduce the potential bias.
  • On-the-job observation. Internship or scenarios as close to real life to see how they act.

Seven expectations that are necessary for success in any role:

  • Build relationships. Build trust, share ideas and accomplish work
  • Develop people. Grow others through strengths, expectations and coaching
  • Lead change. Embrace change, set goals that align with a stated vision
  • Inspire others. Positivity, vision, confidence, challenges and recognition
  • Think critically. Gather and evaluate information that leads to smart decisions
  • Communicate clearly. Share information regularly and concisely
  • Create accountability. Hold yourself and others responsible for performance

When people leave – make sure they feel heard, they feel proud of what they did and are brand ambassadors

Coaching conversations

  • Role and Relationship Orientation. Get to know each individual and their strengths and align to the organization’s overall objectives. Define success and co-worker expectations.
  • Quick Connect. Ongoing conversations for employees to feel heard and to raise issues for awareness and resolution.
  • Check-In. Regular review of successes, barriers and priorities.
  • Developmental Coaching. Most effective when the manager knows the employee well. To give the employee direction, support and advice when they are exploring career, aspirational or developmental opportunities.
  • Progress Reviews. Review purpose, goals, metrics, development, strategy, teams and wellbeing

Pay – Criteria should be transparent and not political lobbying. Don’t use forced rankings. People want autonomy/performance related pay but great care needs to be taken. Financial wellbeing is an organisational responsibility.

Performance rating bias

  • Personal or idiosyncratic bias. Higher rating for people who would do things the same way as the manager
  • Halo effect. When doing things the manager views as important well can result in the manger rating other aspects more favourably
  • Spill over effect. Once managers has made a choice for an employee they need a compelling reason to modify their prior judgment in subsequent reviews.
  • The middle default. Struggle to distinguish performance among workers
  • Leniency and strictness biases. Some have a bias toward the extremes.
    • Leniency bias giving positive ratings even though employees have notable room for improvement.
    • Strictness bias when a manager is overly critical

Performance rating solution

  • Individual achievement – performance metrics, subjective manager observation and individual goals
  • Collaboration
  • Customer value

Team’s engagement

  • Connectedness to the rest of the organisation
  • Composition of team strengths
  • Experience working together
  • Team size

Book Notes: Measure What Matters

Measure What Matters by John E. Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OKRs – Objectives and key results. The value they bring are:

  • Focus and Commit to Priorities
  • Align and Connect for Teamwork
  • Track for Accountability
  • Stretch for Amazing

Warning – Goals may cause systematic problems in organisations due to narrowed focus, unethical behaviour, increased risk taking, decrease cooperation and decrease motivation.

Management by objectivesObjectives and key results
“What”“What” and “How”
AnnualQuarterly or monthly
Private and siloedPublic and transparent
Top-downTop-down, bottom-up or sideways
Tied to compensationMostly divorced from compensation
Risk averseAggressive and aspirational

Committed – something we intend to achieve 100%
Aspirational – where we are pushing ourselves, achieving > 70% is good

Paired results – quantitative and qualitative. Having just quantitative goes will result in a sacrifice in quality, as such both are needed. Results need to be very specific.

Performance in the OKR world – CFRs (Conversations, Feedback & Recognition)

Annual Performance ManagementContinuous Performance Management
Annual feedbackContinuous feedback
Tied to compensationDecoupled from compensation
Outcome focusedProcess focused
Weakness basedStrength based
Prone to biasFact driven

Book Notes: Leadership and Self-deception

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Self-deception : The action or practice of allowing oneself to believe that a false or unvalidated feeling, idea, or situation is true.

“The box” is how we see people – when we are out of the box we see them as people, when we are in the box we see them as objects.

If we are “in the box” or “out of the box” impacts how were being towards others. It is subconscious but has impact on others. As such it is not about what you say to people, you can say the same thing both in and out of “the box” but the undercurrent of the message.

If you don’t feel a sense of betrayal at a choice it means you are already in the box.

If we are “in the box” our actions then cause others to reciprocate.

This repeats in a cycle because we need to be justified, and as such we see the world through this perspective which is a distorted view of the world. As such when people do what we want them to do we still find another way to prove ourselves right. Effectively we end up “colluding” so we both stay in the box.


  1. An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another is called an act of “self-betrayal”
  2. When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal
  3. When I see the world in a self-justifying way, my view of reality becomes distorted
  4. So – when I betray myself, I enter the box
  5. Over time, certain boxes become characteristic of me, and I carry them with me
  6. By being in the box, I provoke others to be in the box
  7. In the box we invite mutual mistreatment and obtain mutual justification. We collude in giving each other reasons to stay in the box.

Self-justifying where we justify our actions. The more people we can find to agree with our side of the story, the more justified we will feel in believing our story is right.

When having a problem, I don’t think I have one – I think others are responsible.

Out of the boxIn the box
What-focusResultsJustification (being right)

Ironically when people say they are “results focused” it tends to mean that they are referring to themselves which gets in the way of actual company results – people compete and withhold information to prove themselves the winner.

If you are blaming others it is not so they will improve, it is to justify my own failure to improve.

People who come together to help a company succeed can actually end up delighted in each other’s failures and resent each other’s successes.

What does not work in the box

  1. Trying to change others
  2. Doing my best to “cope” with others
  3. Leaving
  4. Communicating
  5. Implementing new skills or techniques
  6. Changing my behaviour

What does work in the box

  1. Question your own virtue

This way you can see others as people and not just objects

When we are in the box people follow you (if at all) only through force or threat of force – but not through leadership.

Knowing the material

  • Self-betrayal leads to self-deception and “the box”
  • When you’re in the box, you can’t focus on results
  • Your influence and success will depend on being out of the box
  • You get out of the box as you cease resisting other people

Living the material

  • Don’t try to be perfect. Do try to be better.
  • Don’t use the vocabulary – “the box” and so on – with people who don’t already know it. Do use the principles in your own life.
  • Don’t look for others’ boxes. Do look for your own.
  • Don’t accuse others of being in the box. Do try to stay out of the box yourself.
  • Don’t give up on yourself when you discover you’ve been in the box. Do keep trying.
  • Don’t deny that you’ve been in the box when you have been. Do apologise; then just keep marching forward, trying to be more helpful to others in the future.
  • Don’t focus on what others are doing wrong. Do focus on what you can do right to help.
  • Don’t worry whether others are helping you. Do worry whether you are helping others.

Book Notes: Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nonviolent communication is a way of communicating that leads to us giving from the heart where we perceive relationships in a new light when we hear our own needs deeper and those of others. We can shine consciousness on places where we hope to find what we are seeking.

  • The four steps:
    1. Observations
    2. Feelings
    3. Needs
    4. Requests
  • Communication that blocks compassion
    • Certain ways of communicating alienate us from our natural state of compassion
    • In the world of judgements, our concern centre on “who is what”
    • Analysis of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values
    • Classifying and judging people promotes violence
    • Comparisons are a form of judgement
    • Our language obscures awareness of personal responsibility
    • We can replace language which implies lack of choice with language that acknowledges choice.
    • We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think and feel
    • We can never make people do anything
    • Thinning based on “who deserves what” blocks compassionate communication
    • Life-alienating communication has deep philosophical and political roots
  • Observe without evaluating
    • When we combine observation with evaluation, people are apt to hear criticism
  • Identifying and expressing feelings
    • Expressing out vulnerability can help resolve conflict
    • Distinguish feelings from thoughts
    • Thoughts can include
      • Words – that, like, as, as if
      • Pronouns – I, you, he, she, they, it
      • Names – Amy
      • Nouns referring to people – my boss
    • Distinguish between what we feel and what we think we are
    • What we think we are include
      • Evaluation e.g. inadequate could be the feelings e.g. disappointed, impatient, frustrated
    • Distinguish between what we feel and how we think others react or behave towards us e.g. unimportant, misunderstood, ignored
  • Taking responsibility for our feelings
    • What others do may be the stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause
    • Four options for receiving negative messages
      1. Blame ourselves
      2. Blame others
      3. Sense our own feelings and needs
      4. Sense others’ feelings and needs
    • Connect your feelings with your needs – “I feel … because …”
    • Distinguish between giving from the heart and being motivated by guilt
    • Judgements of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs
    • If we express our needs we have a better chance of having them met
    • Some basic human needs – Autonomy, Celebration, Integrity, Interdependence, Play, Spiritual Communion, Physical Nurturance
    • If we don’t value our needs others might not either
    • Emotional Slavery to Emotional Liberation
      1. We see ourselves as responsible for others’ feelings
      2. The obnoxious stage – we feel angry, we no longer want to be responsible for others’ feeling
      3. Emotional liberation – we take responsibility for our intentions and actions. We respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt or shame.
  • Requesting that which would enrich life
    • Use positive language when making requests
    • Making requests in clear positive, concrete action language reveals what we really want
    • Vague language contributes to internal confusion
    • Depression is the reward we get for being “good”
    • When we simply express our feelings it may not be clear to the listener what we want them to do
    • We are often not conscious of what we are requesting
    • Requests may sound like demands when unaccompanied by the speaker’s feelings and needs
    • The clearer we are about what we want the more likely we are to get it
    • To make sure the message we sent is the message that’s received ask for the listener to reflect it back
    • Express appreciation when your listener tried to meet your request for a reflection – especially when the words repeated don’t match the messages intent
    • Empathise with the listener who doesn’t want to reflect back
    • After we express ourselves vulnerable we often want to know
      1. What the listener is feeling
      2. What the listener is thinking; or
      3. whether the listener would be willing to take a particular action
    • In a group much time is wasted when the speaker does not know what response they want
    • When the other person hears a demand from us, they see two options
      1. Submit
      2. Rebel
    • To tell if it’s a demand or a request, observe what the speaker does if the request is not complied with
    • It’s a demand if the speaker then criticises or judges
    • It’s a demand if the speaker then lays a guilt trip
    • It’s a request if the speaker then shows empathy towards the other person’s needs
    • Our objective is a relationship based on honesty and empathy
  • Receiving empathically
    • There are two parts of nonviolent communication
      1. Express honestly
      2. Receive empathically
    • Empathy: emptying our mind and listening with our whole being
    • What empathy is not:
      • Advising, one-upping, educating, consoling, story-telling, shutting down, sympathising, interrogating, explaining, correcting, reassurance
    • Intellectual understanding blocks empathy
    • Listen to what people are needing rather than what they are thinking
    • When asking for information first express our own feelings and needs
    • Reflect back messages that are emotionally charged
    • Paraphrase only when it contributes to greater compassion and understanding
    • Behind intimidating messages are merely people appealing to us to meet their needs
    • A difficult message is an opportunity to enrich someone else’s life
    • Paraphrasing saves time
    • When we stay with empathy we allow speakers to touch deeper levels of themselves
    • We know a speaker has received adequate empathy when
      1. We sense a release of tension or
      2. The flow of words comes to a halt
    • We need empathy to give empathy
  • The power of empathy
    • Empathy allows us “to reperceive [our] world in a new way and to go on”
    • “Don’t just do something …”
    • It’s harder to empathise with those who appear to possess more power, status or resources
    • The more we empathise with the other party the safer we feel
    • We “say a lot” by listening for other people’s feelings and needs
    • Rather than put your “but” in the face of an angry person, empathise
    • When we listen for feelings and needs, we no longer see people as monsters
    • It may be difficult to empathise with those who are closest to us
    • Empathising with someone’s “no” protects us from taking it personally
    • To bring a conversation back to life: interrupt with empty
    • What bores the listener bores the speaker too
    • Speakers prefer that listeners interrupt rather than pretend to listen
    • Empathise with silence by listening for the feelings and needs behind it
    • Empathy lies in our ability to be present
  • Connecting compassionately with ourselves
    • The most important use may be in developing self-compassion
    • To evaluate ourselves in ways that engender growth rather than self-hatred
    • Avoid shoulding yourself!
    • Self-judgements (like all judgements) are tragic expressions of unmet needs
    • Fully connect with historical feelings unmet needs to help us get past them now
    • Self-forgiveness by connecting with the needs we were trying to meet when we took the action we now regret
    • We are compassionate with ourselves when we are able to embrace all parts of ourselves and recognise the needs and values expressed by each part
    • We want to take action out of the desire to contribute to life rather than out of fear, guilt, shame or obligation
    • With every choice you make, be conscious of what need it serves
    • Refreame as “I choose to … because I want to …”
    • Be conscious of actions motivated by the desire for money or approval, and by fear, shame or guilt. Know the price you pay for them
    • The most dangerous of all behaviours may consist of doing things “because we’re supposed to”
  • Expressing anger fully
    • Hurting people is too superficial
    • We are never angry because of what others say or do
    • Motivation by guilt mixes up stimulus and cause
    • The cause of anger lies in our thinking – in thoughts of blame and judgement
    • When we judge others we contribute to violence
    • Use anger as a wake-up call
    • Anger co-opts our energy by diverting it towards punitive actions
    • When we become aware of our needs, anger gives way to life-saving feelings
    • Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment
    • Judgement of other leads to self-fulfilling prophecies
    • Steps to expressing anger
      1. Stop, Breathe
      2. Identify our judgemental thoughts
      3. Connect with our needs
      4. Express our feelings and unmet needs
    • The more we hear them, the more they’ll hear us
    • Stay conscious of the violent thoughts that arise in our minds without judging them
    • When we hear another person’s feelings and needs, we recognise our common humanity
    • Our need is for the other person to truly hear our pain
    • People do no hear our pain when they believe they are at fault
    • Practice translating each judgement into an unmet need
    • Take your time
  • Conflict resolution and mediation
    • Creating a connection between people is the most important thing
    • The aim is not to get either side to do what the other side wants
    • Instead we work to create that quality of mutual concern and respect where each party thinks their own needs matter and they are conscious that their needs and the other person’s well being are interdependent
    • This is about mutual satisfaction, not compromise
    • When you make the connection, the problem usually solves itself
    • Conflict resolution
      1. First side expresses their own needs
      2. We search for the real needs of the second party, no matter how they are expressing themselves.
      3. Verify that we both accurately recognise the other person’s needs – if not continue seeing. Both sides need to be able to clearly express the needs of the other.
      4. Express as much empathy as needed to hear each other’s needs accurately
      5. With the clarified needs we propose strategies for resolving the conflict, framing them in positive action language
    • Avoid the use of language that implies wrongness
    • Separate needs from the strategies to fulfil them
    • Intellectual analysis is often receive as criticism
    • Learn to hear needs regardless of how people express them
    • Criticism and diagnosis get in the way of peaceful resolution of conflict
    • People often need empathy before they are able to hear what is being said
    • Use present language fosters respectful discussions “Would you be willing to …”
    • Action language requires the use of positive action verbs
    • Maintaining respect is a key element in successful conflict resolution
    • The objective is not to get the parties to do what we want them to do
    • Sometimes you need to reassure people that they will get the chance to put their side on the table
    • Keep track of unfinished topics as the conversation bounces around to ensure they are all tied off
    • Use role-play to speed up the mediation process
    • No matter what happens we all have the same needs
    • Role-play is simply putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes
    • The purpose of interrupting is to restore the process
    • We need to be well practiced at hearing the need in any message
    • Both sides need to be fully aware of their own needs as well as the others so that scarcity thinking does not take hold.
  • The protective use of force
    • The intention behind the protective use of force is only to protect, not to punish, blame or condemn
    • The corrective process is one of education, not punishment.
    • Ignorance includes
      1. Lack of awareness of the consequence of our actions
      2. An inability to see how our needs may be met without injury to others
      3. The belief that we have the right to punish or hurt others because they “deserve” it
      4. Delusional thinking that involves, for example, hearing voices that instruct killing
    • Punitive action is based on the assumption that people commit offenses because they are bad or evil and to correct the situation they need to be made to repent by
      1. Making them suffer enough to see the error of their ways
      2. Repent
      3. Change
    • In reality punitive action is likely to generate resentment and hostility and to reinforce resistance to the very behaviour we are seeking
    • Fear of corporal punishment obscures children’s awareness of the compassion underlying their parents’ demands
    • Punishment also includes judgemental labeling and the withholding of privileges
    • When we fear punishment we focus on consequences, not on our own values
    • Fear of punishment diminishes self-esteem and good will
    • Questions
      1. What do I want this person to do?
      2. What do I want the person’s reasons to be for doing it?
    • Nonviolent communication does not mean permissiveness
  • Liberating ourselves and counseling others
    • We can liberate ourselves from cultural conditioning
    • The ability to hear our own feelings and needs and empathise with them can free us from depression
    • Focus on what we want to do rather than what went wrong
    • Defuse stress by hearing our own feelings and needs
    • Defuse stress by empathising with others
    • I empathised with clients instead of interpreting them, I revealed myself instead of diagnosing them
  • Expressing appreciation in nonviolent communication
    • Compliments are often judgements – however positive – of others
    • Express appreciation to celebrate, not to manipulate
    • Use these components of appreciation
      1. The action that contributed to our well-being
      2. The need of ours that have been fulfilled
      3. The pleasure engenered by the fulfilment of those needs
    • Receive appreciation without feelings of superiority of false humility
    • “What appreciation might someone give you that would leave you jumping for joy?”
    • We tend to notice what’s wrong rather than what’s right

Book Notes: Making Every Meeting Matter

HBR Guide to Making Every Meeting Matter by Harvard Business Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do you even need to hold a meeting?

  • Have you through it through? No – schedule time to think strategically
  • Do you need outside input to make progress? No – schedule time to do the work
  • Do you need a real-time conversation? No – send an email
  • Does it need to be face-to-face? No – send a chat or have a video call
  • If yes to all of the above schedule the meeting and prepare for it

Be consistent on what a meeting actually means

  • Gatherings of two people are simply conversations
  • Sessions where people are collaborating on a task are group work sessions
  • Idea generation sessions are brainstormings
  • Information dissemination sessions for convenience are generally a bad idea
  • Information dissemination sessions for alignment a meeting may or may not be valuable
  • Meetings out of habit or tradition are formality meetings, check if these are valuable
  • Where connecting is the key their social meetings, likely a team building more suitable
  • Decision-supporting meetings to aid a leader in making a decision either seeking input or asking for approval

Understanding the meetings goals by having a clear answer to:

  • What do you want to have debated, decided or discovered at the end of this session that you and the team haven’t already debated, decided or discovered?
  • What do you want attendees to say when their team members ask, “What happened at the big meeting?”

Shorter meetings

25 or 50 minute meetings allows for people to better get from one meeting to the next without a cascading problem. Instead of an hour try 25/30 min meetings as the short meeting will push for the more important content to be discussed, more preparation, people arriving on time, etc.

Consider having a timer which prevents people speaking for too long to help people focus on the point they want to make and keeps the meeting moving quicker.

Smaller meetings

For active discussions 8 people is about the limit, for brainstorming with variety of input 18 beyond that it needs to be more of a presentation/cascade format as it is harder for people to contribute.

Ground rules such as

  • Silence Denotes Agreement – So people feel compelled to speak up in the moment.
  • Commitment to start and end on time
  • Ask for participation and openness to ideas
  • Agree to listen and to limit interruptions
  • Clarify how decisions will be made
  • Rule out the myth of multitasking

Decision making methods

Group consensus


  • Allows all participants to share their expertise to arrive at the best decision
  • Results in all participants understanding the decision and implications
  • Greatly enhances the chance of buy-in


  • May think they all need to agree to and believe in the final decision which means it can go round in circles
  • May take more time than other decision making methods
  • May require a second decision making method if consensus can not be reached
  • Leaders can feel obliged to follow the decision and abdicate responsibility

Majority Vote


  • Speed in decision making
  • Group perceives the decision is fair
  • You hear from everyone, even people who are usually quiet


  • Open voting requires taking a public stand on an issue
  • Can be perceived as a winner and loser
  • People may not feel comfortable voting according to their true feeling or voice reservations
  • Losers often feel that their voice has not been heard
  • Not everyone buys into the decision
  • May or may not arrive at the best decision
  • Leaders can feel obliged to follow the decision and abdicate responsibility

Leaders Choice


  • It’s the fastest approach to decision making and may be the best approach when time is short or in a crisis
  • If participants respect the leader then they are more likely to buy into the decision.
  • Leaders are completely accountable for the decision and its implications


  • Participants may feel that they are not heard, especially if they have not been given the opportunity to voice their opinions
  • Implementation may be more challenging as people don’t feel ownership or buy-in to the result

Not attending a meeting

  • What is the value of the meeting? No – speak to the organiser to improve its chances of success or getting it cancelled
  • Am I the right person to attend? No – can you recommend someone else to attend in you place
  • Is the meeting a priority for me right now? No – can you contribute in advance or attend only part of the meeting


  • Check for completeness – before moving on check that everyone had said everything they need to, if you move on too quickly people will likely re-open the topic again later.
  • Check for alignment – “Is everyone ok with where we ended up?” to see if people can’t live with the decision
  • Agree on next steps – Get firm, clear commitments
  • Reflect on the value – Be verbal and concrete about the benefits from the discussion
  • Check for acknowledgements – Acknowledge if people made special contributions
  • Gather feedback – How did it go? How could we be even better next time?

Book Notes: Empowered

Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products by Marty Cagan with Chris Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The key message behind the book is that for companies to build products which are valuable to the customer they need empowered product teams where technology is seen as a core competency and partner. Where teams are given meaningful ownership of problems to solve, not tasks to complete, with data as a cornerstone. To achieve this there is a need for a higher quality of leadership.

The Role of Technology

Technology is a core function, not just an expense. To achieve amazing output technology and product needs to be first class citizens, not an expense to be reduced. Providing teams of missionaries with problems is going to actually help reduce costs compared to providing tasks to mercenaries. At strong product and tech companies technology is not there to serve the business it is the business. Technology is not just there to improve efficiency, it is a key enabler to reimagine the future of the business.

Develop People Is Job #1

For teams to achieve requires competent and capable people who can achieve the best results. This is not to just hire the best and leave them to it, this is by coaching people so that they can get better every day. These people need space to own outcomes, not just tasks.

Insecure managers have a large challenge in empowering teams as they feel a need to be recognised for their contributions and see their team as a threat to this which causes them to undermine it. This can result in a lack of diverse viewpoints which diminishes the teams value or hide mistakes which is both harmful and prevents growth and learning.

The leads need to produce a safe and trusting tram for diverse viewpoints to be heard and for mistakes to be discussed and seek to teach or push people to achieve their potential – especially when not realised by the individual.

The book provides a ways to assess product people in product, process and people to produce a gap analysis that can feed into a coaching plan. This can then be worked on and reviewed in 1:1 sessions. Key areas are for people to be dependable, to work in the companies best interests and to be accountable.

There are a set of anti-pattern to watch out for:

  • Manager Doesn’t Care – this is when leaders don’t like or see developing people as a key responsibility.
  • Manager Reverts to Micromanaging – Micromanaging is easy but it won’t help people develop.
  • Manager Spends Time Talking and Not Listening – The session is primarily for your subordinate and not you, it is too easy to talk for the whole session. Also different people learn in different ways so you need to be sensitive to this.
  • Manager Doesn’t Provide Difficult Feedback – People need to hear the hard news so that they can learn to grow and improve.
  • Manager Is Insecure and/or Incompetent – If you are insecure or incompetent then you are letting your team down as they will be unable to grow (law of the lid).
  • Manager Doesn’t Cut Losses – Not everything works out, sometimes you need to cut your losses and let someone go if they are not growing sufficiently.

Three critical characteristics of strong product teams

  1. Tackle risks early
  2. Solve problems collaboratively
  3. Be accountable for results

Collaboration anti-patterns

  • One decider – This is not collaboration, this is a dictator model.
  • Consensus – It is not unusual for there to be difference of opinion, sometimes there needs to be a judgement call or a test to resolve differences.
  • Artifacts – Documents such as “requirements” these shut down discussions and collaboration.
  • Compromise – aka vote for your favorite. This can result in mediocre results which is not good for anyone.
  • Doing what the customer said – Product is to innovate on behalf of the customer, not for the customer to produce requirements.

What we want are solutions which are

  • Valuable – for people to buy or choose it
  • Usable – so people can experience the value
  • Feasible – something that we can build to deliver the value
  • Viable – Something that is able to sell or support and it is net positive
  • Ethical – Even if we can and we could make money, should we

To achieve this we need to collaborate to identify what we don’t know and to experiment to see if these can be overcome. We need decisions and collaboration to be transparent so people understand the why and background behind them. Disagree and commit:

  1. If you see a snake (important decision to be made), kill it
  2. Don’t play with dead snakes (important decision you have made)
  3. All opportunities start out looking like snakes


The best product companies hire competent people of character, and then coach and develop them into members of extraordinary teams.

Staffing does not mean hiring – this is a much bigger topic and one that the responsibility lies with the manager, not with HR – HR are there to help/partner but they are not responsible.

Of the two phases: discovery and delivery, co-location is magic for discovery. During the discovery phase the product manager, designer and tech lead should be working together – not via artifacts passed between them.

The book highlights the important difference between an individual contributor role to a people management position where the latter is not a more-senior position but a fundamentally different job requiring different skills and talents.

We should build a product vision which is compelling and share it, not create a roadmap of features and share that else this ties our hands too much. We should be stubborn on vision and flexible on details.

Producing principles compliment the vision by sharing the values and beliefs which should help guide decision making and ensure that the product remains ethical.

In the team topology there are two types of teams – platform teams which manage services so they can be leveraged by other teams and experience teams which are responsible for how the products value is exposed to users and customers. Experience teams are sub-divided again into customer-facing teams which focuses on the experience the customer receives and customer-enabling which are teams which are internal users both work best with end-to-end responsibilities. These teams need to be autonomous such that they are regularly able to deliver value without dependencies on other teams, it is quite common for products to have two sides (e.g. buyers and sellers) here it is empowering to organise the teams by the side of the marketplace.

Product Strategy

How do we decide which problems the teams should solve? The answer is the product strategy. This requires:

  • Tough choices on what is really important to provide focus
  • Generating, identifying and leveraging insights
  • Converting insights into actions by giving teams problems to solve
  • Active (not micro) management identifying, tracking and resolving obstacles

With regards to objectives there should be just team objectives. The results must be defined in terms of business results which the team need to own and are brought into by setting the target – but the measure needs to be meaningful not a substitute because it is easier to measure. We should be clear with the team if we are looking for a roof shot or a moon shot so they can determine the aptitude for risk. To note the manager is the one assigning the problem to the team and deciding on the acceptable level of risk for the team to take. Companies that avoid shared or common objectives in the name of autonomy or communication often limit their ability to solve the toughest and most important problems.

High-integrity commitments do happen but they should be the exception else this will still be a delivery team not an empowered product team.

Effective objectives:

  • Assigning problems and giving team space to solve them
  • If a team volunteers this should be taken into account but volunteering does not mean they are the right team for the job
  • Leaders decide which teams work on which objective but the key results need to come from the team.
  • A back and forth on deciding the objectives is very normal
  • There is nothing wrong with assigning the same objective to multiple teams
  • There is nothing wrong with asking multiple teams to collaborate on the same objective
  • Clarity on the level of ambition you want from the team.
  • Keeping the lights on activities are also important and should not be neglected but this should also not become a back door to get work done by the team
  • Quarterly gives space to the team to focus but adaptability to the business