One of the most impactful things that I did in 2018 was to write down a list of principles to become a better person at home and at work. These principles are inspired by my experience as a product manager, books that I’ve read (especially Ray Dalio’s book), and conversations with people who I respect. Although they’re straightforward, following them isn’t easy and requires daily discipline:
- Take ownership
- Understand why
- Prioritize and execute
- Find the truth
- Be radically transparent
1. Take ownership
1a. Be humbleStart with how you can improve instead of blaming others or making excuses. 1b. DetachTake ownership of your emotions. When you feel frustrated, take a deep breath, and communicate in a clear, calm manner. Don’t spread negative emotions to others.1c. Build relationshipsTake ownership of your relationships. Be proactive, listen carefully, and show empathy for the other people’s perspectives.
2. Understand why
2a. Know your whyNever lose sight of your long-term goal and why it matters to you. Do something every day that moves you towards it. 2b. Communicate why constantlyCommunicate the why at every opportunity. Get aligned with others on the why early — it’s one of the best time investments that you can make.2c. ReflectReflect on your personal progress after every week and reflect with your team after every project. Reflect to understand what went right and what went wrong. Especially understand the latter because pain + reflection = progress.
3. Prioritize and execute
3a. FocusFocus on your long-term goal. Start every week and day with a prioritized list of no more than 5 tasks. Update your calendar to reflect these priorities and say no to all non-essential work. 3b. Keep it simpleIt’s better to achieve a breakthrough in a single goal than to pursue multiple goals at once. Create a short and specific plan that clearly lays out a path from where you are today to where you want to be.3c. Be default aggressiveDo whatever it takes to achieve your goal. Get in a position to dictate what happens instead of waiting for things to happen. Be flexible about how you achieve your goal — there are many paths that may work.
4. Find the truth
4a. Be brutally honest with yourselfSet high standards for yourself and assess weekly whether you’re meeting them. Remember that everyone has one big thing that stands in their way — find it by reflecting on past failures and asking people that you trust.
View failure as a potential improvement that is screaming at you.
4b. Obsess over the customer problemDo the hard work to understand your customers and their problems. Your customers are not just people who use your product, they’re also your coworkers, friends, and family who you interact with every day.4c. Seek knowledgeable people Your job is to find the truth as quickly as possible, not to be right all the time. The fastest way to find the truth is to seek out knowledgeable people who disagree. Follow the process:
- Clearly lay out the decision you’re trying to make
- Listen, clarify, and debate
- Make the decision
5. Be radically transparent
5a. Care personallyFind time for real conversations to understand people’s goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Share personal stories and show vulnerability. If the other person cancels your 1:1s or only shares updates and good news instead of constructive feedback, then chances are you’re not caring enough.5b. Challenge directlyAsk for candid feedback before giving it. When receiving feedback, listen and clarify instead of debating it. When giving feedback, make it about the behavior instead of the person and include actionable next steps. Give candid feedback early and often and check to see if people understand it.5c. Empower othersEmpower others to lead by making sure that they understand why and encouraging them to express their ideas. Set clear expectations and praise publicly when people do great work but hold them accountable when they don’t. Always be training your team.
I return to these principles regularly and they’ve had a noticeable impact on improving my life.
What are your five top principles? Share them with me on Twitter.