Please Check Your Baggage…

By Jim Holland

I’ve been traveling more and noticed when I fly, that people drag a lot of baggage onto planes. They are overloaded, exceeding size and weight limits, and doing everything within their power not to check baggage and potentially incur additional costs.

While walking through an airport last week, I started to think about how product leaders often carry baggage. When you think about baggage, we should first consider the intangible things that get in the way.

Product leaders deal with tangible (real and concrete) things and intangibles (indifferent or obscured) everyday and should pack their luggage with things they personally and professional value most.  It also has to be of value to their organization as well. Let me illustrate.

Last week, I left home with a few extras items packed in my baggage. I packed some food items that I like. However, when going through security at my local airport, I was asked the infamous question, “Who’s bag is this?” by the TSA officer.

I was moved to the side and politely asked by the officer if they could rummage inside my bag looking for anything suspicious. I agreed and the search began. I had packed a harmless box of Blueberry Pop Tarts (a personal weakness) and the foil wrappers sent the scanner into a frenzy.

The Pop Tarts were removed and everyone in line watched as they were individually scanned to ensure that they weren’t the exploding variety, but the frosted ones.

While I was a bit embarrassed, I still had my Pop Tarts and made my flight without a problem. While fruit flavored pastries may be more desirable, how often do we pack our bags with things that are unnecessary or intangible and of no value as a product leader.

In Stephen Drains post Take Control of Your Own Baggage, he shares, “Leadership starts from the inside – knowing how we’re wired, how we interact with others and empowering and mentoring others to do what needs to be done. But leadership is also about taking responsibility for our own baggage. You know, those issues, whether work or personal that we all carry around.”

I often blog about the strategic elements of product leadership and how we can become more valued and effective. I’ve realized that the “leadership” aspect of product management comes from inside.

Might I recommend the following to help you take control of your own baggage and to better pack what you need.

  1. At the start of each day, find some time to reflect for 15 -30 minutes on what you have packed in your bag and what your missing.
  2. Make a list of what you’ve packed and what you need to unload, add or replace.
  3. Discuss the items with a friend, mentor or peer who knows you well. Validating the contents of your bag is important.
  4. Commit to working on one item this week.

As you take control of your baggage each day, I hope you’ll find things to add, discard or place into it. If you have some advice for other product leaders, please share them via your comments.


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7 thoughts on “Please Check Your Baggage…

  1. Roger L. Cauvin Reply

    I agree that much of leadership comes from within, and learning to deal with our own personal baggage is key to unleashing our leadership potential.

    However, I think we have to be careful not to equate this insight with the romantic notion that leaders pull themselves up by their bootstraps and unilaterally empower themselves. As counter to our intuitions as it may be, the fact is that leadership requires empowerment from others. A person may be an amazing and inspiring leader in some organizations yet exhibit no apparent leadership skills in other organizations.

    In short, leaders create environments that empower others, but they also leverage environments that are empowering to them. A leader often senses environments that are not empowering to her and seeks out environments that do empower her.

    • Stephen Drain Reply

      I totally agree. Leadership is a co-dependent role. Many new leaders I see believe that they need to know everything when in fact they don’t and can’t. We all have a responsibility for leadership – personal, “up” and “down”. And there are numerous examples of leaders who excel in one organisation but fail in another. Today’s blog from me is about bureaucracy, which can have a dramatic impact on leadership effectiveness.

  2. Steve Johnson Reply

    As a frequent traveler, I often rethink my luggage, removing more and more items each time. I’m really down to the bare essentials now. But I’ve also been shedding some of my emotional baggage. As George Clooney said in “Up in the Air,” what’s in your backpack?

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