Willem-Jan Ageling My name is Willem-Jan Ageling. I coach teams to create high-value products in complex environments. I am the co-owner of and writer for Serious Scrum. I currently work as a Senior Agile Coach at Worldline.

Essential qualities of a successful leader

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Essential Qualities Of A Successful Leader

In the digital age, technological developments advance at a staggering pace. New trends become outdated by the end of the year. Think of how quickly Chat-GPT swept into product markets.

Standard products are no longer the norm. Now people wish to identify themselves with a product that is uniquely customizable and cutting-edge (typically by having a tech component). This shift in customer demands has had an impact on the creation of products.

To keep up with the pace of development, you need to employ successful leadership so that you can get the most out of your team members.

In this article, you will learn the qualities of a successful leader and how to guide your team in the right direction.

Table of contents

Key qualities of a good leader

Good leaders are less interested in the how and more interested in pushing their team towards achieving the end goal. The following five abilities are essential for a leader:

Essential Abilities Of A Leader

Establishing a vision

In 1961, the United States was losing the space race. The Soviet Union was the first nation to launch a satellite and a human into space. Convinced that it was important to have space superiority, U.S. President John F. Kennedy asked his team to determine the best way to catch up.

After some investigation by NASA, Kennedy decided that the most prestigious way to win the space race was to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

The purpose of a vision is to communicate a desired outcome to ensure commitment. A vision focuses on what you need to accomplish, instead of what you need to do or produce. This allows people to find the best way to achieve the vision in their own way.

Communicating the vision

Leaders should communicate the vision to inspire their team. This is not a one-off thing. Such was the case with Kennedy.

In May 1961, Kennedy addressed the U.S. Congress with his vision of the moon landing before the end of the decade. This first public announcement didn’t sway everyone and 58 percent of the nation was opposed to the idea because it was too costly.

Leaders should communicate as often as required and be open to answering questions and clarifying doubts. The 35th president of the U.S. did this too.

On September 12, 1962, Kennedy delivered one of the greatest speeches in human history. In it, he aimed to inspire the nation to embark on a mission to land on the moon:

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” J.F.K., 1962

A leader needs to communicate the vision clearly and as often as possible. After all, the vision is the North Star of the team. By communicating it regularly, the team can appreciate its importance and assess their progress towards it.

Empowering the team

True leaders recognize they don’t have all the answers. They understand that their team of has more combined knowledge than they do. To maximize the effectiveness of a team, leaders therefore should empower them.

The vision establishes the boundaries of the team. This helps them to define the goals they wish to achieve. Teams plan their work, experiment, probe, and find the best ways to reach their goals.

Leaders that empower their people trust them to commit to reaching their goals. Empowerment also comes with accountabilities. Empowered people will need to be able to explain their choices and show results.

When Kennedy announced the mission, the moon landing was technically impossible. People had to invent solutions for many problems. So they defined goals like:

  • Create a rocket that brings the astronauts to the moon, a distance that was thousands of times farther than ever done before
  • Land on the moon
  • Return from the moon
  • Create space suits suitable for walking on the moon

Many bright minds at NASA were able to pull it off because the vision was clear and they were empowered. With that, the creativity of these professionals could be unleashed.

Empowerment also comes with responsibilities, like regularly making and showing progress. The people at NASA each owned the responsibility to make their contribution successful.

Removing obstacles

Leaders don’t leave everything to their people. When the team gets stuck, leaders help remove obstacles.

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Quickly into the moon landing program, NASA came to the conclusion they needed more money to pull it off. The opposition was fierce.

President Kennedy went to great lengths to have Congress approve the additional budget, pointing at military advantages that would come with the moon landing program.

Guiding through change

Leaders have the knowledge, communication skills, and determination to guide a team through change.

Through his words and his action, President Kennedy showed how invested he was in the journey towards the moon. He showed absolute confidence and had no doubts. According to Kennedy, the mission to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade was key for the nation.

Product manager as leader

In today’s world, PMs establish the product vision. They (mostly in collaboration) determine what they wish to achieve with the product and the impact they wish to make.

Once they define the product vision, they have to communicate it clearly. The product manager needs to ensure everyone understands the product vision and what they can contribute.

Product managers want to maximize the effectiveness of the people who work on the product to accomplish the vision. They do this by empowering the team to make their own choices in their field of expertise. At the same time, the PM expects regular updates on the product progress from these people.

However, people may stumble upon unexpected issues that block them from making progress. A PM helps to remove these roadblocks.

The product manager serves as a figurehead for change and progress.

Key takeaways

In our digital age, the role of the PM has shifted drastically. The focus has shifted away from building a product as designed, towards delivering on a vision. This requires professionalism and creativity, as well as the collaboration of a group of people, all with their unique skills that contribute to the product.

With this reality, product managers should stop managing and start leading. They should establish and communicate the product vision, empower the team, help remove blockers, and guide through change.

Featured image source: IconScout

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Willem-Jan Ageling My name is Willem-Jan Ageling. I coach teams to create high-value products in complex environments. I am the co-owner of and writer for Serious Scrum. I currently work as a Senior Agile Coach at Worldline.

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