What attribute most distinguishes leaders from non leaders? According to James Kouzes and Barry Posner it is “being forward looking — envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future.” Their article To Lead, Create a Shared Vision — published in the January 2009 Harvard Business Review — derives its conclusions from extensive research through surveys and interviews. Their survey asked what traits people look for and admire in a leader and what traits they look for in a colleague.
The number one requirement of a leader, honesty, was also the top-ranking attribute of a colleague. But the second-highest requirement of a leaders was that they be forward looking. They need to present a vision for the future that not only embodies their view of the outcome, but also includes reflects the aspirations of their constituents (i.e. the followers). Therefore, leaders must spend time reading networking with other leaders — developing and absorbing ideas as they grow — and also mingling with constituents, taking their feedback and making them a part of the outcome.
My friend Greg Strouse sums it up nicely: “Here’s your lesson. Education is nice. Experience is nice too. As for me I’ll bet on the person with vision, passion and that magic touch every single time.” Vision, passion and the “magic touch” allow leaders to look into the future and provide direction while at the same time including the people who will be most affected by their decisions. (Note: Greg’s quote comes from his post Remembering Bonnie, a moving tribute to his wife who passed away in September ’08.)
The Product Management Perspective: By its nature product management requires a high degree foresight. As the leader of the product it is the product manager’s responsibility to envision the outcome. In the process you include people from other teams in decisions and invite them (by your actions) to share in the results.