What Is The Makeup Of A Great Leader?

One of the beauties of the Agile framework, specifically with a Scrum implementation, is that 10 different teams can work 10 different ways. One team can run early morning stand-ups, with a regular grooming meeting, and combo retrospective with planning. Another could run late stand-ups, skip the grooming and run a longer planning session separate from a retro.

There’s no one way up the mountain, and the anarchist inside all of us loves it that way.

Same thing goes for types of Agile leaders, there’s not one specific type of person that can accomplish all of these ceremonies. My boss loves to tell people that he doesn’t hire one specific type of PM, he wants a toolbox filled with different skills that he can use at any time.

So how do you know if you have what it takes?

In my experience, leaders fall into two basic personality types. This applies whether you are a project manager on an IT team, an NFL head coach, or CEO of a billion-dollar organization. You are either a macro-oriented or micro-oriented leader.

Oh sure, there are many flavors of those two archetypes. You might be really detail oriented, but an awful delegator, which is the traditional “micro manager” we all tell horror stories. Other types of micro-oriented leaders end up alright, though. If you can see every detail, while at the same time having a vision for execution and actually allow others to handle it, you might be alright.

Macro-oriented leaders tend to be great at delegating and planning. Some are creative, and possess the ability to adapt to whatever comes their way. Others are great mentors and coaches, but don’t function well on the day-to-day management of their team’s needs. Look at these macro peeps as the “player’s coach” persona. As much as I would love a little of the other camp, I’m a macro-oriented leader to the core.

Identifying where in the range you fall is important to your development. While many tend to see themselves as only one type of leader, I’m here to tell you that the world is your oyster. If you paint yourself into the corner as not being detail-oriented enough, difficult in one-on-one relationships, or “not enough of an arse” to succeed, then you might as well not try.

While we each have different skill ratings in areas such as creativity, vision, or guidance, those can be used to still succeed. This post on the 8 types of leaders was shared to me from my boss once and it completely changed my view on what a “successful leader” meant. I may not be in a position to be a Super-Bowl-winning coach or use drones to deliver packages, but I can identify with the leadership style of Tom Coughlin or Jeff Bezos. Sure, they were both micro-oriented leaders, and could be called a few colorful names by former employees, but they put them in a position to be successful leaders.

So, that leaves us with one simple question. How exactly can we take how God made us and craft a leader?

  • The parts of your job (yes I’m talking to the man in the mirror, too) that you don’t enjoy, that needs the most attention first. If it’s a report that doesn’t make sense, work on it every morning for a week. If there’s a relationship on your team that needs some gardening, ask them to lunch once a month. If you can’t seem to plan beyond a few weeks, spend 30 minutes a day on the roadmap.
  • Find other leaders that can do what you want. There’s a distinct possibility you have a skill they desire as well, which makes the pairing fortuitous. Either way, shadow them a bit. Volunteer to ride side saddle and learn. You will learn a lot more, a lot faster, than you realize. Just make sure you write about it and validate what you are observing with them.
  • Get some fresh air from your comfortable surroundings. That may mean you ask the company to send you to a conference or training. If that’s not an option, though, there’s plenty of monthly user groups to get acquainted with. Reach out on LinkedIn to peers at other companies and ask a ton of questions. Any of these will give you perspective and embolden you to stand before your team with panache.
  • Read, a lot. I’ve said this on Twitter before, but any book on how to be a successful CEO applies to you as a team leader. As a PM, I’m the CEO of my team and need to act like one if we are going to meet our objectives. My latest suggestion is this book by Ben Horrowitz, but you can’t go wrong with some of the classics like Collins, Fried, Christensen, and others.

This effort will not be easy, but will bear fruit that lasts your entire career. It won’t be smooth, so let me offer this: when you get down, please don’t think that you don’t have the right personality to be a successful leader. I recently had a conversation with an amazing co-worker who wondered if you needed to be a jerk to have the respect of your peers.

Took me a few days to realize the truth, but this idea couldn’t be further from it. Yes, there plenty of examples to the contrary, but you don’t need a particular makeup for success. While some people are gifted knowing what they want and going after it, they might also struggle with opening their mouth too fast and stepping on their own toes. As I said earlier, there are skills we all have, and you just need to understand yours to best use them. 

Knowing yourself, and working with what you have, will generate a lot more success than trying to be someone else. Now go do it.


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