How to be a great (product) leader - Part 1/4: leadership characteristics
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How to be a great (product) leader – Part 1/4: leadership characteristics

While startups grow, some of their early employees suddenly move into a leadership role for their first time, yet are rarely prepared for the role. Having been in a product leadership positions for 5+ years myself, I was lucky to have great mentors at my early leadership years who showed me how “great” leadership is supposed to look like.

Ignoring for a second that certain personalities are likely better suited for being a leader, I believe great leadership is actually not that difficult and can be learned and practiced like any other skill. Like for any job, best practices and frameworks exist, and are ready to use.

Let me shed some light on modern leadership in fast-growing companies with this blog post series so that more new leaders can get the basics right from the beginning.

In our first post, we will talk about characteristics of great leaders. Second, we’ll take a look at their responsibilities. Third, I’ll share some help frameworks to use for leading people. Lastly, we’ll see how you can master 1:1 sessions with your reports.

Leadership characteristics

So what differentiates great from average and bad leaders in startups? Let’s find out.

Combining the results from various research (e.g. from Google) with my own experience, leaders with the following key characteristics thrive in young and fast-growing companies:


Great leaders provide vision, transparency, and direction: everyone in the company is aligned towards the same ambitious goals.

Great leaders establish and nurture a company culture of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Great leaders do not (micro)manage but empower people, foster autonomy, and fully trust their people on how to reach the company’s goals.

Great leaders ensure good communication within the organization (across teams) while listening keenly and sharing information constantly. They use “we” instead of “I”.


Great leaders really care about their people and are approachable.

Great leaders treat their own people like their customers. They help them solve their pains and needs and strive for a consistently high employee engagement score.

Great leaders create room for personal and professional improvement. They provide feedback instantly and do no tolerate poor performance.

Great leaders craft strong teams and work relationships. Successes and failures are shared.


Great leaders have strong and clearly articulated values and principles.

Great leaders make their own self-development a priority. They understand that only when they are at their best self (health, mind, wisdom, life balance) and bring their whole self to work, they can lead others and help them grow and succeed.

Great leaders are authentic, honest, and vulnerable.

Great leaders never play politics and practice a no-bullshit attitude.


If you are currently in a leadership position or have the goal to be in the near future, open an Excel sheet and honestly rate yourself on all mentioned characteristics. Then, define concrete action points to improve them. Focus on one aspect at a time, no rush. Getting started is key, mastering leadership, like mastering every other skill, is a life-time adventure!


Next, we take a look at leadership responsibilities.


How to be a great leader (part 2/4)

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