Great leaders believe in a better tomorrow than we are living today. And many of them, including our own president, are looking to technology for inspiration and direction.

I just read in The New York Times that President Obama signed on to guest-edit the November issue of Wired magazine (a first for a sitting president). Even multinational conglomerates like General Electric are betting on software as their next frontier.

And something surprising happened to the stock market this summer. For a brief window in July, the top publicly traded companies were not the petroleum or big-box behemoths you would expect. Nope -- tech companies were the ones dominating the market.

It was the first time in history that the world's largest companies by market cap were all in the technology sector. And it likely will not be the last. But really, their success should not be a big surprise.

That is because when you peel back the layers of these success stories, one person usually stands out -- a great product leader who embraces the future and paves the way for unprecedented innovation.

These forward-thinking leaders share essential traits and habits that help them innovate, including a few you can apply to your own work:

Set goals

Product leaders know the value of a strong product roadmap mapped to clear goals. Inventor Elon Musk turned heads earlier this year when he revealed the second half of his "secret" master plan -- publicly, on his company website. The plan is far-reaching, even audacious, to be sure. But it clearly and methodically represents the sustainable future that Musk envisions.

Act on curiosity

Jeff Bezos is famous for founding Amazon, but former classmates and colleagues remember him for his remarkable curiosity. Although he landed a plum financial job in New York following college, he was not satisfied with the status quo.

Instead, he was intrigued by the possibilities of an emerging platform -- the internet -- and followed his curiosity all the way to Bellevue, WA. The result is now revolutionizing the way we shop for everyday essentials and how other companies run their own businesses on the cloud.

Expand knowledge

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs may have been dyslexic, but he did not let that stop him from changing the world. When he was young he tinkered in the garage, learning about electronics and later developed a love of art and history. Although he dropped out of college, he never stopped pursuing knowledge -- he continued his education by auditing classes informally.

Embrace adventure

Being at the forefront of the next big thing takes moxie. Perhaps that is why so many billionaire product leaders are drawn to adventure. Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison chases adrenaline as an avid mountain climber, cyclist, and body surfer. Pushing the limits helps thrill-seekers build courage and stamina for the long haul.

Give back

Plenty of product leaders -- from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg -- pay it forward by giving back. Philanthropy is one way that leaders can invest in areas that are important to them.

For example, Napster founder and former Facebook CEO Sean Parker made a $24-million pledge to establish an allergy research center at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The result is a legacy that will support future innovation.

Not every product leader will become a billionaire like these uber-successful individuals. But whether you are an executive in a large company or blazing your own trail as an entrepreneur, it is well worth your effort to bring that same passion and innovation that fuels these billionaires into your own work.

Who knows? You may have the next currently overlooked idea that leaves a lasting impact on the world -- if you have the drive and the courage to pursue it.

Published on: Sep 22, 2016