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Principles of Leadership


Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some great leaders on how to keep their teams engaged, focused and motivated. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from managers (notice I did not say “leaders”) who did the exact opposite – inspired negativity and a sense of fear in the teams. As I moved on to leadership positions, both functional and project-based, I learned quickly that it doesn’t take a lot of deep knowledge to be a good leader. This isn’t to say that good leaders are not intelligent, but to be a good leader you need to demonstrate qualities that make you a good person, not a brilliant one.

Leaders are all around us. In business, politics, sports, families – you can find leaders everywhere. What make us want to follow these people? What characteristics or knowledge to they have that inspires us?

Once I moved out of the “worker-bee” positions and into some formal leadership positions, I quickly learned that showing off how smart you are or what you learned as a techie does not go very far in terms of inspiring great teams. Once I got past the need to constantly impose my technical knowledge on the team, I learned that if I stuck to two basic principles that the rest of it tends to take care of itself.

Always Follow Through on Your Commitments

Have you ever worked for someone who kept telling you “I’ll get right on that, you’ll have it tomorrow”. But tomorrow never seems to come? How does that impact your confidence in that individual to deliver what they promise? As a leader, you need to set the bar and hold yourself just as accountable as anyone else on the team. If you make a promise to your team, follow through with it. As soon as your team starts to see that you can’t come through on what you commit to, why should they?

Never Ask Someone to Do Something You’re not willing to Do Yourself

All great leaders have at some point in their careers had to do the “trench work” as I call it. They’ve been there, doing the hands-on work and have an understanding of what their teams are doing. As times and technology change, it’s not reasonable that someone in a senior leadership position will be as knowledgeable as some of the team members doing the work however the basic principle is that as a good leader, you should not be expecting someone on your team to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself. Need someone to stay late or work over the weekend? You should be willing to do the same (even if it means being the lunch-runner for the team). Seeing their leader being willing to make the same sacrifices as the team is can have an infinitely positive effect on the morale and engagement of your team members, which is such a key factor to building a high-performing team.

There is a great line in the move “The Core” that sums up leadership into one line - “…..being a leader isn’t about ability, it’s about responsibility” – being accountable for the team but also setting the bar and making you just as accountable as your team members.

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