10 Leadership Principles


When I originally wrote this post, it was when I thought we’d be heading to Las Vegas at the end of March for ExhibitorLIVE. I have a session for new people managers and capturing my leadership beliefs was part of my preparation. What a difference three weeks makes. The entire world is navigating the COVID-19 crisis. Our homes have turned into classrooms and remote office locations. Managers and leaders always provided direction and guidance to their teams. Now, more than ever before in our history, we are drawing on those skills to guide our teams to help them personally and to help our business survive.

I looked at my list of leadership principles to see if any needed to be modified in light of the day’s uncertainties or in situations where you can’t physically check in with your team. Remarkably, I don’t have any changes. These beliefs ring true in this situation. Perhaps even more so. For example, Communication Clarity is especially important when leading a remote team. Caring Personally matters greatly when our employees are concerned about their family’s health and safety.

I’m going to keep this list handy as a reminder of how I want to behave with my team always and especially over the upcoming weeks as we weather this storm together.

I have been preparing a topic for the management track of an upcoming industry conference. The title of my session is “Ready to Lead?” After over 30 years in business and over 20 years leading teams, I’ve accumulated a wealth of best practices and even more “what not to dos”.  As part of my preparation, I’ve given a lot of thought to my personal beliefs and convictions with respect to leadership and the process of really thinking about and documenting what is important to me has been valuable and a bit therapeutic.

This then, is my list:

Integrity – Integrity is about being honest in your communication and dealings with your team, colleagues, and customers. It is a core trait. Your moral compass. When you act with integrity, people know. Even if you have to deliver bad or unpopular news, when you are fair and ethical, it shows. If you break this bond, you really can’t ever get it back.

Assume Positive Intent – When a colleague takes an action that you find questionable or someone fails to perform, first assume positive intent. There are circumstances that you aren’t aware of, some underlying reason. There may be a valid reason for going out of process or perhaps the individual does not have the skills or resources to perform the task. I no more believe that people come to work intending to break the rules or do a bad job, as I believe the young athlete intentionally dropped the pass or failed to get her serve over the net.

Freely Give Trust – When you act with Integrity and Assume Positive Intent, a natural follow on is to Trust your team from the beginning. Yes, there are people who may take advantage of an opportunity, but the vast majority will not. Design plans, policies and programs for the good and not the bad apple.

Passion and Commitment – Love what you do. Excitement and energy are infectious. When you “phone it in”, it shows. Just like children and animals can sense fear, your team will immediately sense when you don’t believe in what you are doing.

Succession Mentality – Having a succession mentality means hiring talent with potential and actively coaching them to perform and achieve. They say that the sign of a great leader is one who can be away from their team for weeks (vacation, illness, or special assignment) and the team never misses a beat.

Energy Impact – Recognize that leaders are not energy neutral. We can lift a team with our energy and demeanor or we can suck the life out of the room. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone has things going on in their personal lives that can be draining. Everyone has a tough encounter with a boss or colleague. But recognize those situations and as much as possible, leave the negativity at the door. However, if you can’t let it go, be open and honest with your team.

Clarity – Communicate clearly and check for understanding. Brene Brown in Dare to Lead writes “clear is kind, unclear is unkind”.  This is especially true when giving constructive feedback or having difficult conversations.

Coach Actively and Differently – As the leader of a team, we have three roles: Leader (provides the vision), Manager (focuses on tasks, timelines and resources) and Coach (helps team members get better). Recognize that each of your team members is at different points in their career with different skills sets and motivations. Tap into each person’s motivations and learning styles.

Care Personally – Get to know your team members as individuals who have lives, interests and challenges outside of the office. This isn’t about small talk and chit chat. This is about being authentically empathetic, caring and bringing that sensitivity into your coaching.

Lead by Example – Model and demonstrate the work ethic you expect in your organization. Set high standards and hold people accountable to achieve them but only when they have the direction, skills and resources to get the job done.

This exercise of writing down my beliefs about leadership and personal accountability was originally tied to the session I’ll be leading. However, the benefit of formally thinking through what is important to me has been tremendously insightful. I’d love to hear what principles make it onto your list.

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