What makes a leader effective?
Is it knowing your style? Is it having certain skills? Is it just using your position well?
The key to being an effective leader is to follow good principles of leadership. Knowing your leadership style or having a lot of skills by itself won’t make you an effective leader – but following good principles of leadership will.
Principles are values (or rules) that one uses to guide their actions, thinking, and decision-making.
In some cases, they could be considered fundamental truths that are a foundation for choices, actions, and growth.
In leadership, there are certain principles that effective leaders follow. If you follow these principles, you are well on your way to being a great leader.
If you don’t, it doesn’t matter what approach or style you take, you will not do well.
What are these principles?
In this article, we discuss 15 principles of leadership to help you be a great leader.
Table of Contents
1. Great leaders lead through influence
Leadership is built on influence, not position.
As John Maxwell states:
“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”
You can try to lead by position, and in fact, people may follow you to a certain point because of that position – but only so far.
There is only so much you can do (there’s a lid on your influence) when you do not gain respect and build influence with your team.
However, if you lead through influence, that lid is removed. If people respect you and they know you care about them and that they can trust you, then the possibilities are huge.
Influence is based on the relationship you have with your people. it’s them knowing you care about them, and it’s them respecting you as a leader.
How do you build that influence?
You build influence by caring for your people
If you want to build influence, you must first care about your people.
Care about who they are. Care about their success. Ask questions and get to know them.
And really care. People know when you fake it.
If you care and build that relationship with your people, you’ve taken the first step to building strong influence.
Part of caring is also being humble
Arrogance drives people away. Humility draws them closer.
If you want to build influence. Be humble.
When accolades come your way, give them to your team.
When you make mistakes, admit to them.
Don’t act like you aren’t “better” than your team, because you aren’t.
You build influence by being a person they can trust
If your people cannot trust you, if they don’t feel safe speaking up or feel that you have their back, no matter how “competent” you are, your influence will be severely limited.
You build influence by being competent
You can care about your people to the max, but if you aren’t competent, your influence will only go so far.
You must be competent as a leader and in getting results.
If you care a lot about your people but are indecisive, never get things done, and never reach goals, your influence as a leader is highly limited.
Follow the other principles
Following the other principles on this list will help you show competence and build influence.
It works together
If you care about your team but have no competence, your influence is limited.
If you are highly competent but don’t care for your team, your influence and effectiveness are also limited.
You need to have both.
However, it’s better to have medium competence, high care, and trust from your team than high competence and low care and trust. High competence and low trust are often known as toxic leaders.
2. Great leaders are action-oriented and results-oriented
Good leaders are action-oriented, and they are also results-oriented.
What does that mean?
There are “leaders” who avoid taking action.
They fear making mistakes or being wrong, so they delay moving forward.
They may be insecure or lack self-confidence, so they wait to have “all the information” so they won’t look bad.
They fear making a wrong decision, so they delay the decision to do more “research”. They want to be 100% certain before acting.
They may have a lack of clarity about their goals or try to wait for the “right time”, or get stuck in analysis paralysis.
Good leaders don’t do that.
They do plan, and they do research, but when it is time to act or make a decision, they act. They don’t dally, they don’t hesitate because of fear, they act.
They understand that they are going to make mistakes and that mistakes are part of learning. They know they can never be 100% certain, and that not deciding is also a decision.
They understand that a wrong decision is often better than no decision at all.Be a person who is known for taking action and moving forward. ~ Thomas R. Harris Click To Tweet
Great leaders are also results-oriented.
Great leaders care about their people AND getting results. It’s not one or the other.
If you aren’t getting things done or leading your team toward your goals, mission, or vision, you aren’t really leading.
You care about your team and lead them to reach high and accomplish much.
You measure and look at how to improve systems and processes. You are about constant growth and innovation because you know it leads to greater results.
Good leaders know intentions don’t matter, but results.
However, if you ever have to choose between people and results, choose people first. Not just because it’s right, but in the long run, it benefits your results even more.
3. Great Leaders take ownership and responsibility
Great leaders take ownership.
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin call it Extreme Ownership in their book by the same name.
Great leaders take responsibility for everything they do and everything that happens underneath them.
They don’t cast blame or make excuses. They take ownership of all that happens. If they make a mistake, they own it and work to fix it.
If the team fails to reach a milestone or mistakes or made, they take ownership of that as well.
Weak leaders do the opposite. When they make a mistake, they blame others. They make excuses. They put the fault on the team or environment or something else.
If you want to be a great leader, you must take responsibility. As a leader, you are responsible for all you do and all that your team does.
If your team makes mistakes, it’s ultimately your responsibility.
By taking responsibility, you then can take action to fix it. If you blame, you are saying it’s outside of your control and there’s nothing you can do about it. Taking responsibility means working to make it better or fix it.
Weak leaders blame others because they don’t want to look bad. What they don’t realize is that blaming is what makes you look bad. Taking responsibility makes you look strong.
4. Great leaders act with integrity and character – all the time
It’s all about trust.
If people can’t trust you, why will they follow you?
They may follow to a point because of your position, but if they can’t trust you, they won’t want to follow you.
In everything you do, act with integrity. Act with character – even when it hurts.
If you do this, people know you are real. They know they can trust you. And they will have a stronger desire to follow you.
It’s more than just people following you. As a leader, you are a role model. People follow your lead.
If you are unethical, your organization or team will become unethical – and that will, sooner or later, bring down your team or organization.It is true that integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without integrity, you will never be one. ~ Zig Ziglar Click To Tweet
5. Great leaders have the right priorities
One great downfall of leaders (and the effects they have) is that they have the wrong priorities.
Often, these “leaders” are about themselves. They are about their career and their goals. They aren’t about the team or the mission or vision.
They are there for themselves.
If you are like this, you are going to fail as a leader.
The whole point of a leader is to lead your people toward the accomplishment of a goal. If you don’t do this, then you are not going to be a successful leader.
Great leaders are about their team and the mission and goal. They are about leading their team toward the accomplishment of their goal, and they work to enable the team to do so.
They put the team and mission first, not themselves. When they do this, great things can happen.
6. Great leaders cast vision
Great leaders cast vision.
They have a direction, a destination.
They aren’t just “doing things” to do them. There is a higher purpose they are trying to accomplish.
They know great missions, visions, and goals unify. It brings people together to work together to accomplish that vision.
It ends silos and increases productivity.
One of the great human motivators is purpose. When you can show purpose in people’s work, they are more motivated and engaged.
If there is no vision, then you aren’t taking your people anywhere, and you really aren’t leading.
Now, as a leader further down the chain, you may have to take on other people’s vision, but you can still own it as a leader and as a team. You can still set goals and make a vision that is yours that meets the vision of the company.
7. Great leaders focus on the big picture
Great leaders don’t just focus on the here and now. They don’t get stuck in the minutia of the day-to-day, every day.
They step back and look at the big picture.
It’s your job as a leader to see the big picture, help your team see it, and guide your team toward it.
If you are always stuck in the day-to-day tasks and don’t step back, it’s hard to lead your team forward.
At the same time, if you are too far detached from what your team is doing day-to-day, it becomes hard to lead them toward the bigger picture.
Jocko Willink said (In his book Leadership Strategy and Tactics) that when SEAL teams would do building entries, it wasn’t a good idea for the leader to be upfront – because they would be caught too much in the action that they wouldn’t be able to step back, see the big picture and give instructions.
At the same time, he said they shouldn’t be too far back either – because if they are too far back, they don’t know what is happening and can’t make good decisions or give good instructions either.
8. Great leaders Prioritizes and Takes Action
Great leaders focus on the big picture and prioritize activities that lead them to their goals and mission.
If the leader is not clear on what is important or not, then it’s going to be hard for them to make decisions and lead the team.
At the same time, there often can be many tasks that seem important. Many things may need to happen, seemingly at once.
What should you do?
Prioritize and take action. Willink calls this “Prioritize and Execute”.
Examine the situation. Ask, “What is the most important task right now?” Then take action on it. Make it happen.
When you finish that task, rinse and repeat. Examine the situation, ask the same question, then take action.
Great leaders don’t get caught up in overwhelm or indecisiveness. They don’t try to do everything at once.
When you have a lot that seems to need to be done, prioritize and take action.Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. – Peter Drucker Click To Tweet
9. Great leaders trust and empower their team
Great leaders trust their teams.
They hire good people, then they empower them to do their job. They empower them to make decisions.
They don’t micromanage or feel like they must track them to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do.
They trust them.
If you don’t feel like you can trust your team, the fault is on you. You either have a trust issue, a pride issue, or you’ve hired the wrong people.
If you feel like you must make all the decisions or have employees always report to managers first, you are not being effective and hurting your team AND your bottom line, short-term and long-term.
If you want to be an effective leader, you need to hire great people, give them the resources, tools, and decision-making power to do their job, then let them do it.
Jocko Willink calls this a “decentralized command”.
The decentralized command allows “every member of the team to act based on their understanding of the mission statement and the commander’s intent and to make decisions that supported the mission.” (Leadership Strategies and Tactics)
10. Great leaders create safe environments
Simon Sinek discusses the importance of leaders creating safe environments in his book Leaders Eat Last.
When employees, and the team, feel safe, they can then face outside and deal with external challenges. When they don’t, when they feel like they must protect themselves from the inside, they face the inside and largely ignore the external.
A safe environment is one where employees feel safe to speak up, disagree, and make a mistake – and it’s okay. It’s even encouraged.
They know that their leadership has their back – no matter what.
They don’t fear politics or drama or feel like they have to hide the mistakes they make.
If you want to be a good leader, you need to make it safe for your team. They should be able to speak up, offer feedback, and disagree without the fear of retribution. In fact, those should be encouraged.
You should encourage risk-taking and innovation and chase after new ideas – and encourage the mistakes that come with it (and the learning that comes from that).
When your team feels safe and supported and heard by you, then they can then focus on dealing with outside challenges and making things happen.Tend to the people, and they will tend to the business. — John C. Maxwell Click To Tweet
11. Great leaders make timely decisions
Great leaders work hard to make great decisions. They listen to feedback, disagreement, and other people’s thoughts. They analyze data.
But when it’s time to decide, they decide.
Some decisions take more time than others, some take less. Some involve a lot of input – some don’t involve any.
They know don’t delay making decisions out of fear of being wrong or making a mistake.
They know that not making a decision IS making a decision and that the consequences for not deciding can be worse than if they made the “wrong” decision.
As a leader, you need to be decisive. Get the input you need depending on the decision, then make the decision.
You aren’t always going to make the right decision. That’s okay. That’s how you learn.
And, usually, you can adjust the course as you go. If you make one decision, and it’s not going the way it should, you can always alter it along the way.
Be okay with making mistakes and not always being right. That’s part of it.
When you are indecisive and afraid to make decisions, you are being a weak leader.
Also Read: 7 Main Causes of Weak Leadership
12. Great leaders are about constant growth and learning
Great leaders are about growing themselves and their team or organization.
If you want to be a great leader, always be growing and learning. When you stop, you fall behind.
Find what works for you (blogs, books, videos, podcasts, conferences, etc.) and learn.
But don’t stop there. Help your team keep learning as well. Encourage their growth.
Part of growth is change and innovation. As you grow, the way you do things will likely change. That’s good.
As you grow and your team grows and new ideas come about, the way you run your team or organization, the processes, the systems, the functions – they may all change.
Be okay with innovation and the mistakes or “failure” that comes with it.
Great leaders are all about growth, and if that involves changes and innovation and some mistakes and failures along the way, they are all for it.
13. Great leaders measure (and reward) what’s important
You’ve likely heard the old saying, “What gets measured gets done.” There’s a lot of truth to that.
But even more so, what you reward is what gets done.
As a leader, you should measure what is important. Measure the “end” goal and the drivers that get there.
This helps your team keep track of how you are doing and what you need to adjust to accomplish your goals.
If you don’t measure, you won’t know.
When it comes to rewards, you should reward the behaviors you want.
Too often, leaders and organizations say they want this or that behavior, but they reward the opposite, so they end up getting what they reward.
For example, they may say they want collaboration, but they reward individual achievement, so that’s what they get.
Rewards don’t just mean money (and often shouldn’t be), but praise, recognition, awards, certificates, etc. can all be effective tools. A sincere “job well done” can go far.
If you want the right behaviors and the best results, track what is important and reward the behaviors that you want.
14. Great leaders develop those below them
Good leaders develop their team members.
They coach, mentor, and provide training – whatever it is their team needs to be their best so they can accomplish all that they need to (and more).
They help their team discover their weaknesses and strengths, to see their own mistakes and to own them, and help them be their best.
They also focus on developing future leaders.
They know they won’t be in that same position forever, and they do not feel threatened by having other effective leaders and team members on their team.
Their goal is not just for their organization or team to do well while they are there, their goal is for it to continue to do well when they are gone.
If you want to be an effective leader, take time to grow those below you. Develop other leaders.
When you have people who are below you rocking it, it doesn’t make you look bad, it makes you look good. And it is the right thing to do for the good of your team and your company.
15. Great leaders serve their team
Great leaders serve their teams.
They know that leadership is not about them and having people serve them and their egos.
They know leadership is about leading their team to the accomplishment of a goal (or goals).
As a leader, your job is to help your team accomplish its goals. You should open doors for them, make connections, and provide the resources they need.
If they need training, help them get it. Serve your team and do what you can to help your team succeed.
Final Thoughts on the 15 Principles of Leadership
Principles are important. They are a guiding beacon when it comes to the decisions you make and actions you take.
As a leader:
- Lead with influence
- Be action and result oriented
- Take ownership of all that happens with and under you
- Act with integrity and character
- Have the right priorities (team and mission above yourself)
- Cast vision
- Focus on the big picture (but don’t forget the day-to-day)
- Prioritize and take action
- Trust and empower your team/employees
- Create a safe environment
- Make timely decisions
- Be about growth and learning
- Measure and reward what’s important
- Develop those below you
- Serve your team
Do these principles of leadership, and you will be well on your way to being a great leader.
Now to you: What principle are you going to focus on? Did we miss one you find important? Let us know in the comments below.