10 Rules for how to be a good leader

10 Rules for how to be a good leader

I recently wrote a post about how to be a good employee, and promised an upcoming post about being a good leader.  Here’s what I’ve learned from working for some great leaders and from doing the best I can to lead my team effectively.

  1. Get to know your team as individuals.  I don’t mean that you should become best friends with your employees, but I do think it’s important to know a little about each person and what drives them, both personally and at work.  This will help when you’re met with engagement challenges, looking for ways to reward their work, and in general in creating a comfortable work atmosphere.
  2. Recognize and engage each person’s strengths.  I’ve used the Strengths Finder book to engage my team in this.  It’s an easy tool to help understand an individual’s strengths, and then you can leverage them to drive performance.
  3. Be honest about your leadership style.  Let’s face it, you’re not perfect.  Be honest about how you tend to lead and where you will need help from your team in adjusting to help them. (see #4)
  4. Adapt your leadership style to your team’s needs.  My natural tendency is to delegate work, by providing an expected outcome and allowing my team to figure out how to achieve it.  This doesn’t work for everyone, though, especially when it’s a new job to them, so I ask them to call me out on being to general and not providing enough detailed direction.  And when they’re new to me and don’t realize I mean it, I follow up – often – until I know they’ve understood and can deliver on the expectation.
  5. Give feedback, both positive and meaningful (some call this constructive).  Both types of feedback should be sincere, specific, and timely.  Explain how their actions impacted you/the job/the company.  I do this as much as possible on the spot, and I also hold regular 1 on 1s with my team to discuss things they’re proud of / I want to recognize, and things they would have done differently / I have noticed that could be improved.
  6. Accept feedback, both positive and meaningful.  This is a big one, and can be difficult for some leaders.  I wrote a post about a great example of this (here).  It is difficult for people to give feedback, especially to their boss, so if they care enough to say something to you, listen!  You may not agree, but remember that their perception is also reality to them.  Eat some humble pie, figure out what you’re doing to cause them grief, and improve if possible.  Whatever the case, don’t take it personally!
  7. Recognize that your way is not necessarily the right or the only way.  I truly believe that the more diverse the opinions and perspectives you’re able to get, the better decisions you will make.  So listen to your team, involve them, and you just might learn a little.  I have learned a lot from people who work for me, and continue to do so every day.
  8. Involve your team in the organization’s purpose and vision.  This is important not only for the organization but for the individuals.  Top performers are motivated by the feeling that they are contributing to a larger whole, and that their work makes a difference.  Link individual goals to the organization’s and recognize your team for their achievements and how they are impacting the company.
  9. Make time for your team, individually and as a team.  Schedule 1 on 1s, and stick to them.  Use the time to give and receive feedback, to celebrate accomplishments, and to check in and help out with current projects and roadblocks.  I think 1 on 1 time with each member of your team is the most valuable time you spend as a leader.  Also have team meetings.  It’s important for people to see what the larger team is working on, share information, and create synergy.  This will make the whole team more effective.
  10. Don’t give answers freely.  You’ve heard the old adage “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he’ll eat forever”… Thinking, making decisions, and problem solving are the same.  If the leader continuously gives answers, it not only doesn’t teach people to solve for themselves, it can also diminish the confidence that individuals had.  Ask them what they think, challenge their ideas with respect, and allow them to make some mistakes along the way, in the interest of learning and development.
What do you think?  What have I missed?
Pic by sxc user kipcurry


  1. August 5, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Fabulous tips in this post! I am taking number 6 to heart - it's by far one of the hardest things for anyone to do! Thanks for this.

    Reply »
  2. Pam (Author)
    August 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Hi Amanda, Thanks for commenting!!! It is so hard not to take feedback personally! The truth is, though, that something is causing a perception for the person giving the feedback... and perception is reality. If you're a leader, it takes a lot of courage for someone to give you feedback, so it means something to them - it's worth listening and figuring out how to improve. Pam

    Reply »
  3. October 2, 2014 at 7:06 am

    […] 10 Rules for how to be a good leader […]

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