Did you know the term “Leadership Principles” is searched online over 8,000 times each month? Leadership is a big topic, and if you’re someone who manages people I bet you’re constantly searching for ways to improve your leadership skills.
As a new organizational leader, understanding leadership principles can feel overwhelming.
How do you do it well?
What makes a good leader?
What makes people want to follow you?
How should you handle it when things go wrong?
You could endlessly research the topic of leadership and still not know where to start when it comes to leading your organization. While leadership experts disagree on some of its tenets, there are multiple researched-backed and proven leadership principles. And when you apply these principles, you can rest assured you’re on your way to reaching the highest standards within your organization.
Here we’ll take a look at 3 outstanding leadership principles you can implement today in your own work, whether you’re the owner of a startup company or a newly promoted supervisor in a longstanding business.
1. What You Do Matters
The first leadership principle you need to know is that what you do as an organizational leader makes a real, tangible difference in the performance bar of your team members – what you do matters.
I’ve been where you are as a new leader, and I’m here to tell you—wondering about your impact as a leader and role-model is part of the job.
And this is a good thing.
Reflecting on your role and how you connect with your own team members and the agency as a whole is necessary to become an excellent leader, because it allows you to analyze your leadership style and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.
To be an effective and impactful role model, you have to analyze the role you play within your organization regularly. Holding yourself to a high standard means you actively search for areas of self-improvement— and then you do something about it. Don’t just be aware of your weaknesses; actively work to develop the best skill set you can to be the best organizational leader you can be.
Here’s the caveat—while you should regularly analyze your role, your leadership style, and areas for self-improvement, you should never question the importance of what you do.
Let me explain:
As a good leader, your words and actions make a difference, and the way you work with your team members matters. As a leader and role model for those around you, you have the ability to make a real difference. You’re able to impact and empower your team members to raise the performance bar and move your agency forward to places it’s never been before.
You already have the qualities necessary to be the most successful leader your agency has ever seen, and this is something you have to know and be confident in. Before your own team members can believe this about you, you first have to believe it yourself.
Kouzes and Posner, award-winning authors on leadership, reviewed data from over one million people around the world to take a look at the real-life characteristics of successful leaders, and their work revealed something not-so-surprising:
It’s the behavior of leaders that keeps employees feeling good about their work and wanting to do their best; it’s not about who the leader is or where they come from—it’s about what you do as a leader that counts.
Here’s another interesting fact about this leadership principle:
It’s not the CEOs, the Presidents, or other top-dogs in an organization who have the most impact on how employees feel about the work they do. Kouzes and Posner explain:
This means that for many, the most important leader in the organization is you.
Youhave the power to develop the best in your own team, to empower your staff to believe in their ability to meet high standards and to encourage a strong sense of commitment and dedication to your agency.
Now, you could view this leadership principle with anxiety – a thought filled with pressure. But for you, the leader who believes in your ability to positively influence others, knowing you really do have this kind of impact on others as a good leader becomes an opportunity and opens the door to great things for your organization.
So, be confident in your decision-making skills and what you do.
You’re a leader, and your words and actions have the ability to move those around you. What you do matters. Believe it about yourself, and others will too.
2. Great Leaders Are Great Learners
The second leadership principle you need to understand is that leaders are created, not born, and everyone has the ability to become a great leader.
You weren’t born knowing how to be a leader, and right now you have questions about how to be better at it. Leadership isn’t a gene, it’s not hereditary, and babies aren’t born with a leadership skill set that puts them above all other babies born in the world that day.
Anyone can learn to be an effective, impactful leader, and you have to be a believer in this. No matter how much experience you have or how good of a leader you are right now – you’ve got to believe that you have the ability to dig deeper, look further, and learn new and better ways of doing things all the time.
You have to believe there’s always continual room for improvement in your leadership style.
As a strong leader who understands the tenants of leadership principles, you feel passion for what you do, and this passion is the fuel that drives you to want to be better. You strive to always grow and improve, and you understand there’s always more to learn.
The great leader knows the importance of continuing education and prioritizes learning as part of their routine. Setting yourself up for success in learning about leadership is as simple as carving out a small amount of reading time in your daily routine.
Don’t worry—your resourcefulness as a good leader will aid you in finding time to prioritize this daily opportunity to dive deep into the world of leadership. Here are some strategies to help you in your learning journey:
Take Baby Steps
As discussed in Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge, small increments of time every day add up to major progress—he notes reading only ten pages on leadership per day means that in one year, you’ll have read 3,650 pages or the equivalent of between 12 and 24 dozen books on the topic of leadership and leadership principles.
I’ve got this image posted near the computer I work on for my full-time job in leadership, and I also have it posted by the computer I use for my freelance writing. It’s a daily reminder that small actions build upon each other, and days build upon days. This mindset will have major impacts in your work and other aspects of life, too. It certainly has for me.
Can you find time to read just ten pages a day? Think of what you’ll learn and the vast amount of new ideas you’ll be exposed to as a leader who strives to be the best you can be!
For a quick read on leadership, click here to check out People Managing People’s 86 Motivational Quotes About HR for Teams and Managers.
Watch and Learn
Another way to continually learn is simply to watch.
What does this mean?
It means getting out there with your employees—take responsibility to get out on the warehouse floor, work the line, visit offices throughout the day. Observe the way your team members work together. Watch how they demonstrate self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, and take responsibility for their work to reach the high standards you’ve set forth.
Be a present leader, and your staff will see your dedication and care about your team.
When you show up as a leader, you’ll demonstrate your level of commitment—and as an extra point, be able to get a clear picture of how daily operations are running and what areas of the workforce may need your attention. Good leaders have a strong grasp of what’s going on in their agency.
When you get out into the work environment with your staff instead of staying holed-up in your office, you show them you’re available and willing to hear their concerns.
Listening is another leadership skill that will teach you a great deal about your team members and your agency. Listening is actually a skill that good leaders learn and prioritize improvement in.
The key is to actively listen; give your full attention—without phone interruptions or cutting a conversation short—really hear what those working with you have to say without judgment or emotion, and reflect what you’ve heard to make sure you got it right.
Here’s a chart comparing passive and active listening – what kind of listener are you? To be a strong and impactful leader, you need to improve your active listening skills.
Whether or not you decide to make changes based on the concerns you hear from team members, they’ll know you’re present and open to hearing what they have to say. They’re also more likely to respect your business decisions when they know you’ve given them the opportunity to be heard.
If you have a positive relationship with your employees, and they don’t fear embarrassment or have anxiety when talking to you, they’ll be more likely to report small issues they see rather than waiting for these little problems to become glaring issues requiring immediate attention.
Sometimes being heard is all people need from a role model, and they’ll leave the interaction feeling listened to and empowered to demonstrate their own self-sufficiency and leadership skills.
You might be surprised what you learn when listening to your own team members; sometimes it’s the newest person on the payroll who has the freshest perspective and new ideas that could take your organization to the next level—you just have to take responsibility to be open and willing to hear it.
Check out this article by People Managing People to learn more about employee engagement and the twelve statistics you need to know as a good leader.
Ask For Help
Being open to asking others for help is another great way to dive deep and develop your leadership skills further. Don’t be afraid to call upon those who have come before you in your role or other agency leaders you’re familiar with and admire.
Sharing experiences and learning what’s worked for other great leaders-–and what hasn’t– is one of the best ways to learn more about what it takes to improve in your own leadership style and develop the best organizational culture possible.
Take Time to Reflect
Reflection is another great way for business leaders to regularly work toward self-improvement, and this effective practice can be easily scheduled into your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.
Ask yourself questions like these:
What went well today?
How did I manage my time?
Did I make authentic connections with my team members today?
Was I honest in my communications and able to say the hard things?
What signals did I send to employees about our work and vision?
What step can I take to be a better leader tomorrow?
Prioritizing as little as five minutes at the end of each day to look back on how things went will give you clarity about what went well, what didn’t, and what self-improvement steps you can take to increase your value as a leader for the next day, week, or month.
Even as a great leader, things aren’t always going to go smoothly, and it’s important to reflect honestly on what went well and what changes need to be made.
This leads us to the third leadership principle you need to know as a new business leader, and it’s one you’re really going to need to get comfortable with.
Are you ready for it?
3. Leaders Fail
Not only do they fail, but great leaders view failure as necessary and aren’t afraid of risk-taking. Leaders recognize the benefit of taking chances and working outside of the box, and the risk that comes along with it is worth it.
Making mistakes is the absolute best way to learn and make improvements for the future.
Think back on the times you’ve learned the biggest lessons. I guarantee it wasn’t the time that things went effortlessly well – no, it’s the time that you made a mistake, fell flat, and had to pick yourself up and try again.
Risk-taking will inevitably lead to mistakes and failures at times–we can’t escape this fact. But these mistakes and failures teach us valuable lessons and provide opportunities for reflection and self-improvement.
As you can see in this chart by Gordon Tredgold, there may be multiple areas of fear that you’ll need to address and overcome. The important thing is that you recognize the fears and take strides to address them.
Being open to failure can be intimidating, and it requires you to demonstrate courage as a good leader. As role models, we want to set the performance bar high for ourselves – sometimes too high, and this brings with it a dread of failing.
Remove the dread of failure from your thoughts, and feel the weight of perfection lift from your shoulders while you become more human in the eyes of your team members.
Brene Brown, award-winning author and scholar of leadership principles, encourages us to “choose courage over comfort,” and be willing to take the chance, whatever it might be, not knowing whether you’re going to be successful or not. You can read more about Brene Brown’s work here.
Sometimes your risk-taking won’t lead to success—but sometimes it will.
Here’s another thing about the failure principle—as good leaders, we ought to be able to openly talk about failure.
Have the courage to take responsibility and openly acknowledge that you made a mistake when you do. When you talk about what you learned from a failure, it opens the door for those you lead and shows your team members it’s okay to go big, to dive deep, and try for something and fail at it.
As leaders, we do our best to make the best decision we can at the time. Most times, it’s the right decision—but sometimes it won’t be.
Being open to the idea of failures and people making mistakes doesn’t mean you don’t have high standards. In fact, it means you require the highest standards when it comes to your team members feeling empowered, resourceful, and open to learning and self-improvement.
Be able to choose courage over comfort and realize that acceptance of failure is one of the great leadership principles that will make you a better organizational leader. You and your staff will be better team members because of it.
As someone working in a leadership role, I know leadership can be tough—especially when you’re first starting and trying to find your way in a brand-new role. But you can do this—all it takes is a firm understanding of these and other leadership principles that will propel you to become the great leader you were meant to be.