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Everyone can think of that one of the first great leaders in their life, but how many people can tell you why? If I were to ask you what the traits of the best managers you’ve had, you’d probably say one or more of the following:

  • My favorite manager always made everyone around them better.
  • When times were tough they always seemed to be able to get results no matter what obstacles they faced.
  • They actually care about their people.
  • When push came to shove they never fired anyone, the people fired themselves.

As a manager, my goal was always to be perceived as a leader by those whom I was directly responsible for, my peers and my bosses.  I’m proud to say, there were many times when I accomplished this goal and regret to report there were many times I wasn’t.

I usually knew when things were going good because the morale was high and positive things were happening around me.  I also knew when things were going bad because the opposite was true.  When things were bad, it always easy to tell myself it wasn’t my fault and blame my bosses, the economy or a myriad of other seemingly legitimate excuses.  However, even when I was making excuses I knew in my heart that if I was going to be seen as a leader I had to overcome any obstacles that were put in front of me and take responsibility.

Luckily for me, early in my career I had a boss that introduced me to what he called his “5 key principles of great leaders.”  When I reflect back to when I was a successful as a leader I followed one or more of his 5 core principles. When I failed to lead it usually meant I let emotion or my ego get in the way and I started to place blame or except mediocrity and abandoned these core principles.

Over the years I refined his principles and made them my own, but they are in essence the same lessons I was taught all those years ago and have stood the test of time

5 Core Principles All Leaders Need to Have

  1.   Focus on procedure, concern or conduct not on specific people or departments.

Think about when someone brings you a problem and drops it on your desk.  Most of the time they know what needs to be done but they often have a hidden agenda, something that will benefit them.

Your goal as a leader is to work with them to break the problem down to smaller chunks.  If you decide together it’s a procedural problem, ask them what they think the real cause of the problem is and develop a solution that will work for everyone.

If the issue they bring you is someone’s conduct such as a co-worker losing their temper or maybe even throwing things, focus on the exact behavior or conduct but don’t get dragged into analyzing the person’s motives.  You are not a licensed psychologist, you are a leader, focus on what’s in front of you.

Here’s an example:

Mary comes to her manager Bill and tells him that Joe just sent her a belligerent e-mail.  This is certainly a conduct issue.  When you sit down with Joe, don’t get drawn into the tit for tat between Mary and Joe – just focus on the specifics: Joe wrote this e-mail to Mary.  Don’t let the conversation get off track – if Bill brings up other issues with Mary or anyone else politely tell him, we’ll deal with that in a minute, but I need to make sure you understand that sending e-mails like the one you sent to Mary has to stop immediately. Your objective is to get Bill to agree he should have handled the situation differently –  ask him how he will act it in the future when a similar situation occurs.  If necessary, give him a suggestion or two.  End the conversation by saying something along the lines of: “Bill I know I can count on you to treat Mary going forward with dignity and respect”

     2.  Maintain respect for individuals, teams, internal and external customers and yourself.

Your goal as a leader is fraught with emotions from everyone you are in contact with and even those you may have never meet.  There is always a natural competition between people and departments and it’s your goal to be a coach that positively gets people to work together.  When you find yourself being a referee, not a coach, take a step back and ask yourself “How can I improve this process to work for everyone?”

After you develop a solution test it by asking yourself “does this solution improve the situation for all people and departments?”  If your solution means one person or department wins and the other loses, resentment will begin to occur and this must be avoided at all costs. If your solution doesn’t meet your criteria, try to come up with another solution that meets your goal of “improving the process for everyone”.

Maintaining a respectful relationship with your direct reports, your peers and your customers is vital in ensuring you have a workplace that values people.

     3.  Ensure all activities performed are centered on strengthening internal and external partnerships.

How many times have you gotten an e-mail or been told by your boss that a new procedure is being enacted and you know it will hurt another process down the line?  How did you feel about whoever’s idea it was?

If you’re the implementer of the new procedure, it’s always a good idea that before the new process goes into effect that you get feedback well in advance to ensure it doesn’t conflict with someone else’s world.  It’s amazing how having a quick conversation with someone to make sure they understand what you hope to improve and asking for feedback has on improving your partnerships.

     4.  Take responsibility to improve processes.

Have you ever been guilty of doing something at work that you knew could be done better but thought it would be easier to just keep doing it the old way because “it’s just not worth the hassle” of trying to get everyone to change.  You can’t solve every problem in one day but make a promise to yourself to pick problems or issues one at a time and work with the necessary people to make the necessary process improvements.  Doing this step will motivate everyone around you when they see positive things actually happen.  You’ll quickly be seen as a change agen

     5.  Be the embodiment of each principle.

It’s a cliché, but you have to lead by example. If you can embody these principles, then you will have taken a great step to becoming a leader or maintaining your leadership persona.