by Richard Martin

Note: This article originally appeared on 30 July 2012 on Republished on with permission.

Understanding basic leadership principles may improve your leadership abilities, but it’s not enough just to know them – they also have to be lived and perfected every day. I suggest focusing on a different principle every week. Do this repeatedly and you may well become an outstanding leader.

1. Achieve professional competence. People follow leaders who know what they are doing and who get results. Take Steve Jobs. I’m not advocating being deliberately nasty, but by all accounts, he wasn’t a very ‘nice’ leader. People at Apple put up with his quirks, because he was the best at what he did and got spectacular results.

2. Appreciate your strengths and limitations and pursue self-improvement. The ancient Greeks believed the ultimate mark of wisdom was to “Know thyself.” If you want to be good, you have to correct or compensate for your limitations. To become great, however, you have to build on your strengths.

3. Seek and accept responsibility. If you shirk responsibility, word will get out. Superiors will avoid giving you challenging missions and the best employees won’t want to be part of your team.

4. Lead by example. “Do as I say, not as I do.” This is hypocritical and creates a culture of blame and dissimulation. If you want your followers to do the right thing, to admit to their mistakes, to learn from experience, and to be honest and loyal, then you have to do the same things and not just proclaim it.

5. Make sure your followers know your meaning and intent, then lead them to the accomplishment of the mission. Contrary to mushrooms, people do not grow better in the dark. If you want your followers to show initiative, you have to provide them with as much information as possible so they can shape their plans and actions to the overarching goals of the organization. By extension, you have to be present to coach and mentor them, supervise operations, and make sure that the objective is being achieved.

6. Know your followers and promote their welfare. The best form of welfare is to know the strengths and limitations of your people, their personal and professional goals, whether they are enjoying what they are doing and whether they feel they are being employed to their full potential.

7. Develop the leadership potential of your followers. Leadership is required up and down the line to deal effectively and quickly with patients, make judgment calls, and provide timely and relevant advice to colleagues, superiors and followers. This is also how you can tell who is ready for promotion or further development.

8. Make sound and timely decisions. We’ve all heard the expression, “lead, follow or get out of the way,” but that can lead to over-reliance on hasty and intemperate decisions. Sometimes the best decision is to defer making one until more or better information is available. It’s not just about speed, but also appropriateness and timeliness.

9. Build your team’s cohesion and morale and employ everyone up to their capabilities. Morale is the willingness to do what is needed to achieve the mission. Cohesion is the degree of team performance and integration. Both depend on keeping everyone informed and employing them to their full capabilities and potential.

10. Keep your followers informed of the mission, the changing situation and the overall picture. As they say in the military, no plan survives contact with the enemy. If you want your people to perform, exercise judgment, adjust to changes and show initiative, then everyone needs to know what is happening and, as much as possible, why it’s happening.

© 2012 Richard Martin. All rights reserved.

  1. Chris Allen says:

    Great post Richard, I don’t think I can ever stress those two points lead by example and keeping your followers informed enough!

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