4 Leadership Principles that Really Work



From Kevin: This is the first guest post I’ve done on Simple Advice for the New Leader. I have written a lot about how a great leader is always learning. The coaches and mentors at Building Champions are a solid source for me as I continue to learn and grow, and this post from one of their coaches caught my attention, mostly for its simple but solid message. I also happen to agree with his thoughts on Ryan Holiday’s article. Enjoy and let me know your thoughts.

From Jerry Baker:

We receive so many messages through email, text messaging and social media that it can be overwhelming — but some of them are really good.

For instance, someone recently forwarded me an article by Ryan Holiday (author of books such as “Ego is the Enemy and “The Obstacle Is the Way”). It was called “38 Leadership Principles for The Greatest Business, Military, Political and Sports Leaders.” It’s a good read, and I recommend checking out the whole piece when you have time.

All 38 of the principles Holiday shared are great, but a few of them really resonated with me. Here are those that I’d like to emphasize from many years as a coach and leader.

A Leader is a Learner

A leader should always be pushing to learn more about their job, their company, their industry and other topics to improve their leadership and results.

Back in my twenties, I worked for an aircraft company, and I got interested in building aircraft out of titanium. It was then a new, exotic metal, and I discovered a wealth of information about fabricating and assembling an aircraft from titanium at the Battelle Memorial Institute. That knowledge elevated me in the company. I’ve continued to practice the strategy of continuous learning all my career, even now.

I urge you to keep current and expose yourself to out-of-the-box, uncommon and new ideas. They may help set you apart in your career.

A Leader Does the Right Thing, Even if it Holds Them Back

As a leader, sometimes doing what’s right can hurt — but that shouldn’t keep you from taking the high road.

Many years ago, U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. spoke to a gathering of our management and corporate teams, and he shared two main principles that have stuck with me: always do what’s right, and keep moving forward.

I’ve done my best to stay true to those two principles because like General Schwarzkopf and many leaders, I believe that integrity is critical.

How can people follow you if they can’t trust what you say is honest and consistent with how you go about your job?  And, if you don’t do what you say you will do, why should anyone follow?

A Leader is Humble

A leader recognizes that they get things done with and through others.

When you listen to others on your team, they will learn to trust you. I see far too much ego in some leaders; they make everything about them rather than about the team.

Real success is achieved by helping others get what they want in work and life. Set your ego aside and achieve better results by leading others to reach a common goal.

A Leader Thinks Long-Term

As a leader, you must keep one eye on the present, on what matters now. But you also need to focus the other eye on what’s next, and what will help get you there.

This probably means you need to get better at delegating, and at creating room in your day and on your calendar, so that you can spend time thinking long-term. Where are you headed, what will it take to get you there and what adjustments or changes are required? Thinking ahead more will help you get there.

What This Means For You

Those aren’t the only principles that a leader should follow, but following them will undoubtedly make you a better leader. I hope this list showed you where your leadership is thriving and where you’d like to improve.


4 Things Your Followers Need From You


One of the toughest things for a new leader to do is cross over from doing to leading. In most organizational environments, a new leader gets the opportunity through producing results as a doer. So, you have excelled at getting results, and now you’re in a role where you have to get results through others. Welcome to leadership.

To help you make the most of your opportunity, this post should serve as a resource to come back to over and over, in order to keep the needs of your team/followers in front of you. To effectively lead others, you have to be good at a number of things that may not come naturally, but are still important. Leading with a servant mentality is one of them. And to do servant leadership well, you have to know what those you serve need from you. Here are the main four needs I’ve experienced over 20 years of leadership, mostly through feedback from those who follow me:

TRUST: firm belief in the reliability, truth or strength of someone

Everyone, no matter who they are, needs to know their leader trusts them. Trust is the foundation for any relationship, and it’s crucial to your success as a leader that you be both trusting and trustworthy. So yes, it goes both ways. If you have trouble trusting anyone on your team, before you do anything else you need to dig into why. If they’ve betrayed your trust in the past, then you need to be getting them off your team or working together with them to rebuild it. Once you’ve decided to trust those you lead, you’ll find that you either strengthen or weaken that trust in how you handle problem situations. Here’s how to ensure you always strengthen trust in these times:

1) Give them the benefit of the doubt first, and…

2) As you’re exploring what went wrong, seek to understand everyone involved (this is a challenge because it forces us to listen!) and always get all the facts before you take action

Final piece of advice in this area, if you are taking corrective action, do it in a way that develops their thinking and improves their decision making. Because to be an effective leader, you do need people making decisions, you can’t make them all. And I promise you this, if you second guess every decision they make, they will stop making decisions! That is a fact.

CLARITY: the quality of being certain or definite

Clarity is important in two key areas. People who work for you want clear direction on what is expected of them, both in their work and their behavior. You handle the behavior through Core Values, and you handle the direction through a solid job description (ask me about position agreements) and regular communication.

Most people also want clarity on their path to growth within the company. This one is tougher because you can’t always know what the future may hold and what opportunities may arise. I tend to handle this one in line with some great advice I received from Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast years ago.

1) At the beginning of your time with someone as their leader, get a clear understanding of their goals for growth. Do they want to excel in a specific area or get experience across the entire organization? Know what they are hoping to accomplish, so you can be part of helping them move in that direction.

2) About once quarterly, as you are discussing performance in their current role, give them feedback on how that performance is helping or hurting their effort toward hitting their growth goals.

3) When opportunities arise within the organization, be their advocate, even if it means they would be moving out of your area and you’ll have to hire/train someone else. If you can’t advocate for them, they should already know why before the chance comes up (your quarterly conversations). If they don’t get the role, they will know that you did all you could on their behalf. Help them understand why a different decision was made so they can learn from that experience.

Final thought on clarity: everyone hates change, and few people lead well through it. But change is constant so when leading through change, clarity is key. Ask your followers if you are being clear enough in direction and development and don’t get off the conversation until they say “yes”.

ACCOUNTABILITY: the condition of being responsible

All high-performance people want to be held accountable. If someone on your team isn’t performing at a high level, it’s your fault. Go back to clarity to get them moving in the right direction, and if they can’t improve, help them find another opportunity elsewhere. Spend the majority of your time and energy on the people you can hold accountable and who will allow you to grow and shape them to hit the goals they gave you on the front end.

If you inherited a team from another leader, you first need to earn their respect and trust (stay tuned for a future post on this) by building the relationship. As you’re doing that, review what goals each team member has, and what work they’re being held accountable for, and establish a meeting rhythm with each one to lay the foundation for accountability. Take time to learn how you need to lead each person differently toward the same goal.

POSITIVITY: the presence of being optimistic in attitude

Let’s talk about the power of positivity vs. negativity. FACT: it’s just easier to be negative. People who default to negativity are basically being lazy. Even the best leaders have to admit though, that it’s hard not to go to negative first when something’s not going according to plan. What’s hard is developing the ability to quickly pull yourself out of negative and go to positive. The best tip I got on how to deal with this actually came from a book by Rob Bell called Drops Like Stars. It’s a spiritual book intended to help people approach pain and suffering differently after a significant loss. But something he said helped me apply it to this area of my leadership. Basically, things are going to go wrong. Change is constant, people fall short, goals are missed. Transition your thinking from “why did this happen” to “what’s next”.

“What next” forces you into a forward-thinking mindset, and it’s more difficult to be negative if you’re thinking about how to get better moving forward. I believe this is where great leaders separate themselves from the pack. Because as we mentioned above, negativity is easy and most people will camp out here by dwelling in the past. Don’t be like most people. Move forward, stay positive. Your followers will love you for it.

Final thought on positivity: if you tend to be a positive person, those around you who are mostly negative may accuse you of puking rainbows. Don’t let that get in your head. Positive leadership is so many times more effective than dictator-style leadership (dwelling on the negative). Followers of positive leaders are loyal and bought in. Followers of dictators work just hard enough not to get fired, and will leave as soon as something else is available.

That’s my list of four. You’ll find other things your specific team members need from you, but I believe this list above is a great start no matter who you lead.


Take Time to Disconnect


I’ve heard it said many times a leader has to always be “on”. From my experience, that is mostly true. You do have to be on your game when leading and inspiring others. But I don’t believe it’s sustainable to be on at your highest level consistently without taking a very intentional break occasionally.


Leadership is mentally exhausting. And mental exhaustion leads to physical exhaustion (funny how our minds can convince our bodies that we’re waxed). Both kinds of exhaustion keep us from performing at our peak.

Just like an athlete fuels up after a demanding performance, a leader needs to refuel the mind to be ready for the next “game”. Because it will be the mind that needs to be at peak performance to deliver the results needed for success in leadership. If our minds are not focused and fueled up, we won’t have the mental toughness needed to get through the demanding seasons and challenges of leading people, teams and organizations. We’ll feel more like quitting than grinding it out.

Side note: not only is it wise to unplug and refresh, its part of our stewardship to those we lead. Great leaders help everyone we lead see a path to greater success, and if we’re not at the top of our game, we’re actually letting them down by not giving them our best. So do yourself and your team a favor and take a break.

What do I mean by “break”?

I just had a long conversation with someone I know professionally who is going through a very difficult time in his life. At one point in this struggle, a mentor of his advised him to get away from his daily routine so he could think clearly. He took his dog and a little bit of work, and went to stay with a friend for a week. Now, if we stop right here, this could go one of two directions. It could turn into a week of escaping responsibilities and getting nothing done, or it could be just what is needed to refocus. The difference…his daily routine during this “retreat”.

He started the morning with a physical workout. Running, walking, swimming, anything to get the body warmed up for the day. He ate a solid breakfast then spent the rest of each morning writing down goals for the next month, quarter and year and journaling what it would take from him to accomplish each of them (time, resources, information, support from family/friends, etc).

After a light lunch he spent each afternoon touching base with the office and getting work done. What I find fascinating is even in taking his mornings off the grid to reflect and focus, he accomplished more each afternoon than he would traditionally in a full day.

It turns out that when we don’t intentionally refresh/focus, when we are just going through the motions, we waste a significant amount of energy on unproductive stuff like that little iDevice in our hands, email/social media, or other distractions that aren’t really all that important.

Each evening, he spent time in the company of friends who listened to his thoughts, plans and goals, and who agreed to help him remain accountable to them after he left. He said “by the end of the week I was completely refreshed and re-energized, I was a productivity machine”.

No matter how long you’ve been a leader, you can always learn something from the stories of others. So today, I learn along side you.

Getting away and breaking the routine helps you…

-Clear your mind

-Focus on your goals

-Make decisions with clarity

-Have greater productivity

-Be more present with those around you once you get back at it

But don’t get hung up on the fact that my friend took a week to get away. Even if you can’t find an entire week, don’t let that stop you from doing something. In researching the idea of an “off-site” I find that many career/executive coaches recommend this at least once a year. But just as you would in leading a team in an off-site, the key is removing the distractions, otherwise the entire experience becomes a frustration instead of a refresher.

dirt road.jpeg

So, get off the grid for long enough to clear your mind and focus on the goals in front of you…

Take a long drive,

get away for a day, whatever,

but do it unplugged!

Spend the time intentionally, away from your daily routine, and come back refreshed and ready to get back in the grind. Everyone around you will be better for it.


Develop a Spirit of Gratitude!


In my 20+ years of leadership, I draw a complete blank trying to think of a great leader I’ve studied who didn’t show a spirit of gratitude.

If that statement sounds odd to you, just take some time to read or listen to your favorite leaders. I will almost guarantee they use “thank you” regularly but also genuinely. Why is this important?

Well, to me it’s important because it’s almost impossible to be bitter when you make it a habit to be grateful. And bitterness is one of those traits that will hold you back as a leader.

Think about where bitterness comes from:

You didn’t get something you felt like you earned, or someone else got something you should have gotten.

Someone else’s success drives you crazy.

You deserve…

And there it is…entitlement.

I gave a talk to a group of young leaders recently about entitlement. It’s a great topic because when you ask for thoughts on that word, most people associate entitlement with the mentality of a specific group of people, or with a political stance.

But if we’re honest, we all have it inside us. We believe we deserve certain things, or certain recognition. The more we let those thoughts sink in, the more bitter we become until we settle into the entitlement trap…the feeling that no matter what we have, we constantly need more to be satisfied or content.

The truth is, with that mentality, nothing we can ever achieve or accumulate will ever be good enough. Guaranteed!

So how do we fight it?

In his book The Entitlement Cure, Dr. John Townsend recommends changing “I deserve” to “I am responsible”. That little shift in perspective changes everything about how you approach everything. If you “deserve”, you’re more prone to sit back and wait for it to happen (and it most likely won’t). If you are “responsible”, it shifts your mindset to a pro-active approach. “I have to take action for this to happen”.

Simple but brilliant. I agree 100%.

But I wouldn’t stop here. I would add one more thing:

Take a look at what you’re putting into your mind.

How do you start your day? Do you feed yourself political junk? Do you jump on social media and sink into all the polarizing posts of the day? What is the first information you are putting in your mind each day?

When I ask this question, most people I’ve met (who want to get better in this area) admit they probably don’t have the right focus to start their day. So to fight this, I have them audit what they’re reading or listening to for a week. Once we discover the junk they’re putting in, we get buy-in on how to make a change.

And that change is to focus on all the reasons each of us has to be grateful.

It’s a true spirit of gratitude for all the positive things in your life. A successful business, a loving family, your health, resources to spend on yourself or others, etc.

And as I mentioned here, it’s taking the time to recognize others for their impact on your life.

Try this for one week. Every morning, instead of pulling up social media or watching political TV, spend 5-10 minutes writing down things from the day before that you are grateful for. Find something positive to read to yourself and do it daily for one week (if you need ideas, comment below and I’ll send you some). Eliminate the temptation to check into Facebook or to read/listen to anything political.

Then do it for another week. Then another week. After a month, it’ll be a habit and you’ll be a different person. You’ll find yourself much more present and aware in your day-to-day life. You won’t be focused on what you don’t have or what you “deserve” but will live in real appreciation for all that is good in your life.

And that’s the mindset the most successful leaders have.

It’s contagious too.

Just wait and see the impact you’ll have on those around you.

I’ll leave you with this parting thought from Zig Ziglar – “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”


Catch ’em Doing Something Right!


This edition is for anyone who finds themselves trying to lead with positivity. I cannot overemphasize the importance of recognition when someone “gets it right”, but hear me when I tell you this is especially important in an environment that is fast-paced where perfection is the expectation. In a high-accountability environment, leaders are prone to focus on what didn’t go right and miss opportunities all around them to recognize what did. If you want to be a leader who earns the appreciation of those who follow you because they know you appreciate their efforts, this is for you. I’ve split my advice into two parts:

  1.  looking for recognition opportunities from outside your organization, and…
  2. recognizing those on your internal team.

I hope you are able to get a couple of good ideas through my stories here.

External: I’m a high maintenance relationship professionally because I expect anyone we do business with to be as perfect as we want to be. That means I lean hard on anyone I refer to a client because the client sees that referral partner as an extension of our team. They also associate their experience with any introduction I make as a part of the overall experience doing business with us. It can make or break whether they come back or never call us again.  I also hold them to a very high standard on how they treat anyone on my team(s) because the people I lead deserve the same respect and professionalism extended to our clients. So when an interaction falls short of perfection, I’m letting them know about it and working to find out how it could have been handled better. But please hear me on this…if that’s all I ever do, no one will ever think it’s worth working hard for me. I have to find opportunities to praise them when they hit the mark as well.

This past week, we had a professional partner of ours really go out of her way to help a member of our team at a crucial time in the month when we really needed her to come through. Knowing how difficult it can be to meet our expectations, she could have easily decided there was no way to make it work and move on to helping another client. But she put us at the top of the list and really came through. On my drive home that day, I called her boss to brag on her, but she answered the phone. So I let her know right there how much I appreciated her coming through for us and let her know I was really calling her boss to brag on her. We also sent her a little surprise to her office this week as an additional sign of our appreciation. Her boss called me today and let me know that it made her weekend that I had taken the time to recognize her, and that I would go to the trouble of letting him know about her effort. Now let all that sink in. Simple gesture to recognize her effort by taking a minute to call, along with a personalized ‘thank you’ from me just as a cherry on the top. Simple! Do you think she’ll remember that the next time we need to lean on her to perform for us or a client? Do you think she’ll make our relationship a priority for years to come? Of course she will. Not because she has to or because she gets paid to, but because she wants to.

Internal: Have I mentioned before that we have a high-accountability environment? As I’ve said, it’s not easy to work for us. But I make it easy to work for me. If you’re on one of my teams, I go out of my way to make sure you know where you stand, how you’re doing, and find ways to show appreciation for the effort you bring. If I do that well, I never have to question whether you’re going to work hard for me, and you never have to question that I’m looking for ways to be your advocate. Something I do every week is write hand-written thank-you notes to people on our team, even if it’s just to tell them I noticed something they did. At first, I had to set a calendar reminder, because it was something I did verbally all the time, but I had to force myself to do it via a written note. And the impact of that is multiples over a passing comment in the hall. But sometimes, I’ll get really creative to make an even bigger impact.

Last winter, I took several of our leaders on an off-site to chart out a growth plan for the year, and also to better define some job descriptions for several of our positions in the company. I was taking these leaders away from their families for 3 days and I decided to write a note to each of their spouses and mail it to them, to arrive the day after we left. The note was a simple ‘thank you’ for allowing me to take up their honey’s time and a promise from me that I was doing my part as their leader to help them advance their career. Each note was personalized with something I appreciated about their spouse and how they were fortunate to have great support at home. Several of those leaders told me later, once they found out I had written their spouse, how much it was appreciated that I would take the time to do that. But also, it was appreciated that I recognized a spouse’s role in supporting their development. Little things like this are huge and go a long way. Now, when I need to lean on my team to put in the extra hours or to travel for the company, I can be confident they are supported from home, and that is huge for a developing leader. Also, by doing something simple like this, I have earned serious relationship credibility with these leaders when I have to hold them accountable. In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say that if you don’t make a point to recognize someone for getting it right, you will ultimately build resentment among your team and be surrounded by people who will work just hard enough to keep the job. Why in the world would you want that when it takes only a little extra effort on your part to get the best and most out of everyone daily?

You can steal these ideas if you want, but I think you should also be able to use your creativity to come up with ways you can accomplish the same results. Put it on your calendar to start if you have to, but do it. And do it over again, and again until it becomes a habit. It won’t take long for you to see the fruit of it in your professional relationships. Don’t forget, as you climb the ladder and continue to achieve success, you will need to lean on these people more and more to ensure your organization is staying relevant to those you serve. Don’t make it harder on yourself by only being hard on them. They’ll gladly reward your recognition with a loyalty money can’t buy.