(My Own) 5 Laws of Effective Leadership

I don’t think there’s any such thing as a ‘born’ leader.

Now, that doesn’t mean some folks aren’t naturally more charismatic, better at gaining attention, or have a natural ease in front of a crowd. Some are even pretty good at assigning tasks, giving orders and getting things done.

But true leadership is so much more than that.

True leadership, to me anyway, is an ability to inspire others to take creative, consistent and effective action towards a greater vision, a common Good, a larger purpose in which they all share.

True leadership, to me, is having a humble knack for getting ordinary folks to do extraordinary things, in ways that are good for everyone – the leader, the team, and those they serve through their efforts.

And true leadership is an acquired skill; something anyone with an open mind and a Courageous spirit can learn.

Last week, we hosted the 2014 East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Summit, an annual event I started years ago when I served on the the Tennessee Economic Council on Women. It was through my service on the Council that I learned how much we need to do to lift up the women of East Tennessee.

I realized that when women achieve the personal, professional
(and economic) success they are truly capable of,
the standard of living for an entire community rises.

And for women to accomplish that kind of success, they must allow themselves to develop, respect and use their own leadership skills.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of leadership.

After years of experience as a small business owner, a community volunteer, and even some time in public office, I’ve seen a pretty wide range of leadership styles.

And I’ll be honest; some of them have been painful to watch.

Others, though, have given me a powerful – and positive –  example to follow, allowing me the chance to develop my own skills, and decide what kind of leader I want to be.

It’s a never-ending growth process, one of life-long self-improvement, but here’s what I know.

So far. :)


1. Motivate.

♥ Be prepared to articulate a vision, and have at least the start of a plan for how to make that vision real. See possibility that may be invisible to others, and help them see it too. Inspire them. You are more than just a facilitator.

♥ Believe in what you’re doing and your ability to do it. If you don’t believe it, why should we?

♥ Remember your ‘why’. Remind your people what you’re here for, why you do the work you do. Come back to this again and again, especially when the work gets harder.

2. Delegate.

♥ Set people up to succeed. If there’s a problem, talk with them honestly about what’s working and what isn’t. Give them time to improve or adjust. If it doesn’t happen, find a graceful way to let them / get them off the team if necessary. And consider the possibility that they may be the right person who’s just in the wrong role.

♥ Hold people accountable for what they say they will do. Realize that you will have to step on toes from time to time. To allow incompetency or poor behavior to continue is harming the organization for the sake of one person. That’s not fair to anyone, and it’s ineffective leadership.

♥ Manage conflict proactively. Healthy disagreement and debate will lead your team to better work and greater achievement. Discouragement, outright criticism and unnecessary negativity will weigh them down. Stimulate the former. Limit the latter.

♥ But don’t micro-manage. Have clear written expectations of what you want each person to do or what is required for each role they fulfill. Then give them room to try things on their own. Reward initiative and creativity. And when it doesn’t work, praise them for trying, then help them analyze their efforts so things will go better next time.

3. Educate.

♥ Lead by example. Don’t ask your team to do something you’re not willing to do yourself.

♥ Be willing to teach them the skills they need to be successful if necessary. Be prepared to hand-hold a new or struggling group until they get the hang of it or until you have a critical mass who can do more on their own.

♥ Be prepared to do more. If your team is small, inexperienced, tired, or limited in some way, you as leader will have to be much more hands-on with what you do. You can’t just make a pronouncement about what you want and expect that it will somehow get done. This will require hours of your time and lots of your energy. That’s just reality. (And that’s when you most need to realign with your ‘why’.)

4. Innovate.

♥ Encourage new ideas. Create an atmosphere that balances the importance of tradition and stability with the critical need for new ideas, new people, and new input.

♥ Make it safe for your people to speak up, to ask questions or disagree, to take action and make a mistake, or even to try something that may seem a little crazy at first. You don’t always know what will work, and in that spirit new ideas and possibilities will be discovered.

5. Celebrate.

♥ Actively build relationships by greeting people warmly when they join your team or even enter the room for a meeting. Make sure they know you’re glad they’re there. Make them feel welcome, included, needed and appreciated.

♥ Get to know them all. Use individual phone calls and in-person meetings (lunch, coffee) to get to know your team. Look for opportunities to encourage, inspire and grow them as individuals.

♥ Celebrate their (your) success. Thank them publicly. And privately. And often. Praise them in front of your audience, your customers, your meetings, on line. Celebrate the work that they do, the talents they bring to the table, and the impact the group makes in the world.


This just a start, of course, as there’s much more to being an outstanding leader. But what do you think? Am I on the right track here? What would you add?

Photo Credit: Ian Sane on Flickr


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