Tenets of Effective Leadership

Posted by Aaron West at 12:36 PM in Dealerskins, Personal

My first "real" job after graduating college with a Computer Science degree was at HealthStream based in Nashville, TN. I was hired by the vice president, Steve Clemens, as an applications content developer which is a really horrible title for a Web developer. About a year or so after starting the job Steve left the company for other opportunities. Before leaving he sent me and several others an e-mail about leadership. Having just started my career I was humbled that Steve saw potential leadership qualities in me and since that day I have kept his e-mail printed and in a safe place. What he shared with me planted a seed that I have nourished over the last 8 years while developing my career. Once or twice a year I realign myself with Steve's tenets of effective leadership. I recently shared these with the General Manager of Dealerskins and decided to share them with the world at large on my blog. I'm listing them below along with my own thoughts on each one. I hope you find as much value in these as I have, especially if you are in a position of leadership in any aspect of your life.

If you're in a leadership position...

1. Always view your job as one of service to those that report to you.
You are in a leadership position so you can help others do their jobs effectively, not the other way around. Enable those around you with useful resources, communicate clear expectations, and then get out of their way. Look at Andy Stanley, Jim Lawson, and John Lewis for outstanding examples.

2. Always criticize in private and praise in public.
Don't wait for "praise opportunities" to present themselves, look for them. If you've recently started leading a group of people you think is intimidated by you, seize every opportunity to show you're wrong and someone else in the group is right. This will show you have enough confidence in yourself not to be threatened by someone's ability. Ensure that you only criticize in private. Mistakes happen and that's okay. How you react to mistakes is more important than what went wrong. As people make mistakes, pull them aside to learn what happened, create a plan to avoid the same mistake in the future, and move on. (see number 4 for more on this).

3. NEVER take responsibility for good work that someone who works for you did. ALWAYS take responsibility for bad work they did.
During the last 14 years I've seen many unfortunate situations where managers took credit for something someone on their team did. These managers were often ineffective at creating results for themselves and their team and needed to steal credit from others to make themselves look good. It's at the opposite end of this viewpoint where effective leaders reside. If something goes wrong, you as the leader of the team are responsible. Period. If something goes right, elevate that event publicly and ensure the proper team member(s) are praised.

4. Let people make mistakes.
As a perfectionist (which at times I believe is a character flaw) I struggle with this one. When looking back over my career however, I realize its my mistakes that have shaped the positive nature of my growth. Don't work yourself to death avoiding mistakes. Let them happen naturally as it is the only way people learn.

5. Fight for your people.
This is one of the most important lessons, but also one of the hardest to learn. You can't walk around broadcasting how you fight for your team and announcing the sacrifices you make on their behalf. But even though they don't know what you're doing, you should fight for them anyway.

6. Always do your best to be fair.
Fair may not make someone happy, but people can live with disappointment if they feel they've been treated fairly.

7. NEVER allow the company to break it's word to an employee.
Trust is difficult to hold onto and the most important asset a company can have (other than its people). If your company makes a promise to someone on your team (even on another team) ensure that promise is kept. Loyalty, job satisfaction, and workplace passion are all affected by trust between the company and it's employees.

8. Don't promote too quickly.
Don't just think about someone's next job, but instead consider what they'll be doing 3 jobs down the road. Career development is not about attaining the "next" position, it's about paving a road of success for years to come.

9. Have a life of your own that doesn't involve business.
This one is difficult for many people including myself. I don't consider myself a workaholic, but all too often my "work life" bleeds into my "non-work life" in a way that creates negative outcomes for me and my family. As I'm learning, you will either create a healthy, fun life outside of the office or you'll be consumed by it. Find things you enjoy that don't involve business and do them regularly. It could be playing with your children in the back yard or traveling with your spouse. It doesn't really matter what you do just that you do it regularly.

If you do these things consistently, people will want to follow you because they'll know they can trust you, they'll know you know what you're doing, and they'll know they will be successful simply by being around you. Ultimately, leaders are judged not by what they accomplish themselves, but by what they are able to get others to accomplish around them.

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This entry was posted by Aaron West on August 9, 2008 at 12:36 PM. It was filed in the following categories: Dealerskins, Personal. It has been viewed 8284 times and has 3 comments.

3 Responses to Tenets of Effective Leadership

  1. very nice. printing it up for the wall :)

  2. Aaron--Thanks for posting this. I am pursuing a degree in Organizational Leadership right now, and a lot of my colleagues don't really understand why since I'm a "tech guy". Well, these points illustrate why. To be an effective leader is much more than just having a position--it takes real character and true leadership.

  3. Hey Aaron. Thanks for sharing. These are more than helpful and very valuable.