Do you want to know what makes successful leadership? Do you want to do what good leaders are doing? I will answer these questions and more today. We can get clues from the practices of good leaders.
Tiny actions may bring big results. And there are tiny actions good leaders do that make them successful.
Leadership principles guide the actions of good leaders.
They walk the talk, even in times of crisis. We have witnessed how good leaders handled the situation with humility and competence during the global pandemic. But, on the other hand, we have seen leaders who resorted to blaming people instead of solving problems.
To lead effectively, you must define and clarify your principles for leadership. You don’t need many. Work on a few principles that will serve as your compass. Actions based on principles work.
Begin with Leadership Principles
Your leadership principles are your foundational beliefs about leading people. Early in your leadership journey, you define your principles to be guided in making small and big decisions.
If you want to become intentional, for example, you will work on your whys. The purpose may not be apparent at first. But as you grow in experience, you will be able to make sense of your leadership intentions.
Then pick the vital actions.
I agree that there is no one way of leading people. It is not like turning on and off a light switch. Leaders need to find the right mix of strategies and techniques to get things done or make change happen. However, we don’t have to search in the dark. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to keep on breaking the rules.
Break the rules! Well, that was the advice of the speaker who delivered a talk before me. I agree that to lead is to break a few rules, but leadership isn’t about breaking the rules.
If you want to become a good leader, you have to understand the rules that work and the rules that no longer work.
Study these 17 tiny actions for successful leadership. Find out which ones work for you.
1. Ask Yourself Tough Questions
Questions determine answers. Remember this leadership principle because there are no wrong answers, only wrong questions. Your leadership ability is not defined by how many answers you have, but by the quality of questions you ask.
Most people are afraid to answer questions, much more ask tough questions. You ought to ask your people tough questions, the ones that they are not comfortable asking themselves about.
But before you do, ask yourself tough questions. Be the first to find the answer to your most challenging questions about leadership and life.
What are examples of tough questions? Consider these ten questions.
- Am I living a good life?
- Why am I here?
- What would I do if fear was not a factor?
- Am I genuinely proud of the person that I am?
- What worries me the most about the future?
- What do I need to change about myself?
- Am I contributing to the world?
- Am I walking the talk?
- What are the bad habits I cannot let go?
- What do I really want?
- What makes successful leadership?
Asking ourselves tough questions isn’t a one-time activity. It is a daily practice. It is what we do when we want to choose well.
When reading leadership books, I encourage you to begin with your questions. Make it a habit on read books on purpose. 1 When you begin with your tough questions, you are not just reading for the purpose of reading. You will discover leadership wisdom from the books which you will not get if you do not begin with questions.
2. Play to Your Strengths
As a leadership principle, I prefer to focus on the positives. That instead of asking what my people do not have, I give more attention to the assets that we can multiply.
Our education system is based on wanting what you don’t have instead of building on what you have. We tend to compare ourselves with others and often fail because we play on our weaknesses.
I understand where most people are coming from because I got the same education. I found it difficult to unlearn a fixed mindset. Reading a book on Growth Mindset won’t do the trick.
You’ve got to choose to play on your strengths each day. Great leaders do.
Great leaders focus on what they can genuinely contribute. They are fully aware of their talents and strengths. They build on them. They multiply their value by making the most of what they have.
Some people are great in carpentry; others are great in dentistry. You can be both, of course, but you don’t have to force yourself into something that does not excite you at all.
You do not have to be like the famous X because he is renowned for doing Y. You can be the rockstar A for doing your B.
Go where your strengths are and find out how you can turn your strengths into a superpower.
3. Cultivate Your Character
Your character, as often said, is who you are when no one is watching.
I wonder what monks are doing now. They are often alone.
You are not born into a character. You can cultivate your character and mold yourself into the person that you want to be.
You can choose your core values and decide to align your actions to those values. You can choose the life principles you want to live by. This choice is what we call self-discipline.
You are leading yourself. You decide what kind of person and leader you want to become. Be the first follower.
4. Think & Play Big
To think big is to stretch yourself so you can reach your full potentials. But most people are afraid to think big.
It might be because people are afraid to fail. It might be because they don’t think they have healthy doses of self-worth. It might be because they are not aware that thinking big is as easy as thinking small.
Leaders do not just think big. They think and play big.
The thinking part we call strategy. Leaders find ways to 2x, 10x, or 1000x their results. They fully understand that they don’t have to do 1000x things to get 1000 results done. They look for one thing that will bring 1000x.
The playing part we call execution. Leaders choose what to do, and they decide what not to do.
Our time is limited, our energy gets exhausted, and our resources are scarce. We cannot do all the things given our limitations.
Because of constraints, leaders get creative. They know that not all solutions are equal. One solution can be 1000x more potent than other solutions. What leaders do is to find the best solution and execute the solutions effectively.
5. Work Harder
Some leadership speakers say that you don’t have to work hard. You only need to work smart. I don’t disagree because I encouraged you to play smart when I told you to think and play bigger.
But don’t forget that most of those who tell us not to work hard and play smart are scammers. Not unlike the politician who promised that he could do in 3 to 6 months what he failed to do in 30 years.
Leadership is hard work. It is a contact sport. You will keep on failing, for you will seldom meet your expectations. And you will need to learn from your success and failures. It is a lifetime process.
Working harder is working smarter.
6. Be Mentally Tough
Mental toughness refers to your stick-to-itiveness. Mentally tough leaders understand that there are many obstacles to achieving their goals. The most formidable is mental.
New leaders doubt their abilities to lead. Others question them too. Many felt like impostors, and because of their limiting beliefs, they tend to sabotage themselves.
To be mentally tough, you must know your purpose and stick to it. Leading people isn’t easy. If it were, there wouldn’t be millions of books discussing how to become an effective leader.
In times of a crisis, like the Covid-19 pandemic, mentally tough leaders find ways to overcome obstacles. If they can’t, they don’t stop. They find ways to go around them. And if that is not possible, they’ll undercome obstacles.
For mentally tough leaders, it is not over until they win.
7. Be Humble
I seldom see humble leaders these days, probably because I hear more from those who project their macho images too big. A world leader, for example, bragged that Covid-19 is nothing but a flue. It will disappear in no time.
He did not listen to experts. Instead, he spread information that will support his claim of being a genius.
Leaders listen to people. Listening to people is never a weakness. It is an effective leadership tool.
When leaders are humble, they accept their limitations. They know that they cannot do everything. They understand that there are people who know more than they do.
They make use of their wisdom. And when they make the right decision, they honor these people who helped them. They gave credit to him it is due.
And when they fail, they do not point their fingers at others. They take responsibility and hold themselves accountable.
Imagine if our government leaders have some liters of humility in their bloodstreams, we will have a greater chance of handling the Covid-19 crisis.
8. Build Team Spirit
Our attitude determines our aptitude. Team spirit is an attitude that influences individual members of a team to work well with others to achieve a common purpose.
A group of people can accomplish their tasks without team spirit. People who work in assembly lines may still become productive if they do their duties excellently.
But there are situations when leaders have to encourage team spirit. In times of crisis, people need to support each other. When people are afraid, they can find confidence in the thought that those around them will help them.
In facing complex challenges that require people with complementary skills to work together, team spirit ensures that everyone places team goals above personal goals.
9. Work on The Whys
Leaders know their whats, their hows, and more importantly, their whys. As I have mentioned above, mentally, people keep their eyes on the goal.
Every leader has a purpose for leading. It may not be obvious at the beginning, but there is a deeper purpose to leadership. Leaders have to keep on asking why they are doing what they are doing. Their first purpose is to find meaning in the doing.
For example, a teacher’s why goes beyond having a job. Of course, we need jobs to keep our flesh and soul together. But the purpose of teaching is beyond that. We teach not because we want to teach. That may be true, but teaching is beyond that.
When you keep on clarifying your whys, you will find yourself filled with enthusiasm. You will do your job with clarity and conviction. And you will become a magnet to those who have the same purpose in life – and you’ll gravitate to them too.
10. Build Self-Worth
Great leaders are humble. They listen to people and give them the respect they deserve. They understand that they cannot lead unless people follow them.
They have strong will too. You will find some leaders too stubborn. They do what they ought to do though the world doubts them. So, some people who don’t understand their stubbornness find them arrogant.
Great leaders know their true worth. They have healthy self-regard.
Most often, those new leaders underestimate their capability to lead. Because of this, they accept every piece of advice from so-called leadership gurus.
“Fake it until you make it” is widespread but wrong advice. Some insecure leaders fake their confidence. At times, this attempt to fake confidence sounds arrogant, if not stupid.
I read someone who followed this advice he heard from Donald Trump. Since then, he has called himself the best X in the Philippines.
11. Know Your Stuff
Keep this in mind: competence inspires confidence. When you know your stuff, you’ll face challenges with knowing that you can get out alive.
We won’t go near a building on fire, but firefighters would even get inside to save people. That’s because they know their stuff.
The same is valid with leaders who know their stuff. Know your people, process, product, service, and profit stuff.
Some people will believe you when you promise the moon and the stars to them. But in times of crisis, they are not looking for a motivational speaker; they want someone who will lead them. Yes, someone who knows his or her stuff.
Even if you are not the most charismatic leader, people will trust you when you know your stuff.
12. Give People Autonomy
Leaders seek meaning, growth, and autonomy. You demand these so you’ll succeed.
Help people find meaning in what they do and grow through enabling experiences. You can do these by inspiring a shared vision and developing a learning culture.
Some leaders are not comfortable giving people autonomy, though they demand it. These leaders believe that by giving people autonomy, they are reducing their power and authority. This is hogwash.
You are not working with idiots. Refuse then to consider yourself a genius followed by a million idiots.
You are working with people who have the same dreams, missions, and values. You work together because you desire a future that can only be achieved when followers think like leaders.
Give them autonomy and allow them to multiply what you can do. Give them autonomy and discover untapped strengths. Give them autonomy, so they perform at their best.
13. Keep It Simple
Leaders use words that people understand. They find stories to make their message clear. That’s because challenges looked insolvable unless they are understood. We understand things when they are simple.
Architects know to read a blueprint of a house. I don’t. If I were to appreciate a house design that I want for my family, they could provide me a sketch or a 3d model.
Okay. That example does not sound easy. People expect leaders to make things easy for them. But that’s not always possible.
Your job is to make complex problems simple. Help people see the crux of a problem. Show people how things are.
14. Take Initiative
Kusang-palo is a Filipino value that is equivalent to the words initiative and proactive. Leaders take the initiative to find solutions to problems. They don’t wait for mandate, position, or power.
You can see the difference between politicians and leaders during the Covid-19 crisis. There are leaders like Donald Trump who refused to acknowledge the problem. People who refuse to recognize that a problem exists do not hold themselves accountable.
On the other hand, you have Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand was able to unite the leaders of her country in the fight against Covid-19.
In the Philippines, we have Leni Robredo, who, despite the lack of budget, was able to bring together the private sector to participate in bayanihan. We have Vico Sotto, who took the initiative to purchase vaccines. They did not wait for Duterte to do the right thing because every good leader takes the initiative.
If you intend to lead people, find solutions without being told.
Read: Take Initiative
The world bestows its big prizes, both in money and honors, for but one thing. And that is initiative. To take the initiative is to do the right thing without being told.
Read: Start Now
The best step to write a book is not trying to write but to write. Daily. In the number of hours you want. Until you get done.
15. Pursue Progress, Not Perfection
Maybe you can become a perfect leader. I am not, but I won’t say that you cannot be. You can always try.
However, I choose to make things simple. Since learning how to lead is a lifelong process, I choose progress over perfection.
The people we lead change. We change too.
You cannot cross the same river twice. There is no repeat in leading people. Each touchpoint is a new experience. We can bring our learning to every unique experience, and we can learn each time.
16. Help People Succeed
I say you are a good leader if you can build leaders. You are successful when you help others become successful too.
Earlier I said that leadership is about helping people realize their dreams. You help them live in the Promised Land.
Find out what people genuinely need. Then, help them succeed.
Read: Help people succeed.
The opportunity to help other people is limitless. The secret to becoming truly successful starts when you decide to give the best you have.
The best gift you can give to your employees is to help them achieve. As leaders, people expect us to help them succeed. However, there are proven ways to help people keep themselves motivated and productive.
17. Get good leadership training.
You will find many opportunities to get good leadership training. Read books, join webinars, and participate in online workshops. You can enroll in many online courses, some of which you can get for free.
Leadership is a journey. You can learn through experience. But spend 10,000 hours on becoming good in leadership when you have opportunities to learn from others. I recommend too that you go beyond the “basic leadership training.” Instead, find those leadership training programs that you can use immediately.
Go to Leadership Training.
Every one of us needs to develop leadership skills. You can join the leadership training programs I designed for managers, supervisors, and high potential leaders.
Go to Supervisory Training.
To help supervisors develop essential skills, I design tiny courses which you can access anytime and anywhere. And they are all affordable. You may also bring these courses for supervisors to your company.
If you are looking for opportunities to develop your leadership, I highly recommend these courses and online coaching. Good leaders are effective communicators too. And if there are skills you ought to start first, I highly recommend public speaking and presentation skills.
Read Supervision Success.
In this article, you will learn 15 actionable ideas that may help you become a better supervisor.
More Leadership Principles
Some leaders believe that they don’t answer to anyone. But, just like many megalomaniacs, they die hated. Good leaders are good followers. Understand what it means and find out how you can spread this principle in your organization.
A leader is both a creator and a multiplier. Good leaders find opportunities to transform people from zero to hero. The good news is that no one is really a zero. Leaders look around and find ways to make a difference.
Leaders are multipliers. First, they try to increase their value tenfold, a hundredfold, and a thousandfold. One person cannot change a nation. But one person who can inspire millions can make people embrace their power. So, never underestimate yourself. Multiply your value tenfold.
In the olden days, leaders wage war against its others because they are victims of scarcity. There is not enough land, not enough food, not enough power, not enough money for everyone. Unfortunately, many leaders until now live in that paradigm. But some find ways to multiply our resources and results for minimal efforts. Those are the creative leaders.
Good leaders are competent people. They were never complacent. They are always on the lookout for better ways to lead. Competencies are performance enablers. Find out what will make you perform at your best.
Always be the first-rate version of yourself instead of being a second-rate version of someone else. Imitating someone will take a lot of effort, time, and emotional investment.
- 1When you begin with your tough questions, you are not just reading for the purpose of reading. You will discover leadership wisdom from the books which you will not get if you do not begin with questions.