Seven essentials to being a great leader

Dear Z, E, and T,

Everyone wants to be great. We all want to be important. The desire to matter, to do something significant, to be significant, is in all of us. There isn’t anything wrong with the desire itself. However, I think the ways in which we try to achieve significance or where we think significance comes from can be problematic.

Your title will never make you great and it will never bring you satisfaction or joy. You can be a great leader without a fancy title and you can be a poor leader with one.

Here are seven essentials to being a great leader. Technically, it’s just one but I’ve given six sub-points that all fall under the first one.

1) Care about people. Everything comes back to genuinely caring about people. If you care about people, the rest of the list will handle itself. Great results are achieved through relationship. If you want great results, you have to have good relationships. People will work harder for those they care about and for those who care about them.

1a) Treat everyone with equal respect. Do not show partiality or favoritism. From the CEO to the cleaning crew, treat everyone with respect. Each one has an important job and each one has dignity and worth; not only as a person, but in the good work that they accomplish.

1b) Take the time to get to know people. Remember that everyone is on a different journey. You cannot lead people well without caring about what’s going on in their life. We each have our own joys and stresses in life that affect us at home and work. If you only care about the part of their life that overlaps with yours, you will not be as great a leader as you could be.

1c) Lead with vision. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” If you show people a vision of what could be, they will want to help you bring it about. This shows respect by bringing people with you. It takes time and effort to cast vision. The opposite is simply assigning tasks and using people to accomplish the work. Leading with vision will give people greater purpose and satisfaction in their work.

1d) Lead through influence, not command. This is similar to, but different from leading with vision. Care about what matters to other people and align the work to their values. Give time for others to process information and come to a conclusion. It takes patience and care to avoid using authority and instead use influence to get work done. Avoid the trap of manipulation. Some may think influence is manipulation, but when done with genuine care for others, influence is a powerful and meaningful skill. Take time to help them connect the dots and see the benefits for themselves.

1e) Lead by doing. Do not assign tasks to others that you aren’t willing to do yourself. Lead by example. You will have to delegate because you cannot do everything. The point here isn’t to do everything yourself. The point is, there is no job or task that is “beneath you” when you’re a good leader.

1f) Give honest feedback. Give encouragement often and be wise when correcting. Caring about people includes correction. However, encouragement and praise should be given much more often than correction. Correction should come from a place of care for the person and should help them grow personally and professionally. Your feedback should focus on their actions, not who they are. We all do things that are good and bad. Give feedback that says “When you did this, this negative outcome happened. Could we adjust that behavior”. Never word your feedback in a way that criticizes who the person is, always direct it towards specific behavior/actions that can be changed. Never “save up” and unload corrective feedback. If it’s important, address is quickly. If it isn’t, let it go.

There’s much more I could write, but it all comes back to #1 which is why I made the rest sub-points instead of separate points. I’m wrapping up because I promised to keep my advice to the bare essentials and if you care about others, you’ll be a great leader.


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