Leadership is constantly evolving to meet the demands of the times. To thrive as leaders, we must understand the needs of our teams and adapt accordingly. There are, however, some leadership principles that I have found to be essential no matter the situation.
1. Be humble. Leaders who place too much focus on results and control rather than the people on their team can create trust issues. Employees may feel restricted in their abilities to explore new ideas or even fearful of disappointing their boss. When teams operate out of fear, there can be several consequences, from a lack of engagement to high turnover. One Gallup study even found that one in two U.S. adults have left a job to escape a bad manager.
Because of this, leaders must embrace humility in their approach. While it is essential to hit targets and goals, the leader’s role is to help their team learn, grow, and explore without fear of failure. Leaders can benefit from their team’s expertise, experience, and insight by serving their employees rather than controlling them.
Ask your team how you can help them do their jobs and encourage them to experiment with innovative approaches and ideas. Create a safe environment for them to take risks and chances. Recognize that, even though you might be leading a team or organization, you are still a member of a team, and the best results will come from working together to find solutions and stay productive.
As my Mum used to remind me, we all put our pants on the same way. As human beings, we are all equal, and just because I might be the leader of a team doesn’t make me any better or less equal than anyone else in the team, no matter what they do. For me being humble means treating everyone as an equal and doing everything I can to help everyone else realize that we are all in this together as equals.
2. Treat everyone with respect and dignity. It’s essential to treat every person in your team and your company with respect and dignity. Each employee plays a vital role in how your business functions from the top of your organizational hierarchy to the bottom. How you treat them matters.
This principle highlights the importance of prioritizing diversity and inclusion. For leaders to encourage their employees to bring their whole selves to work, they must create an environment where people from all backgrounds feel accepted and valued. The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace are clear. Diverse teams consistently outperform those with less diversity, and employees on inclusive teams are 5.4 times more likely to stay at their company.
Treating everyone with respect and dignity can create a company culture that ensures employees feel heard and valued. In turn, this can encourage loyalty, productivity, and motivation. But that’s not why this is important, it’s important because it’s the right thing to do, and the right way to treat the people around us.
3. The team is always more important than the individual. No matter how talented, educated, or skilled an individual may be, nothing compares to the success of teamwork. By building a team with complementary skills, a leader can create a well-rounded approach to innovation where the team can learn from each other.
When appropriately used, collaboration is a powerful tool that can significantly improve outcomes compared to individual work. In addition, a Deloitte study found that employees that engage in collaboration and use digital collaboration tools are 17% more satisfied at work. While individuals may get tasks done independently, there is an increased risk of burnout and lower-quality results.
Leaders need to encourage open communication to enable teams to work together. Clear expectations and structure can also be helpful, such as assigning responsibilities to specific team members and designating particular times and methods of collaboration.
I remember many times in my career when I had no idea how we were ever going to achieve a particularly challenging goal or objective. Something that at first glance appeared impossible or completely unreasonable. But then something happens. Someone has an idea that triggers another idea, that leads to a first step, that leads to a second step, that creates a momentum that starts to take on a life of its own. The mood starts to change to a “We can do this!” and a palpable sense of excitement starts to build. There is a point in this process where the team shifts from a group of individuals to a thriving, thrumming “We can do anything!” functional unit that elevates everyone in it to achieve things they never thought possible. Things that could never be achieved by an individual or even a group of individuals – things that only a true team can achieve. If you’ve ever experienced that feeling, you know what I’m talking about.
4. Have fun! Boredom is not a corporate objective. If you’ve seen the movie Office Space, you know how soul-sucking a boring (albeit fictional) office job can be. While the cult film is a satirical, darkly comedic take on corporate life in the 90s, it can also be a cautionary tale against boredom and monotony at work.
One way to promote more fun is to create experiences that allow team members to get to know each other and interact outside of a work setting. These experiences can be as formal as a monthly virtual happy hour or dinner, or as informal as a weekly group lunch or virtual coffee chat to catch up on life outside of work. While planning events like these can be a great way to create structured fun, simpler methods include encouraging employees to share photos, stories about their vacations, work-appropriate memes, and pictures of their latest golf outings in group messages or recognizing team members for big and small achievements.
Another way to promote more fun is to just have more fun. I also like to say, “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time”. Life’s too short to take too seriously. Having fun at work doesn’t mean we’re not working hard; it just means we’re having more fun working hard.
5. Pay attention to the details – the small things matter. Leaders are often tasked with directing their team towards one final, all-encompassing goal. While this is important, it can sometimes lead to the dismissal of small but crucial details. Achieving one significant goal results from many small achievements that occur along the way, and each one is as important as the next.
For leaders, this puts them in the unique position of needing to keep both the big picture and the details top of mind. For this reason, it’s crucial to have solid organizational skills and a reliable team that you can delegate to as needed. Remain dedicated to the end goal while maintaining a broad understanding of what each team member is doing to succeed. Trust your team and avoid micromanaging but know when to step in as a leader to help push things forward.
These five leadership principles have helped me throughout my career as a leader, and I hope they serve you on your journey.
Have a leadership principle that you believe to be essential for leaders to know? Share it in the comments.