Some Key Principles of Effective Leadership

Importantly, effective leaders help guide others to achieve extraordinary results.

Much has been written about leadership and how critical effective leadership is to organizational success. Leadership has been defined in many ways, including “guiding others to a desired result,” “providing the vision and motivation for a team to work together toward a goal,” “knowing when to be in front and when to let others be in front,” and “serving others so they can get results.” There is even the catchy phrase, “Where managers say ‘go,’ leaders say ‘let’s go.’”

While these are all good descriptions of leadership, what is really important is how we function as leaders as we strive to be successful. Here are some useful, proven leadership principles that can strengthen one’s leadership skills. 

Leaders will adapt their leadership style to the abilities of their employees. Some time ago, Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey developed their “Situational Leadership” model, which advocates using one of four leadership styles—directing, supporting, coaching and delegating—based on one of four levels of employee competence and commitment: low competence/low commitment, some competence/low commitment, high competence/variable commitment or high competence/high commitment. It was proposed that employees with the lowest levels of competence and commitment needed a hands-on, close-monitoring, “directing” style, while those employees with the highest levels of competence and commitment were better served with a less intrusive “delegating” style. This Situational Leadership model recognizes the need for leaders to lead differently given different situations rather than adopting a “cookie cutter” approach to leading others. Following this model of leadership forces leaders to frequently and objectively assess the skills of their employees and adopt a leadership style that will allow employees to increase their competence and commitment levels, ultimately strengthening the leader’s entire team.

Leaders act in an exemplary way. In their book, “The Leadership Challenge,” James Kouzes and Barry Posner describes five ways that effective leaders behave:

1. Model the way. Set the example for the behavior you expect from others.

2. Inspire a shared vision. Establish a clear vision of what results should be and why they matter.

3. Challenge the process. Create a climate for experimentation and learning.

4. Enable others to act. Show trust in others to build teamwork.

5. Encourage the heart. Recognize the efforts of others and show appreciation.

Leaders are at their best when they display each of these behaviors on a regular basis. As leadership is a relationship between people that is built mainly on trust, placing trust in others is the best way to gain their trust in return. These authors believe that rewards need not always be monetary, but they do need to be personal in order to be effective. Example of such rewards include praise in front of co-workers, allowing employees a greater say in decision-making and giving them the opportunity to learn new things.

Leaders understand their strengths and limitations. In John C. Maxwell’s book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” he identifies key concepts that good leaders need to understand. The first irrefutable law is known as “The Law of the Lid.” Simply put, a person’s leadership is like a lid, or ceiling, in an organization; the business will not rise above the level of leadership in place. They are that closely aligned. Maxwell’s “Law of Influence” states that a true leader needs to create positive change in an organization. If a leader cannot create change, that person is not really a leader. A final point of note is “The Law of Empowerment,” which states that secure leaders give power to others. As Mark Twain once said, “Great things can happen when you don’t care who gets the credit.”

A good leader will create a healthy organization. Peter Lencioni, in his book “The Advantage,” stresses the importance of organization health in terms of operational excellence. He identifies four disciplines required of an effective leader to create a healthy organization:

1.    Have a cohesive leadership team. 

2.    Create clarity.

3.    Over-communicate clarity.

4.    Reinforce clarity.

The cohesive leadership team is essential to building trust, getting the most out of conflict (and avoiding groupthink), achieving commitment, embracing accountability and focusing on results. The emphasis on clarity is purposeful because Lencioni believes a lack of clarity is what hurts organizations more than anything else. Clarity eliminate confusion, promotes consistency (even nullifying hidden agendas), and sets a path for the entire company to understand and thereby follow. A good leader understands this and goes to great effort to assure there is clarity in the organization starting at the top.

Applying these leadership principles can make anyone more effective in guiding others to achieve extraordinary results.