- The 30 Best Leadership Practices -
Perhaps no element is as vital to ensuring enterprise success than world-class leadership. Simply, while the level of employee talent may determine the potential of an organization it is the leader that ultimately unlocks that potential and determines the success of both the organization and its people. In addition, whether you’re a C-Suite executive or freshly minted college graduate, leadership is everyone’s business. Indeed, it's the person not the title that creates real leaders. Finally, leadership is not some amorphous, convoluted attribute that some were either born with or not. To the contrary, leadership is a highly learnable skill. As Warren Bennis noted, "The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born - that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That's nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born." Simply, leadership is not so much about innate gifts and raw talent but rather about the emotional awareness, humility, and perseverance to understand that leadership is a lifelong lesson that is never mastered. Accordingly, aspiring leaders must acquire the endurance of a marathoner, the musculature of a sprinter, and the mental fortitude to embrace a race with no finish but rather an unending goal of learning, continuous improvement, and personal transformation.
While there are many facets that go into successful leadership this article highlights 30 best leadership practices all of which are grouped into one of three categories, namely (1) inspire, (2) empower, and (3) innovate (See Exhibit 1).
INSPIRE: If you can inspire you can lead. However, to inspire rather than command action, leaders must appeal to people's hearts more than their minds. Simply, visionary leaders plan with the mind, lead with the heart, and reflect with the soul (See best practices 1-10 below).
EMPOWER: Great leaders don’t create followers but instead create other leaders. As such, visionary leaders empower those they are leading while simultaneously creating a collaborative culture that promotes the notion that together we can accomplish anything as long as we don't care who gets the credit (See best practices 11-20 below).
INNOVATE: Visionary leaders embrace change and failure, understanding that the term "good enough" is used by the lazy to justify inaction. As such, great leaders disrupt themselves and their companies before others do it for them by taking a transformation always on mindset. Remember, without creating a runway for failure don’t expect a runway for innovation and success (See best practices 21-30 below).
Each of these three aforementioned leadership categories contains ten accompanying leadership best practices. Although no individual will be a master at each of the proposed 30 leadership practices, awareness is often the greatest agent for change and continuous improvement. Accordingly, whether your leadership time has already arrived or whether you’re in the incubation stage, the leadership journey offers an exponential ceiling of potential for those that embrace change, growth, and continuous learning. Remember, leadership is everyone’s business and is a highly learnable skill. Simply, leaders are made rather than born and it's the person not the title that creates real leaders. As such, the proposed 30 best practices can help any individual maximize not only their leadership potential but also the leadership potential of those around them.
30 Best Leadership Practices
- Leadership Portal -
BEST PRACTICE 1
Values based leaders don’t care about being right but about doing the right thing, even under the most trying circumstances. Simply, just because it’s legal does not make it right.
BEST PRACTICE 2
Inspiration and action are born from a vision which only happens by appealing to people’s hearts more than their minds; as such, leaders must plan with the head but lead with the heart.
BEST PRACTICE 3
Without focus an inspired vision will never come to fruition. Simply, focus ensures simplicity instead of complexity, alignment instead of chaos, and ownership instead of artificial buy-in.
BEST PRACTICE 4
Leaders can't inspire action without a purpose driven culture. Culture is a firm's nervous system - without it an enterprise is a paralyzed entity because numbers don't drive a business - people do.
BEST PRACTICE 5
Humility is the gateway to successful leadership because great leadership does not rest with those that think they know but rather with those that have the humility to realize they don’t know.
BEST PRACTICE 6
Momentum is a leader’s best or greatest foe. Negative momentum, with its strong gravitational pull, can make a great leader mediocre while positive momentum can make a mediocre leader great.
BEST PRACTICE 7
Trust is earned slowly but lost in a moment. If you’re not trusted you cannot lead but to be trustworthy you must give trust out before expecting to receive it back as leadership is based on goodwill.
BEST PRACTICE 8
Leadership is more about what you practice and how you practice it than in what you preach and how you preach it. Simply, leaders influence and inspire action through their own behaviors.
BEST PRACTICE #9
Enlarging others makes one bigger. Great leaders give credit because the deepest principal of human nature is not money, title, or rank but the thirst for recognition and appreciation.
BEST PRACTICE 10
Don’t confuse leadership and democracy, so lead with emotional awareness because high IQ does very little for leadership success, it’s rather EQ or the lack thereof that determines leadership success.
BEST PRACTICE 11
A great leader doesn't create followers but instead creates other leaders so empower and drive success by leading from behind during good times and leading from the front during turbulent times.
BEST PRACTICE 12
A leader's capacity to empower directly impacts people’s ability to succeed as only empowered people can reach their potential. Simply, leadership comes from giving power away - not hoarding it.
BEST PRACTICE 13
One can lead by pushing down or pulling up. Pushing down focuses on weaknesses while pulling up focuses on strengths. Simply, don't try to put in what was left out but draw out what was left in.
BEST PRACTICE 14
Mentorship is a two-way street so invest and be willing to be mentored because one's time as a leader may be fleeting but the investment one makes in others is enduring, with limitless ROI.
BEST PRACTICE 15
In a transformation always on era, leaders must invest in training as people need the endurance of a marathoner, musculature of a sprinter, and mental fortitude to embrace a race with no finish line.
BEST PRACTICE 16
Every rule takes away choice, which is the fuel for learning, innovation, and productivity. As such, leaders must be an enabler not an inhibitor of action by managing for outcomes not activities.
BEST PRACTICE 17
Without goals people never reach their potential yet without simplicity those goals become chaos - not reality. Thinking big is the mother of innovation while simplicity is the gateway to action.
BEST PRACTICE 18
Keeping a pulse on your team drives engagement versus artificial harmony, engaged employees instead of a toxic culture, and a continuous improvement mindset instead of a sudden mutiny.
BEST PRACTICE 19
Together we can accomplish anything as long as we don’t care who gets the credit because individually we are no more powerful than a single drop of water yet together we are as powerful as an ocean.
BEST PRACTICE 20
A leader isn’t good because they’re right but rather because they listen, learn, and bring out the best in others. Simply, without empathy and engaged listening a leader is commanding not leading.
BEST PRACTICE 21
The phrase “good enough” is used by the lazy to justify inaction so disrupt yourself before others do it for you. Without creating a runway for failure leaders can't expect a runway for success.
BEST PRACTICE 22
Volatility is the new normal where winners are not those with size but rather those with speed. Leaders must reconcile the need for speed with unbiased, value maximizing decision-making.
BEST PRACTICE 23
People are a company’s greatest asset and top talent is always in short supply. Great leaders ensure enterprises not only hire the best but also have the culture, training, and development to keep the best.
BEST PRACTICE 24
Organizations don’t change until people change and people don't change without engagement. If a leader wants raving, engaged customers they must first create raving, engaged employees.
BEST PRACTICE 25
Great leaders do not let the preservation of artificial harmony trump the importance of an open, transparent culture where all have a voice to respectfully dissent and be heard.
BEST PRACTICE 26
Great leaders prioritize short and long-term by learning from the past, minding the present, and preparing for the future because success is acceptance of the “and” and rejection of the “or.”
BEST PRACTICE 27
Volatility is the new normal meaning decisions must be quicker and better. Without proper decision-making issues such as biases, heuristics, and “gut” will unknowingly drive value erosive decisions.
BEST PRACTICE 28
Negotiations make up the DNA of most leadership initiatives so improve this capability or you’ll be begging rather than negotiating while destroying value and leaving a trail of ruined relationships.
BEST PRACTICE 29
Self-reflection is the fuel for continuous improvement and the gateway to both humility and 20/20 vision. Without self-reflection any past success or failure will be nothing more than a game of chance.
BEST PRACTICE #30
Perseverance is success and failure's greatest ally because life's greatest lessons are learned in the valleys, not the peaks. Accordingly, the lowest valleys present a platform for the highest peaks.
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About the Author
Joshua Seedman is the founder and chairman of PNI Consulting, a management consulting firm that specializes in global transformations. He has over 20 years of operating and general management experience with expertise in organizational transformations, customer experience, employee engagement, digital transformations, sales & marketing, operational turnarounds, culture/change management, and high-stakes negotiations. His experience includes executive roles within F500 companies, top-tier consulting leadership (McKinsey & Company), over 10 years of global P&L ownership, and corporate lawyer (Davis Polk & Wardwell). He received his MBA from Kellogg School of Management and his Doctor of Law (cum laude) from Northwestern University School of Law.