16 Leadership Commandments to Drive Investment, Humanity, and Trust
Almost every leader I know has certain values that drive their leadership philosophy. Some of those values are ubiquitous among leaders across industries; some are more specific to that leader’s sector, company, or personal experience.
Over the years, I’ve read a lot about leadership, experienced the benefits and drawbacks of others’ leadership styles, and learned for myself what it means to me to lead well—during my time as an executive at Commonwealth Joe, as well as through my experiences leading teams in previous roles and, currently, leading a smaller team for my own consulting business.
Throughout all of those experiences, I made it a habit to write down key lessons that I wanted to hold onto and employ as I further developed my leadership practices. I call them my 16 Leadership Commandments:
1. Invest in the lives of your team members.
It’s okay to be friends with your team members and care about them as people—in fact, you should. It makes your relationship, work product, and ability to work well together infinitely better. Share knowledge with them, learn their career goals, and help them grow. Be there when they need you, listen to them, and trust their ability to resolve their own problems. Make it your mission to help them be as successful as possible.
2. Delegate the monkey.
Get the monkeys off your back, and let the team own their work—but be there when they falter. Don’t forget to also delegate the fun stuff, like exciting meetings and projects. They need fun, too. Ask, “Can I help with anything today? What do you need help figuring out? What is your biggest challenge right now?”
3. Give guidance and real coaching.
Building a real team and really investing in your team members and their success means helping them achieve individual successes and growth at every opportunity. Ask guiding questions with implicit trust, like “What do you think you should do to solve this problem?” or “What action steps would you recommend?” Give guidance, receive their guidance, and encourage a culture of guidance. And then reiterate those thoughts afterwards: “What did you do well, and what did you discover about yourself as a result? What impact do you think this had on everyone else? What were the highlights of this project? What did you learn?”
4. Give direct feedback.
Feedback is important and shouldn’t be sugar-coated or misconstrued; so, be blunt and comment on behaviors, but do not make it about personality. If the feedback is critical, be sure to deliver it in private, and remain humble and helpful. When you can, use “I” statements: “When you do X, I feel Y,” or “When you do X, it makes me think Y.” As much as leaders need to tell their employees when they’re doing things well, they also need to tell employees when they are screwing up and what those screw-ups cost everyone. Without being truthful, we rob our team of an opportunity to get better and grow. Only through direct honest feedback can they learn what you really think and feel and where their blind spots are.
5. Celebrate performance.
Along with acknowledging where there is room for improvement, leaders should recognize a great job and good work as often as possible. Give complimentary feedback in public, and give other employees the opportunity to point out additional things that the team member did well. Further, enable high-performing employees to take part in company dealings and morale-boosting activities, like choosing the new office coffee blend or team bonding activity. Keep performance criteria transparent so others understand how to get to the next level. And remember, “I’m proud of you” goes a long way.
6. Focus on strengths.
Your business flourishes when you fully utilize the strengths and skillsets of your team members. So, align their strengths to the business goals. business goals to their strengths. There may be great coordinators, process-followers, creatives, and empaths, and you can harness the strengths of each to strategically accomplish the overarching goals at every step. Use personality assessments. Don’t forget: Your lens is not the only lens.
7. Help employees set personal goals in alignment with company goals.
Doing this forces employees to think about how they can stay on track and stop doing things that are getting in the way or not supporting their goals. Communicate how each employee and achieving their personal goals contributes to the overall success of your business: “I want you to achieve your dreams here and for you to get where you want to go in life.”
8. Ask how team members want you to lead.
A leader should empower and serve their team. One big way to do that is to get them involved in the leadership process by asking for feedback directly. Ask who they view as the perfect leader, and more directly ask questions like: How can I be a better manager? What is my biggest strength? What is my kryptonite? What is something obvious to you that is missing to me? Have them identify one or two things they want their leader, whether you or a leader in general, to do differently. Leaders must invite this feedback from others to make them feel safe providing it. They won’t simply tell you.
9. Share the upside.
You may be at the helm of the business, but all success the business experiences is helped in no small part by each of your employees—you can’t get there without them. Let them share in the ownership and pride through profit sharing, bonuses, competitive pay, and driving home a real mission. Status, fame, news, articles, PR, podcasts—these are methods, too. Share the press and let them do the NBC interview!
10. Spend time with your team members outside of work.
Have group events for pure fun! Volunteer together, play basketball, hold contests—you name it. Socializing beyond the office (or virtual space) helps build real bonds and allows everyone to see each other with greater humanity, including, and most especially, yours. This is your opportunity to take off your mask (figuratively speaking), be vulnerable and real, and share your true self.
11. Be clear about the business’s purpose.
Walk the team through the company’s values, and define the overall goal of the company. Why are we in business? What change are we bringing to the world? Remind employees all the time of the core purpose we’re aiming for. This keeps the overarching goals at the forefront of the company’s strategic direction and day-to-day activities. It especially helps solve for disputes within the company and between siloed teams by elevating and focusing on the bigger picture.
12. Be present.
I mean this literally. Have regular meetings—and don’t skip them or arrive late. Make time for the team every day; they are your comrades. Be there for your customers, or when a shift can’t be filled, or when others can’t make it or can’t answer the phone. And when you are physically present, be mentally present as well. Turn off your notifications, email, and other distractions so you can give your full attention when your team members need it. Give everyone else security and peace by showing up and proving that you’ll be there for them, not just for a business transaction.
13. Be clear about expectations.
We expect our team to perform at a certain level, but too often, we don’t communicate that expectation explicitly (even though we think we do). And when you don’t state or clarify the expectations, employees can’t know what they are or when they don’t hit them. So, write them out, and examine, edit, and modify them together. Consider these expectations as agreements between two parties. When something must change, revisit the expectations, discuss, and revise together so everyone always understands them—explicitly.
14. Grow comfortable with making others uncomfortable.
It’s okay to push the conversation and sit through long, thinking pauses. Stretch people by getting them to think through the questions they’re asking, and challenge them to come up with solutions themselves. Helping them develop their capacity for solving challenges is more important for the long-term than solving the one, specific challenge on their plate today.
15. Give to the team.
Think: What can you give to your team that can leave an impact? A day off? A great idea? Tools to be effective? A training class? Giving back to them shows investment, care, and real trust.
16. Hold the team accountable.
Whether you use OKRs or another goal-setting framework, have a system to keep your team accountable to their responsibilities and the goals they’re working towards. Measure execution, awareness, ambition, planning, preparedness, metrics, ownership, process building, and more. Strong self-reporting and status updates are a must, as is daily communication.
Throughout each of these 16 Leadership Commandments runs a few common threads: investment, trust, communication, and accountability. Ideally, that comes from both sides, but it must start with you as the leader. When you infuse trust into your relationships with your team members, they feel better about their work and hold themselves to higher standards. Similarly, when you invest in them as individuals, they see their role in the business and on your team not just as a “job,” but as an important piece of their life.