Ever since Moses came down from Mt Sinai with the original 10 commandments in the Old Testament, people have had a fascination with top 10 lists.

As I’ve been musing on leadership principles recently, I’ve come up with my own 10 commandments of leadership. 

Of course, leadership is more complex and challenging than what you can fit into a list of 10 principles, but I hope that this is a good place to start that will get you thinking about how you can further develop your leadership capability.

1.  Keep learning.  If you want to be a successful leader, you have to be focussed on continued learning.  Last year’s solutions won’t fix this year’s problems and your people want to hear a fresh message from you, not the same old rehashed diatribes.  Leaders are readers, so make sure that you aren’t too busy or too proud to keep learning.

2.  Stay positive.  When things are going wrong and there’s a high volume of stress in your organisation, your people will look to you for leadership.  This is when you have the chance to deliver a message of hope and optimism, not despair. 

3.  Communicate with clarity.  Over and over again, I have seen competent managers damage their people and limit their opportunity to be successful through a lack of self-control and inability to get their message across effectively.  If you can’t deliver a tough message without yelling, swearing and a purple face, chances are that your message is being lost in the delivery.  On the other extreme are people who are too wishy-washy and let people off the hook for poor performance without consequences.  In the middle of aggression and timidity is communicating with clarity.  Everyone understands the message and knows what role they are playing.

4.  Always have a plan B.  If there’s one thing that leadership has taught me over the years, it’s that things rarely turn out the way you expect them to.  Always have a plan B (and a C & D if you can).  That way, when the landscape changes unexpectedly, you can move efficiently to another option without wasting time or losing momentum.

5.  Cast a meaningful vision.  If you don’t have a vision of what you are trying to achieve in your organisation and you’re not communicating it regularly to your people, then you run the risk of becoming just another mediocre company going through the motions for no apparent reason.  Your talented people will leave and your average performers will hang around forever.  Leaders know what they’re trying to create and let their people in on the secret. 

6.  Invest in others.  If you’re a leader, chances are that you’ve earned the opportunity.  It’s also reasonable to assume that you have skills and experiences to pass on to your staff.  By being generous with your time and sharing what you’ve learned along the way, you will develop the capability of your people and increase their effectiveness.  Guess who looks better when that happens?

7.  Learn to chill out.  A burnt out leader is no good to anyone.  Casting a vision, remaining positive and controlling your emotions becomes more difficult when you are tired and jaded.  Leadership can be busy, but effective leaders understand that they are better equipped for their role and have more to offer when they take time out, smell the roses and chill out.

8.  You set the tone.  There’s a saying that dogs look like their owners.  In the same way, after a period of time, group start to reflect their leaders.  Whether it’s a sporting side reflecting its coach, a church reflecting its pastor or a business reflecting its owner the principle is the same.  If you want your people to be more passionate, start with yourself.  If you want them to be more creative, start with yourself.  If you look at your group and can see a bunch of pessimistic complainers, be honest with yourself about how much you’ve influenced that culture.

9.  Reward and recognise.  Setting a culture of catching people doing the right thing and then rewarding those behaviours is a very effective way to engage your workforce.  As a leader, if there are attributes that you want to see demonstrated consistently, then make champions of these people.  Don’t take people for granted.  If you do, they will either leave or wonder why they should bother trying.  Either way, you lose.

10.  Take the blame and share the praise.  When things go wrong, step up and protect your people.  When things go right, make sure that everyone in your team gets the glory.  Too many people forget this simple principle and out of their own insecurity and small-mindedness freely blame others when things go pear-shaped or take all of the praise when things go right.  As a leader, you should be bigger than that.

My suspicion is that if you follow these commandments as a leader, you’ll have a great opportunity to be successful.

Are there any other leadership principles that you think should be in the 10 (or 15) commandments?

Previous post – Redefining the Realm of Possibility

Next post – Do More Than Expected