Leadership isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes grit, hard work and passion, plus a lot of people skills.
And it’s not about money or control, which is what way too many bosses get wrong in corporate America. In fact, it’s not even about the title—some of the best leaders aren’t in management. So, how can you learn how to be a good leader? Here are 20 guiding principles that will help you step up your leadership skills without stepping on people to get there.
1. Love your team.
Your team members aren’t sales numbers or cogs in a machine. They’re people who have hopes, dreams, fears and struggles. Every single person deserves to be treated with respect, dignity and kindness.
I’m part of the team at Ramsey Solutions, where our CEO, Dave Ramsey, always says, “Love your team well. Treat them like family, and they will act like family.” As a result, we have an incredible company culture where people care about each other and look forward to coming to work.
2. Give praise.
Start making a habit of catching people doing something right—and let them know about it. A sincere compliment or acknowledgement of their hard work will go a long way to boost their morale.
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Each week, walk around your company and find a team member doing something great. Or take a few minutes and handwrite a personal note to someone on your team who’s been killing it week after week. While you’re at it, why not recognize them in front of their peers? It’ll make their day.
3. Be a leader, not a boss.
A boss has an iron grip on the team, expecting every team member to immediately jump at their command. Workers know the boss holds all the cards and will make sure mandates are followed. Disobey and you could be gone in an instant.
But where a good leader goes, people follow—not out of obligation, but out of genuine desire. Don’t boss people around or try to scare them by making threats. Instead, be transparent and explain why you do what you do. When people know the why behind your decisions, they’re more likely to understand and follow your example.
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4. Surround yourself with go-getters.
It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to fill a minimum-wage job or find a new leader for your company—hold out for the perfect person for the role. Having the right people in the right seat on the bus allows you to do your best work. Take your time, set your standards high, and keep the crazies away from your company.
So, how do you find the right people? Make sure to do multiple interviews for the role, including one with their spouse. Maybe even have them take a personality test to make sure their style fits with the job and your company. And one of the best ways to recruit awesome new team members is through your current team. Let them know you’re looking for new hires and to only send their high-achieving friends your way. You can even offer a cash bounty for each referral that leads to a successful hire.
5. Cast your vision.
If you work for something bigger than yourself, you work much harder and smarter. And the same holds true for your team. They work harder because there’s a sense of calling and purpose.
So, tell your team what they’re working for and why—and then keep repeating it. You can start with an email to send to everyone. But keep it short and sweet (no one wants to read a novel at work). Then, share your vision and your heart as often as you can with your team.
And if your company doesn’t already have core values that everyone can follow to help achieve that vision, take the time to zero in on what those are and make sure your team is aware of them.
6. Treat people the way you would want to be treated.
Being a good leader means you know how to treat others. If you want a team that’s loyal, creative and willing to follow you to the ends of the earth, use the golden rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).
It’s simple: Just put yourself in their shoes. When you would expect to be praised, give praise. If there’s a problem you would want help with, lend a hand. If you would expect a pay raise, give it. No matter the situation, stop and think, How would I like someone to treat me?
7. Start with the person in the mirror.
Dave admits that when he first started Ramsey Solutions, he wouldn’t have won any awards for his leadership skills. He had to realize the one person who was holding him back was staring at him in the mirror—himself. Your organization can’t grow beyond your own leadership qualities. Luckily, there’s a fix. Dave says, “You can decide who you want to be and get about the business of becoming that person.”
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What’s a guaranteed morale killer and discontentment booster? Failure to communicate. Always let your team know what’s going on, both good and bad. Intentionally creating a culture of open communication will help you quickly see the rewards. As we say around Ramsey, “To be unclear is to be unkind.” So lean into conflict, dig into the details, speak up if you notice something that should be addressed, and face the brutal facts that you need to in order to have healthy communication.
9. Lead by example.
Do you want people to change their actions? Then you need to guide and inspire them through the way you carry yourself. Set the example by what you say, do, and how you react toward others. Your team will follow your lead.
If you need some inspiration in this area, you can also learn from the example of other leaders who have shaped your life. Who are some leaders you admire? Maybe it was your high school English teacher or your boss at your first post-college job, or a more famous leader like Winston Churchill (a personal favorite of mine). What things did they do that you can learn from and use in your own leadership?
10. Learn how to say no.
A big part of leadership is being willing to say no to things that won’t serve the team or the company as a whole. And saying no means you won’t be able to make everyone happy all the time—but that’s okay, because people-pleasing ultimately won’t get you anywhere!
11. Be confident yet humble.
Aren’t those two opposing things? Nope. It’s possible to be confident and be armed with humility at the same time. Be sure of yourself and your abilities without acting like the world revolves around you. You don’t have to walk around looking like you just received an unexpected award. You can learn to practice genuine humility when praise is given to you.
12. Have strong character and integrity.
Leaders have strong character and integrity at all times—not just when someone is looking. Integrity runs deep. It should be at the core of who you are and be the driving force for the decisions you make. Being disciplined about your life choices and habits (both inside and outside of work) is key when it comes to good leadership!
13. Act professional.
This one might go without saying when it comes to leadership qualities, but remember to act in a professional way in your communication and interaction with others. It’s pretty tough to expect respect from your team when you don’t even carry yourself well (aka Michael Scott from The Office).
14. Be trustworthy and learn to trust others.
Leaders should have the full trust of their team—but in order to get it, you need to behave in a trustworthy way too. You want your team to know you have their back and will support them no matter what. So follow through on your promises and mean what you say. Be a trustworthy leader they can count on. And if you feel like you can’t trust someone, don’t hire them to be on your team to begin with. Only hire team members you know will get the work done with honesty and integrity.
Another way to build trust is by being authentic. Don’t be afraid to be a genuine person—one who’s transparent about their strengths and weaknesses. Having regular one-on-one meetings with your team members and talking openly and honestly with them is a great way to create a strong, trusting connection.
15. Empower others.
Great leaders lift others up. They equip them to take on the task at hand and trust they can rise to the occasion. Despite what people might think, being a good leader doesn’t include micromanagement. Sorry. Remember, it’s not about controlling every detail—it’s about giving your team the tools and motivation they need to do great work without needing to be micromanaged.
16. Be loyal.
In a world where people change jobs quicker than NBA players switch teams, loyalty has become a lost art. And many leaders expect complete loyalty from those they work with, but it’s a two-way street. If you want to learn how to be a good leader, put loyalty at the top of your list. You need to be loyal to your team members and your mission as a whole. That means no gossiping, no putting others down, and always having their back.
17. Act with courage.
It’s true: Being a leader often comes with carrying the burden of making the tough, fact-based decisions. Making decisions that aren’t based on fear means you have to tap into a level of bravery that other people don’t have to during their 9-to-5 jobs. You have to be bold and have the courage to take risks when they’re needed.
18. Generate results.
Leaders are more than capable of getting the job done. You can count on a great leader to follow through and execute the plan. They show strong leadership qualities by always working hard and not throwing in the towel when the going gets tough. There are no excuses, no one to pass the buck to, and no one to throw under the bus when something doesn’t get done. Leaders own it.
19. Accept change.
Any good leader knows change will happen within an organization. The ebb and flow of a company over time is part of the natural process. A great leader knows how to adjust to changes, when to accept changes, and the right way to react to changes.
20. Be a servant leader.
The heart of leadership is serving—helping others do their jobs well. Being a servant leader doesn’t mean you wait on other people hand and foot. It means you put your own needs and agenda aside and enable people to become great at what they do. It’s asking the bigger questions like: How would I want someone to support me? How can I help this person grow and thrive?
Servant leadership is all about going above and beyond to simply treat people like they matter and they have what it takes. Because they do. Who wouldn’t want to follow a leader like that?