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Principles for Emerging Leaders

People often confuse leadership and management. Management is about organization and efficiency. Leadership is about human interaction and motivation, and guiding people toward a shared goal.

Young professionals often come into an organization with significant training in management, but very little training in leadership principles. Good organizations are recognizing this and supplementing the development of these professionals with training from people like Simon Sinek. This is excellent.

The key to developing into a great leader is to understand sound leadership principles and be able to integrate those principles into the foundation of working with his or her team on a daily basis and be consistent in this approach over time.

Stephen Covey, who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the most influential business books of the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries, emphasized the importance of embracing principles in order to be an effective leader. He told Jim Collins, who wrote in the Forward of the book’s 30th Anniversary Edition, that he (Covey), didn’t come up with the ideas in the 7 Habits. Rather, he explained, “. . .the principles were known long before me.” He stated, “They are more like natural laws. All I did was put them together, to synthesize them for people.”1

“The principles were known long before me.” That’s the essence of it: Timeless principles. If emerging leaders can learn them, embrace them, and integrate them, they will not only become more effective leaders, but they will build their own character and that of their teams, as human beings.

Here are a few principles synthesized from Stephen Covey’s writings and others over the years that are timeless, and seem to resonate with young and emerging professionals:

  • Trust: Leaders have to earn the trust of their people. Notice the word earn. It can’t be demanded. It is said that you can buy a person’s hand but not their heart. That has to be earned. How is it earned? Through demonstrated empathy on the part of the leader. Empathy to what the subordinate is experiencing and attempting to learn and perform and supplying them with the tools and training necessary to succeed. Empathy that other things might be happening in their lives and while the job still has to get done, to show that they understand and can work with them through their circumstance. Trust isn’t earned overnight. It is earned through consistent demonstration of empathy and care for the growth of the individual.
  • Authenticity: People can see right through an inauthentic manager – someone who seemingly says the right things but doesn’t mean them, someone who pretends to care but doesn’t, someone who fakes expertise but hasn’t actually done the work. A good leader is real. He or she is vulnerable but retains strength because of a solid inner confidence that they are moving the team toward a worthwhile objective. An authentic leader doesn’t pretend to know all the answers but clearly shows a willingness to learn as well as teach.
    • Self-Awareness: A critical ingredient of authenticity is the capacity for self-awareness. Self-awareness is the possession of accurate knowledge of how one is viewed in the eyes of those he or she is in charge of or interacts with in an organization. On sports teams, it’s called self-scouting. It’s the ability to objectively judge one’s own weaknesses or blindspots, with the expectation that immediate work be done to address them.
  • Vision: The term leader presupposes having people who will follow. Knowing you’re in charge of people who give up their individual course of action to follow you is a significant responsibility in any endeavor. It is the fundamental job of the leader to understand the situation the team is currently in, the objective of where it needs to go, the broad-scale strategies to get there, and the execution tactics to take in order for the strategies to work. A leader must possess the vision of all of that, and most importantly, clearly articulate that vision to every member of the team.
  • Instill Confidence: By establishing the trust of your team through conveying empathy, and authenticity, and communicating a clear vision of your team’s mission, along with the requisite skill development, you enable them to build confidence in what they’re doing, because now they are truly part of something larger than themselves. That is a true secret sauce of successful leadership. You will see the confidence in them grow. They will develop a sense of self-efficacy, which is the belief that they can do something heretofore not familiar because they possess the framework to succeed.
  • A Willingness To Unleash the Talent: Finally, what differentiates a leader from a non-leader is the willingness to let go and unleash the talent of your people to carry out the tactics that follow the strategy, to achieve the objectives of the team, and realize the vision. A true leader knows that he or she will only realize the vision when they let go and let the team follow their training.
  1. Jim Collins, Forward in Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Revised and Updated (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), 1. ↩︎

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