There are many ways to describe how an effective leader acts, but most would agree that leadership is about influence, action, service, and inspiration. Perhaps the greatest trait a leader can possess is vision.
As Sheryl Sandberg, technology executive, philanthropist, and writer, once said, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
Leadership principles are not just theoretical; they have a practical impact. Organizations with strong leadership tend to perform better, adapt faster to changes, and sustain growth over time.
While every leader is unique, and most tailor their leadership style to their specific industry and goals, there are certain leadership qualities that many of the most successful leaders display. These qualities are built on principles such as effective communication, strategic decision-making, and adaptability.
In this article, learn about how leadership principles serve as timeless tenets that guide leaders through challenges, inspire their teams, foster innovation, and contribute to organizations’ success and positive culture.
- Leadership is the act of guiding, directing, or influencing people toward achieving a common goal.
- Successful leaders are often those who are mission-driven, act decisively, communicate well, change course as needed, and continuously learn.
- By creating a supportive and transparent work environment, strong leaders are more likely to attract talented team members who remain engaged, hard-working, and loyal.
What Are Leadership Principles?
Leadership principles are guidelines that inform the actions of leaders. These principles help people in positions of power to effectively motivate and guide others and make important decisions. They are essential because in many cases, effective leadership significantly influences the success of a team or community. They do this by keeping morale, collaboration, and engagement high.
- Establishing a clear vision, sharing that vision with others, and providing the information, knowledge, and methods to realize that vision
- Coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members or stakeholders
- Fundamental truths, laws, or doctrines that serve as the foundation for a system of belief, behavior, or reasoning
- Universal rules or guidelines that remain consistent over time
- Established standards of conduct that provide a basis for making decisions or evaluating actions
- Principles that often serve as a guide to what is considered right and wrong or good and bad in a particular context
Why Are Leadership Principles Important?
“Good leaders focus on unifying and uplifting the whole team. They work with individuals to help them see what their role is, how they can benefit the organization, and why they matter.”Western Governer’s University
Leadership principles act as the compass and backbone of organizations. They instill consistency, drive behaviors, and set expectations; this way, every team member knows what they’re working toward and why, as well as what their responsibilities are.
Leadership principles serve some of the following purposes:
- Provide Direction: Direction is defined as “The path or course on which something is moving or aiming.” Leaders provide a clear path and vision, guiding decision-making and strategy development. Leadership principles also help define and reinforce a company’s culture and values based on its mission.
- Motivate Team Members: Motivation is “The drive or reason for a person to act or behave in a particular way.” Effective leadership principles inspire teams and boost morale by defining the organization’s values and creating supportive work environments.
- Maintain Consistency: Consistency is “The quality of being steady and uniform over time or in different situations.” When leaders remain consistent in their actions, it builds trust and credibility. Think of this much like parenting, in which consistency is important to guide behaviors and teach lessons.
- Promote Adaptability: Being adaptive means having the ability to change or adjust effectively to new conditions or environments. As situations change, having a core set of principles helps leaders pivot in order to remain successful while also maintaining integrity.
- Aid in Communication: Communication is the process of conveying information or ideas between individuals or groups. When everyone in an organization understands its mission and principles, it prevents miscommunications and facilitates trust and transparency. Everyone speaks the same “language” in terms of values and expectations when a leader communicates and listens well.
8 Principles of Leadership That the Best Leaders Follow
While the specifics may vary from one organization to another, the underlying importance of having and adhering to leadership principles remains consistent across sectors and industries.
Below are eight leadership principles that successful and effective leaders often abide by:
1. Effective Goal-Setting
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”Warren Bennis, author and business consultant
- Establishing SMART Goals: Rather than being aimless, good leaders create goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-sensitive). These goals help chart a course for the organization’s future and provide a consistent vision to rally around, even when strategies and tactics evolve.
- Delegating Tasks: In addition to creating a mission and clear goals, leaders must ensure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities, as well as how their work contributes to the “bigger picture.”
2. Acting With Integrity
“On paper, every company has great values. But values are no good if they remain on paper. Being driven by values is doing right, not just knowing or saying what’s right. A leader’s role is to live by these values, explicitly promote them, and make sure they’re part of the fabric of the business.”Hubert Joly, Harvard Business Review
- Upholding Commitments: The best leaders are honest, transparent, and “people of their word.” They act in accordance with the organization’s values and don’t abuse their power by slacking off.
- Accountability: They keep not only themselves accountable but also uphold a culture of responsibility and ownership.
- Acting Ethically: They establish a code of conduct that encourages ethical practices, which can protect an organization’s reputation and long-term health.
3. Decision-Making Skills
“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.”Peter Drucker, author and speaker
- Gathering Data: Good leaders seek out opinions, relevant information, and input from stakeholders, employees, customers, and mentors. They involve their team in decision-making, valuing diverse perspectives.
- Analyzing Information: They weigh the pros and cons of situations, understand implications, and consider the long-term impacts of their actions.
- Being Decisive: Effective leaders are both decisive and visionary, meaning they can make decisions even in the face of uncertainty and have a clear vision for the future. They’re also confident and can articulate an organization’s goals in a compelling manner.
4. Clear Communication
“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”Colin Powell, Former United States Secretary of State
- Speaking Clearly: The best leaders convey ideas well and listen actively.
- Providing Feedback: They provide regular, constructive feedback that helps team members grow and feel valued without insulting them.
- Encouraging Professional Development: To help their organizations become as great as possible, strong leaders support team members in acquiring new skills or knowledge.
5. Having Empathy
“A good leader can benefit from both intellectual and emotional understanding. People feel valued and respected when a leader takes the time to listen and process what they’re saying.”Jamie Birt, Indeed writer
- Perspective-Taking: They understand and value the feelings and perspectives of others. They can put themselves “in other people’s shoes” and absorb various points of view. By empathizing with team members, a leader can create a supportive environment where individuals feel understood and cared for, which in turn, boosts morale and productivity.
- Facilitating Conflict Resolution: Disagreements and conflicts are natural in any organization, but great leaders provide a framework for addressing arguments, compromising, and finding solutions that are mutually beneficial.
- Expecting and Accepting Imperfections: Smart leaders know that everyone slips up and makes mistakes, so they foster an environment where employees can take ownership without being belittled and then continually refine their skills and processes.
6. Resilience and Continuous Learning
“The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis.”Brian Tracy, author and motivational speaker
- Displaying Humility: Humility is an important aspect of being a good leader, as it fosters a “growth mindset” and encourages leaders to always look for ways to expand their knowledge and skills. The best leaders can own up to their mistakes and avoid blaming others.
- Learning From Mistakes: Strong leaders bounce back from setbacks, maintain a positive attitude, and embrace change. They remain accountable and see failures and setbacks as opportunities to improve.
- Reflecting and Adjusting: They regularly reassess decisions and are willing to make changes when needed. They can take notice of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses so that improvement is always within reach.
7. Fostering Collaboration
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”Jack Welch, American business professional
- Encouraging Teamwork: Facilitating brainstorming and valuing every team member’s contributions are principles of strong leadership.
- Empowering Teams: Clearly defined principles enable teams to operate with autonomy. This helps teams know the broader guidelines so they can make decisions without waiting for micromanagement. As a result, a strong and supportive culture can improve employee morale, retention, and overall performance.
- Building on People’s Strengths: Companies with strong leaders help their employees grow and evolve. They provide opportunities for learning so team members can reach their full potential.
Examples of How the Best Leaders Act
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”John Quincy Adams, Former U.S. President
- They model desired behaviors: Effective leaders exemplify the attitudes and actions that they wish to see in their teams. They “lead by example” instead of only lecturing or pressuring their teammates or employees. For example, they treat customers and employees with kindness and put in extra work when a time-sensitive task presents itself.
- They recognize and reward accomplishments: When a team member completes an important project or task, a good leader acknowledges their efforts to further motivate and inspire them and others. This may take the form of verbal praise, sharing accomplishments with other team members, or giving an employee a promotion or raise.
- They prioritize people’s well-being: While good leaders have high standards, they also ensure that their work environment is healthy and that team members have a sustainable work-life balance. By respecting people’s time, leaders gain their team member’s trust and dedication. An example of this principle is allowing employees to work a fair amount of hours and to take time off to rest and rebalance.
- They address and resolve conflicts directly: In order to maintain people’s respect, successful leaders are on the ground, taking note of issues and resolving problems head-on. They practice emotional intelligence by avoiding gossiping or delaying tough conversations and instead address problems confidently and assertively.
- They face a crisis with calmness and clarity: When a company faces a major setback, like a PR scandal or a significant financial loss, a true leader doesn’t resort to blame or denial. Instead, they calmly gather their team, assess the situation with clarity, take responsibility for mistakes, and chart a course for rectifying the issue.
- They hire people they trust and believe in: Instead of micromanaging every detail, a leader identifies the strengths and capabilities of each team member and delegates tasks accordingly. They trust their team to execute their responsibilities but are available for guidance, support, and to remove any obstacles that may arise. By empowering team members, the leader fosters growth, autonomy, and a sense of ownership among the team.
After studying how effective leaders operate, Alison Chadwick, owner of GrowPeople, and Matt Morgan, Chief Executive at Agency Inc., described the following characteristics seen in successful leaders:
- Belief in the organization’s purpose
- Taking full responsibility for actions and mistakes
- The ability to move on and forgive
- Humility and openness to feedback
- An optimistic but realistic attitude
- Valuing others’ opinions and having confidence in one’s own opinion
- Self-acceptance of strengths and weaknesses
How Servant Leadership Drives Organizational Success
“Leadership is not just about giving energy . . . it’s unleashing other people’s energy.”Paul Polman, dutch businessman and speaker
In order for teams to benefit, many experts believe that leaders must shift the paradigm of traditional leadership, where the leader’s main goal is to lead, to one where the leader’s primary responsibility is to ensure the well-being, growth, and success of their team members. This concept describes “servant leadership,” a leadership philosophy rooted in the belief that the most effective leaders strive to serve others, rather than accrue power or take control. Servant leaders put the needs of their people first, fostering an environment of trust, collaboration, and mutual respect that drives success.
Here are three tips for practicing servant leadership:
- Practice self-awareness: Servant leaders should continuously engage in self-reflection to recognize their strengths, weaknesses, biases, and emotional triggers. By understanding oneself better, a leader can avoid reactionary decisions, better serve the team’s needs, and grow in their role.
- Give others your full attention: One of the foundational skills for a servant leader is the ability to listen intently. Active listening involves fully concentrating, understanding, and responding to what others are saying. By doing so, leaders can better understand the needs and concerns of their team members and make decisions that are in their best interest.
- Empower and develop your team: Instead of hoarding power, servant leaders empower their team members by delegating responsibility, providing necessary resources, and supporting their personal and professional growth so they feel valued.
Want to learn more about successful companies that have been built by effective leaders? Check out this article as an example:
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