7 Golden Rules for Great Leadership
“How will I ever be able to teach that?” I asked one of the instructors. In late 2001 just after 9/11, I was taking part in the first Martial Arts Instructor-Trainer course in Quantico, Virginia. We were learning to be black-belt instructors of instructors in this new mixed martial arts program the Marine Corps was rolling out.
The head of the program, a charismatic and tough-as-nails Force Recon Colonel named George Bristol had just given a talk to all of us on “the shadow,” that brief speck of time between thought and action. When he explained it in his inspirational warrior/scholar sort of way as he often did, it was deeply inspiring.
Soon after I was thinking about the surreal nature of what I’d just heard and said “Man, I hope we don’t have to teach that.”
The instructor I was speaking to, also a Sergeant said “no, you don’t have to. That’s what he does because that is him. You do what is you when you teach.”
And I did. I mixed in my own style and personality in the years that followed. I learned later this is generally called authentic leadership — painting with proven principles of leadership while using your own colors.
In the years since as a leader of Marines, business leader, and youth leader, I have found 7 “Golden Rules” that make for good leadership.
Here they are.
#1. Know Yourself Then Be It
A leader needs to welcome solitude so they can know themselves.
Some people are scared of not being distracted. In any down moment without people around, they won’t talk with themselves, but they’ll seek external stimuli with screens or substances to avoid the most personal relationship, that one with self.
Another great leader I served with, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis said:
“If I was to sum up the single biggest problem of senior leadership in the Information Age, it’s a lack of reflection. Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting. We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision-making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.”
Being your own friend and confidant requires a healthy relationship with solitude.
Then having the courage to show that self to the world as you lead enables authenticity.
Know yourself. Be yourself. Authenticity is the human connection that enables people to want to follow you.
#2. Find a Way
Obstacles are often not surmounted for one of three reasons: lack of will, lack of ability, or lack of creativity.
Most people who fail blame the obstacle instead of one of the more likely reasons above.
The good news is, lack of ability which is most inherent in someone can often be overcome by applying the other two, will and creativity.
Find a way is the mantra of winning leaders.
A leader’s dependability is in direct proportion to this concept. Those who can get any job done with sheer grit, will, and creative thinking become the best leaders.
Great leaders always find a way.
#3. Love Others
I’m not going to un-sugarcoat this and call it caring or empathy or compassion.
A great leader loves those they lead.
All the best leaders I’ve ever met had almost a fatherly or motherly love for the people they led even if that leader was younger.
That can only happen when they love themselves first. This brings us back to that all-important point in #1, knowing yourself.
If you don’t know yourself, you can’t love yourself. If you can’t love yourself, you can’t love others.
And you can’t be a great leader if you don’t love others.
#4. Focus on the Mission
Great leaders always have an eye on the prize. They can always answer why they are doing any given action. When they keep this mission focus, they can then prioritize actions.
A leader who doesn’t have this focus becomes scrambled.
They employ their team on wild goose chases or low-impact goals instead of employing them to maximize their capabilities in order to accomplish the larger goal.
This also allows a leader to simplify. Skilled leaders, like skilled writers, can distill the complex into potent bare-bones truth.
A good leader simplifies. A good leader prioritizes.
Both of which are only possible with a clear focus on mission.
You’ve probably heard adapt and overcome as a mantra for some military units. This ties into finding a way above.
Good leaders can recognize challenges posed by changing external stimuli then adapt their actions and those of their team to meet the new challenges.
The battlefield in business or war is an ever-changing picture. The best leaders can constantly re-focus on that new picture and apply their wisdom to understanding it.
Adaptability requires decisiveness. If a leader gets stuck in indecision out of fear or lack of confidence, then they can’t keep up with change.
A leader who can’t adapt tries to solve new problems in old ways and often fails.
Great leaders adapt.
The only way you can employ a team with maximum effectiveness is to delegate.
A good leader empowers and trusts their team.
They also encourage initiative by not punishing it. They say “good initiative, bad judgement” if someone screws up while genuinely trying.
They never squash someone’s will to act in the absense of orders.
The better a leader is, the more their team is self-sufficient and proficient so the leader doesn’t have to try to do everything — that recipe for disaster has never worked no matter how many leaders try it.
Empower your people by delegating and encouraging initiative.
#7. Take Action Despite Fear
Finally, none of this matters if a leader can’t stand up in the wind of adversity.
Having moral and physical courage is key to applying all the good leadership principles you’ve ever learned.
If a leader scampers away while pushing their people under the bus when times get tough, nothing they say will ever matter.
What a leader does speaks infinitely louder than what they say.
Having courage doesn’t mean a leader isn’t scared, it means they can act despite their fear. A good leader displays courage and takes responsibility when things go wrong.
The courage of responsibility always stops the buck in front of a leader.
All of these things lead to the shiniest of shiny golden rules, lead by example. A good leader is what they want their people to be.
To recap the 7 golden rules of leadership:
- Know yourself then be it for authentic leadership.
- Find a way — persistence of will and creativity will often reveal it.
- Love yourself then love others.
- Stay focused on your mission so you can prioritize your actions.
- Delegate and encourage initiative.
- Develop courage so you can apply it when fear is present.
These golden rules have served me well over the years. I know they will for you as well.
And if ever in doubt of what to do, do whatever action is most aligned with love.
In these ways, you’ll become a leader who people will truly love to follow.