Executive Coaching Articles

Five Ways to Excel as a Leader

I have transformed my mindset and behavior to be a more effective and fine-tuned executive. I’ve increased productivity by 20-25% and have managed tasks more effectively, including increased delegation and leveraging of my time.

Linda G. Laviolette, Executive Director,Portland Parks Foundation

To become a great leader, you need to know that you’re in a leadership role. But that’s just the first step. The next step involves maintaining your employees’ respect. Without that, you may be the boss, but your leadership role will be short-lived.

The American Management Association conducted in-depth interviews with 41 executives and uncovered seven common traits that most often lead leaders to failure:

  1. Insensitivity to co-workers.
  2. Aloofness and arrogance.
  3. Tendency to misuse information conveyed in confidence.
  4. Inability to control ambition.
  5. Inability to delegate assignments or promote teamwork.
  6. Inability to staff effectively.
  7. Inability to think strategically.

So how can those who lead maintain the difficult balance of managing the affairs of the company while maintaining the loyalty of their employees? What truly sets apart the mediocre, overbearing boss from a highly respected and effective leader?

The answer is that leaders lead people. A leader is someone others consistently follow. It stands to reason that people follow because they have a belief in the direction, integrity, and competence of the person in the lead.

As Kenneth “Thane” Walker once said, “A manager remains a leader only as long as he keeps proving that he is the superior man with the best method.”

Speaking of methods, here are five ways to excel as a leader:


  1. Sometimes leadership is merely letting people do their jobs. Willie Shoemaker, one of the best jockeys of all time, said that he kept the lightest touch on the horse’s reins: “The horse never knows I’m there until he needs me.” Management consultant Garry Jenkins puts it more bluntly: “The leader’s role is to create a vision, not kick somebody in the ass.”
  2. Leaders cannot be aloof — they must constantly show that they care. People leave or love their jobs for a number of reasons. Ask yourself the following questions: How important do your employees feel in their work? What have you as a leader done to show your employees how important they are? When was the last time you made it possible for people to be proud of their achievements? How often do you celebrate successes? Chances are your answers to these few simple questions will closely reflect your employee retention rate.
  3. A good leader keeps the entire team tuned to the fundamentals of success. Frank Leahy, the legendary Notre Dame football coach, always stressed fundamentals. After one especially bad game, he sat his team down in the locker room, picked up an object, and said to his players, “All right, men, let’s return to the fundamentals. This is a football.” One of his lineman, who was sitting in the back of the room taking notes, replied, “Wait a minute, Coach. Not so fast.”
  4. Leadership is getting your employees to compromise for the good of all. When Columbus was searching for the New World, his crew became discouraged and demanded that he turn back. So Columbus offered a compromise. He promised that if they would be patient and faithful just three days longer, he would abandon the enterprise if land was not discovered. Before the three days had expired, land was sighted, and the rest is history.
  5. Leaders must learn to sacrifice for others. Take the example of Alexander the Great, who over two thousand years ago, led his troops across a hot and desolate plain. Eleven days into the journey, he and all his soldiers were nearly dead from thirst. But Alexander pressed on. At midday, two scouts brought him what little water they had. It barely filled his cup. Alexander’s troops watched in amazement as he poured the water onto the hot sand. “It’s no use for one to drink when many thirst,” he proclaimed. As a leader, Alexander gave his followers the only thing he had: inspiration. The influence of a leader persists long after the person is gone. Walter Lippmann said it best: “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.”

Take a few minutes right now to honestly evaluate yourself. Do you do any of the seven items that frequently lead to failure? If so, what can you do to improve? Read through the five positive leadership strategies again and take note of the areas you need to work on. If you are willing to take the steps needed to better yourself, you are well on the way to becoming a good boss.