I don’t claim to know much about sports but in the days before I ever managed people I used to think the criticism team managers received in the media was always overly harsh. I wondered why team managers appeared to be held accountable for every failure on the pitch when, after all, the individual players were responsible for every game won or lost. That all changed soon after I became a people manager. As a manager and a leader, I soon learned that one is ultimately accountable for the results achieved by one’s team. Rightly or wrongly, one is invariably held accountable for the team’s failures and achievements.

Leading people to success is tough and, in order to achieve results, an effective leader needs a coherent set of principles, a guiding philosophy. I’ve developed a set of principles that inform my own leadership style, developed through experience in a major multi-national, studying concepts in psychology and people management, coaching from great leaders and good old-fashioned trial and error.  

Principles of Effective Leadership

1. Humility and Sincerity

Good leaders are cognisant of the impact of their actions. Leaders are invariably under increased scrutiny and your team will almost always model your behaviours. After all, many of them aspire to walk in your shoes. The two key behaviours to model are humility and sincerity, conveyed through deeds and words. Humility can be demonstrated in many ways but the best way is to recognise and openly admit one’s own shortcomings, by providing specific examples of mistakes you’ve made and what you did to put things right. Sincerity is the opposite of hypocrisy, where your actions should mirror your words. People are hardwired to spot insincerity and your team members will rightly challenge you when you’re advocating one thing but doing another.

2. People Development

Good leaders recognise that their team members thirst for development in their careers and, as a leader, you can give them what they need to help them get where they want to go. A central aspect to this is providing feedback, both constructive and positive. Providing positive feedback helps team members know they’re on the right track and providing affirmation can boost individual and team morale. Delivering constructive feedback is a challenge for most people but a key skill to master. When delivering constructive feedback you can either throw a brick or a ball. Balls are easily caught but bricks are a little trickier to catch and will likely knock the recipient off course! Provided the method of delivery is sound, constructive feedback will always have a positive impact when it’s delivered from a place of caring about the recipient and their career aspirations and what they need to recognise and change in order to get to the next level. Your ambition should be clear and recognisable to your team – get your reports to the next level in their respective careers.

3. Tailoring Management Style

One of the most challenging aspects of people management is being able to adapt your leadership style to the individuals on your team. People are unique and what works for one person may not work for the next. You might find that humour works well with one team member, another demands regular affirmation while someone else requires persuasion. Getting to know your team is vital to identifying the right approach for each person.

4. Fairness

Good leaders need to ensure fairness, making sure team members are treated as equals. This can be more challenging than it appears on the surface.  It’s not always possible to provide the same opportunities to everyone on your team. Some will have better skills in certain areas than others and this will and should determine the allocation of projects and responsibilities. Being able to identify the right responsibilities for the right people without showing favouritism is key to good team morale.

5. Flexibility and Trust

Forward thinking organisations and leaders recognise that people require flexibility for multiple reasons, including personal commitments outside the office and their own preferred work-style. Micromanaging your team’s time and approach to tasks is a sure way to lose their trust. Trusting people to get the job done without unreasonable scrutiny is the best way to build trust, loyalty and ultimately productivity.

6. Action over Inaction

Teams have common goals but issues can arise affecting team morale. Interpersonal issues and multiple other factors can lead to a decrease in team spirit and ultimately productivity. A key approach is to tackle issues as soon as they arise, well before they’ve had time to negatively affect the team.

7. Decision Making and Change Management

When important decisions need making it’s critical not to underestimate the wisdom of your team. Junior colleagues often have an “on-the-job” knowledge of the issues involved and getting their opinions will ensure useful input in the decision making process, while also making them feel valued and trusted. The goal should be transparent and you should set out the issues clearly and ultimately make a fair decision based on your team’s feedback. Seeking guidance from more tenured members of your team should be sufficient for less important issues.

8. North Star Goal

Above all, it’s critical that team members don’t lose sight of the “North Star” goal. These are the long-term, high-level aspirations of your organisation and team and serve to motivate and inspire your people. In most jobs, especially after an extended period of time working on similar tasks and projects on a daily basis, people lose sight of the ultimate objectives. Reminding them, on an almost daily basis, helps to boost motivation and morale.