15 Vital Leadership Principles for Success

Robert Lyons
Robert Lyon

13 min read

15 Vital Leadership Principles for Success

15 Vital Leadership Principles for Success

We’ve all heard horror stories about a bad boss – or even worse, seen it first-hand: someone who tries to “motivate” through fear and intimidation, sows division amongst employees, plays favorites, assigns tasks at random, undermines, and even discourages colleagues. The common result in those stories is dissatisfied employees and a suffering business. 

Having skilled leadership at the helm is critical to having a thriving business. Effective leaders know how to guide their teams to operate with focus, clarity, and inspiration. 

But good leaders also know that effective leadership doesn’t come easily. They cultivate management techniques and philosophies that have proven to be effective in maximizing their team's potential. In other words, good leaders follow specific leadership principles that inform their management decisions.

Even though there are various styles of leadership and divergent leadership theories, great leaders have similar principles that guide them to creating successful teams. 

In this blog, we’ll explore 15 vital leadership principles management professionals should follow to achieve their business goals. 

What are leadership principles?

Leadership principles are a framework of actions that leaders take to move their team to a common goal. They are the beliefs that guide their decision-making process, their internal communication strategy, and their task delegation efforts. 

Great leaders understand what those principles should be and put them into practice every day. That is because great leaders don’t just "manage workers" they clarify the vision for their team, amplify the talents of their team members, and inspire dedication and excitement in their colleagues.

Certain leadership principles transcend industries. These are the foundational principles that we’ll explore here.

How do I develop better leadership principles?

Leadership principles don’t come naturally to everyone. And even those with an inherent amount of leadership qualities and a base understanding of what makes a good leader can always improve their leadership skills and deepen their understanding of leadership principles. 

One great place to start is with online leadership courses. Top universities offer online courses for honing management skills and some of them are even free. Online training hubs, like Coursera and Udemy, also offer leadership training seminars.

Another way to expand your leadership principles is to identify role models in your life. 

In “The Leadership Challenge”, a foundational research work on leadership, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote about leaders as role models. 

“Exemplary leaders know that it’s their behavior that earns them respect. The real test is whether they do what they say; whether their words and deeds are consistent. Leaders set an example and build commitment through simple, daily acts that create progress and build momentum.”

Just as your team will look to you to be a role model, it helps to think of those leaders you’ve met along the way who embodied the values and principles you wish to instill in others. Was there a person whose example led you down a beneficial path? A coach who gave you a second chance? A boss who boosted your confidence? A mentor who helped you get a promotion? Write down some of the qualities they displayed that inspired you.

It’s a good bet that some of those qualities will align with the principles described below. Following them will help you become the best leader you can be.

15 Vital leadership principles

1. Lead by example

A true leader can confidently say, “follow my lead.” 

One of the greatest principles a leader can have is leading by example. Employees will ultimately reflect their behavior anyway. If the leader complains a lot, does sloppy work, or is unprofessional, the team will be the same. But if they are kind, generous, and excited about work, their team will follow. Good leaders model the way, display great behavior, and encourage people. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. In fact, the way a leader handles their mistakes is an opportunity to lead by example! It's hard for people to have faith in an idea if their leader doesn't demonstrate the same commitment. So it’s important to work hard to ensure everything you do is something the team can follow.

When you lead by example, your team can see that you're dedicated and will adjust their behavior to match.

2. Inspire a shared vision 

Great leaders passionately believe they can make a difference at their company. They have a clear vision for the future and a unique image of what their team can become. Through this passion, leaders enlist others in this pursuit. They get people to see the same exciting possibilities for the future. 

Once you have clarity of vision and purpose, share it with your team. If they see the destination ahead, they’ll have a better chance of following you down the path.

3. Create solid common values

Great leaders know the importance of shared values. They have a set of standards, morals, and values that guide their own work and interactions with colleagues. If they follow those standards diligently and communicate them clearly, they can instill these same values in their team. When a team shares common values, there is little room for confusion or misunderstanding. 

Effective leaders have solid values centered on mutual respect, dignity, and humanity. Profit is important, but it's not the only goal a business leader strives for. Employees appreciate being part of a friendly team and respectful team and feeling like they're making a meaningful impact. People want to follow a leader who has authentic values they follow themselves.

4. Empower others

Leaders foster collaboration and build passionate teams. They do this by not playing favorites, actively involving everyone, crafting a culture of mutual respect, empowering their colleagues, and making each person feel capable. 

Favoritism can decrease morale and create tension between workers. Good leaders unify and uplift the whole team. They help employees see they can benefit the organization, that is, why they matter so that they recognize what everyone adds.

Beyond that, good leaders help employees see individual opportunities for growth and encourage them to take steps toward personal advancement.

5. Communicate effectively

Communicating clearly, effectively, and personably with your team is the cornerstone of good leadership. It begins with being able to communicate your vision to them so that they feel part of the process. It continues with clearly communicating tasks so that they know what is expected of them and so that misunderstandings can be avoided. But it also involves finding language that meets your employees at eye level. Condescending or haughty tones from your boss strain interpersonal relationships. Good leaders establish communication that is open and honest, allowing employees to feel confident in raising issues and concerns with management, and encouraging good relationships amongst the team.

Without it, employees will feel that they aren’t cared about, that they are out of the loop, and that their manager isn’t straight with them. This leads to mistrust and disinterest among team members.

Communication also involves strong listening skills. Good leaders can actively listen to their teams to understand their needs. This is critical in letting your team feel involved and cared for.

As a leader, strive not only to relate to those in top-level management but also to the people in lower-level positions. Leaders work to constantly improve their communication skills and their interpersonal skills.

6. Admit your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, but some leaders are uncomfortable with letting their team see them make a mistake. They worry it could make them appear weak or incompetent. In reality, however, the opposite is true. It’s extremely valuable and actually vital for teams to see their leaders make mistakes and admit to them. It reminds them that they too can make mistakes, admit to them and learn from them. 

In fact, seeing a boss admit to a mistake can humanize them and actually helps employees respect them more. Good leaders know it’s important to own their mistakes, fix them, learn from them, and move on. This sets a great example for their team. 

Refusing to admit to mistakes, especially ones everyone can see, leads employees to distrust their leaders and try to hide any mistakes they make themselves. That can cause huge issues down the line.

7. Be a good listener

Good communication goes both ways. Active listening is a powerful communication skill that the best leaders have. Great leaders know that listening helps them gain the trust and respect of their team. Being able to truly hear what your team is saying to you is crucial to staying aware of both problems and progress with projects. 

Teams that feel comfortable communicating concerns, suggestions, and even personal things teach their leaders how to inspire, motivate, and guide them. You don’t have to agree with everything they say but commit to listening and trying to understand. You may discover valuable information that could help you lead better.

Teams that feel validated, that feel like their voices matter, are much more likely to feel invested in the overall success of the company.

8. Promote a diverse work environment

Diversity is a key ingredient in a successful work environment. Great leaders strive to hire colleagues who are of a different race, gender, or lifestyle than their own. They understand the unique strength diversity brings to a team, as everyone can learn from each other. 

Beyond recruiting and hiring from a diverse pool, great leaders also ensure teams have proper training so everyone feels comfortable, safe, and included at work. They create teams that are respectful of one another. 

The pursuit of building a layered team applies to both diversity in demographics and diversity of ideas. If all team members have the same work experience and training background, it limits the perspectives in the room. Diverse skill sets will generate fresh perspectives and approaches to challenges. 

Great leaders know the value of diversity and build teams that embrace it.

9. Teamwork is a core value

“Teamwork makes the dream work” might seem cliché, but a team working together is the foundation for a successful work environment. When employees feel like they are competing against each other, then an “every-man-for-himself” atmosphere is sure to follow. And with it, massive drops in productivity. Good leaders strive to get everyone working toward a common goal, to share information, strategies, and successes, or, in other words, to collaborate. They understand that in order for teams to be successful, everyone has to be willing to come together and make it happen. They communicate strategies clearly, use team-building exercises, and create opportunities for collaboration within their assignments. 

Good leaders embrace the benefits collaboration can bring in optimizing success.

10. Embrace change.

Change happens. The ability to embrace transformation is a key skill for effective leadership. Good leaders don’t complain when change happens. They show the positive side of what can emerge from change. They demonstrate how changes are a necessary part of business life and can even enhance the team. 

Leaders with exceptional instincts see change as a possibility for growth. The key to responding to change is to communicate the new goals and new pathways to achieving them. Once your team members understand the new direction and their roles in it, they’ll be more willing to work together to embrace them. 

It's critical, however, to emphasize positive change as it relates to goals other than just profit.  Share the company’s comprehensive vision and be ready to guide your employees through change. 

11. Innovate

Leaders search for innovative ways to improve the organization. This might demand to experiment and take risks. Great leaders think outside the box, work to be creative, and encourage the team to do the same. They innovate to show their teams that they are aware of current trends. Teams follow leaders who are prepared for the future. So good leaders study innovations, stay abreast of production trends, and implement new developments in their organization. This way, they won’t become obsolete.

Since complex changes overwhelm people, effective leaders set achievable, interim goals as small steps toward larger objectives. They also simplify bureaucracy that slows progress. Knowing that growth involves risk and potential failure, they process occasional setbacks as learning opportunities.

12. Embrace new technology

As a leader, take advantage of available technologies and the benefits they bring to your team. There are constant technological developments to help increase productivity, track task assignments, improve internal communication, optimize business operations, facilitate expansion into new markets, and fulfill a team’s goals. New communication technology allows teams to collaborate, even if they work in different countries.

It's crucial as a leader to continuously educate yourself on the technologies your company uses and new developments in the marketplace. Doing so allows you to understand how you can overcome challenges with new technologies.

13. Use your resources wisely

Your company wants its teams to be self-sufficient. This means, your superiors expect you to achieve your team goals with ingenuity and resourcefulness and not just ask for more funding and staff. A team that performs well with what they already have will show upper management that you can guide your team effectively.

It’s easy to ask for more time, money, or resources, but sometimes those things aren’t available. Learn how to be resourceful and creative. Stay within the budget set for you. Keep your teams on task. Good leaders strive to meet their objectives with what they have on hand. 

14. Improve your judgment

Leaders need good instincts. Your company is placing significant trust in you by placing you in a leadership role. This means they expect you to show good judgment when making decisions. Practice effective decision-making for your team. It starts with thorough knowledge of their industry and familiarity with their team members. Keep track of past decisions and their outcomes. Use those outcomes to seek advice from your superiors and industry groups on improving your decision-making process. Judgment is not just instinctual, it is a skill developed through experience and learning. 

15. Continuously develop your leadership skills

Practice makes perfect. Good leaders know that they can always improve their leadership skills. 

This means practicing and working at it, reading books or articles on management techniques, and listening to podcasts. Leaders demonstrate their commitment to bettering themselves by showing their employees that they are learning about new strategies and trends, looking for ways to connect more with their employees, and being the best possible leader they can be. This will often inspire their team to work on self-improvement. 

Improvement begins with identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a leader so that you know what to work on. It’s essential to constantly work on your skills because they determine how successful you will be as a leader.

The bottom line

Good leaders know that effective leadership isn’t automatic. They develop their management strategies based on specific leadership principles that have proven to maximize a team's potential. The best leaders don’t just manage employees, but rather inspire their colleagues to become dedicated members of the team.

Understanding, cultivating, and implementing these leadership principles can help you become the leader that your team needs. 

If you’re ready to elevate your career into a leadership role, creating a stellar resume is the first step. Let the experts at ZipJob help you craft yours.

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Robert Lyons

Written by

Robert Lyons, Freelance Writer

As a freelance writer, Robert has covered technology, travel, arts, the entertainment industry, and career development. Originally from the Midwest, he has lived in L.A. and Berlin but now is based in New York.

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