As an ambitious and driven leader, I have frequently thought about defining my core professional values – establishing what leadership means to me, and laying the ground rules on how I intend to approach my work and lead my team. Below then is a list of core professional values that I consider indispensable guidelines for effective leadership. I consider these to be leadership rules to live by.
1. The Leadership Rule of Selfcare
I consider this the golden rule of leadership. I read Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ very early in my career. ‘Sharpen the Saw’ is the 7th habit in that book. However, in our fast-paced, always-on work culture, it seems that this habit deserves first place. Despite the demands of your professions, you must make time to exercise, get enough sleep, eat healthy food, spend time with loved ones, and stop working when your body or mind demands rest. There is an undeniable decline in your professional competence when you don’t. Self-care then is not only your right but also your duty.
2. Effective Leaders Are Always Learning
The landscape that a business operates in evolves and changes every day. This rule for effective leadership requires that you stay in sync with these changes. Attending conferences, networking events, taking courses, reading relevant publications, evaluating the technical and other developments, are important pursuits to stay current with the changing landscape of your profession and the organization. Taking time out of your workday to attend to these is a valuable investment that benefits you as well as your organization. A good leader brings back insights from such events that benefit both the team as well as the organization. Lifelong learning then is a golden rule of leadership.
3. Leaders Embrace Diversity
It is natural for us to have an affinity for people who think like us. But we benefit the most from interacting with people who don’t. A quality leader is open to input as well as unapologetic about her own thoughts. Actively seeking to interact with people from different backgrounds helps widen one’s horizons.
4. Leaders can distinguish challenging from toxic
There will be challenges in any situation – don’t give up too soon. Perseverance is an important ingredient to success. At the same time, establish your boundaries. A situation can quickly evolve from challenging to toxic. Be sure to walk away if that happens.
5. 80 20 rule leadership and choose quality over quantity
In tasks that are core to your profession, quality always trumps quantity. Being able to flawlessly execute on a few great ideas will distinguish you in your profession. It may seem counterintuitive but as a strategic leader, you should avoid spreading yourself too thin. Leading by the 80 20 rule, 80% of your effort should be on those 20% tasks that you have deliberately identified as your core contribution. It helps to narrow your focus and take on tasks that you know you can give adequate time and attention to.
6. Develop your soft skills
Technical competence is important but it is not everything. Planning and organizing skills, leadership, influence, and other soft skills are just as important. Know your areas of strength and work on those aspects where there is an opportunity for improvement.
7. Treat people right and do the right thing
Karma is real. Treating people at all levels with respect and dignity is imperative not just as a professional but also as a human being. It’s a small world and you will invariably run into the same people again. If you have left them with a positive experience in your last interaction, you have a distinct advantage when you meet them again. Treat everyone with respect.
Do what’s right. Quality leaders are not afraid of the long road to success- there are no shortcuts to lasting success.
8. Growth is not always linear
You will win some and you will lose some. Every setback can be an opportunity to learn and will empower you to move more forcefully and deliberately towards your goals. Leaders take successes and failures in their stride and acknowledge that failures teach us more than successes. In that sense then, we never really fail – we either get what we want or we learn how to get it.
9. Keep showing up
No matter how difficult things get, the one who shows up each day gives herself the best chance at success. Often, circumstances seem overwhelming and difficulties appear insurmountable. When you see the totality of the task ahead of you, it will undoubtedly overwhelm you. This anxiety can be tamed by breaking down the goals into several micro-goals and as you achieve each micro goal you get one step closer to your overall target. The trick is to not give up and keep chipping away at it every day. One day the wall will crumble.
10. Everyone works in human resources
Whether you work in sales, finance, engineering, or any other department, there is always a human side to work. In our goal setting, target chasing modes, we forget that behind every email, every report, or every status update is a human being. Being cognizant of your counterparts’ aspirations, hopes, and challenges can help build rapport with the people you work with. In the long run, this will get you the support you need in your role.
11. Think long term and balance your life
I have learned to think of my career as a marathon and not a sprint. It has served me well to have paced myself and worked on my career while balancing the rest of my life. A perfect balance between life and work cannot be maintained at every point in time. But, it must be achieved over time because a lopsided life can’t be a successful life.
12. Stretch goals
Every once in a while set a stretch goal and aspire for that which is just outside your reach. Allow a little ambition in setting your goals while also exercising discretion. Aiming too far out of your range can be frustrating but setting goals very well within your reach will deprive you of valuable professional experiences. There is a quote in Gujarati that I have learned from my parents and they from theirs. “Nishan chuk maaf, nahi maaf nichu nishan’. It loosely translates to: ‘A missed goal is forgivable, but a goal set too low is not.
13. Be a strategic thought leader
An important trait of a strategic thought leader is they know how to prioritize. When you have a long to-do list, it is tempting to tackle the low-hanging fruit and knock a handful of easy wins to shorten that list. But as an effective leader, your biggest contribution to your organization, as well as the best opportunity for professional growth, is in doing the difficult thing. It helps to approach these tasks when you are at your best. Try to start your day with the most daunting task on your list.
14. Work should be a source of joy
Work is not just a way to make a living but also an expression of your purpose in life. That is why it can and should be a source of joy. It would be shortchanging yourself if you did what is materially rewarding but not professionally satisfying. In the long run, a professionally satisfying job will always be the better and more rewarding choice.
15. Leadership isn’t restricted to the workplace
As driven professionals, we start to closely identify our careers with who we are. Whereas it is good to be invested in one’s profession, this can become an unhealthy obsession beyond a point. The rules for leadership encompass all we do. Learn to see yourself as a complete person wearing many different hats at work, at home, and in the community. This will help maintain a healthy balance and keep things in perspective.
To sum, the privilege of leading others asks a lot of an individual. As they say “With great power comes great responsibility”. Every leader will eventually develop their own playbook on how to approach challenges in the workplace. These leadership rules will evolve over the years and come to reflect your individual style.