The Golden Rules of Great Leadership

By Mark Harrison

April 20, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. ~Lao Tzu

Leadership isn’t just for CEOs, coaches and managers. Throughout your life, your ability to perform as a leader can make all the difference between an experience of success and ease, and a feeling of frustration and powerlessness.

Many of you are true leaders without knowing it! If you’re a parent, then you’re a leader. If you’re married, you’re a leader. If you have to teach a class or manage a family budget, you’re a leader.

Thousands of Books have been written about leadership and management. Companies spend millions training their leadership teams, and rightly so – leadership in specific areas can be a skillful and demanding role. But, as with everything else in life, the key to it all is very simple.

The golden rules of leadership can be expressed in many ways, and here are some of them and no, this is not an inclusive list – simply a handful of what I view as the most important.

    • They are good role models
      Great leaders lead by example. They don’t ask other people to do something they wouldn’t be prepared to do themselves. They model the kind of behavior they want to see in other people – risk taking, proactivity, self-reflection, honesty.


  • They empathize
    A good leader will put herself in the other person’s shoes. She understands that nobody is trying to do a bad job, that everyone is doing what they think best. It might not be what the leader herself thinks is best, of course, but this recognition that there are other perspectives and a genuine willingness to understand another point of view sets good leaders apart.



  • They are flexible
    There are usually many different ways to get a job done well, and a good leader will recognize this. He will seek the views of others and change his own ideas accordingly. A great leader is always learning from others, always adapting and ready to try something new.



  • They embrace contrast
    Everyone is different, and a good leader will use this diversity to his advantage. Contrast and diversity leads to innovation. A poor leader will try to impose uniformity, but a good leader will encourage new kinds of thinking, originally and fresh perspectives.



  • They communicate
    A good leaders doesn’t expect people to read her mind, and she knows that good communication is very difficult. It requires a lot of care and a lot of patience. She will spend time and energy trying to communicate in a genuine way. Meetings and conversations will be interactive and not just on person lecturing another. She will genuinely be open to what is said and will look under the surface to see what other people are really trying to say.



  • They give praise
    There is always good stuff happening, and even when he has to make a criticism, the good leader will find something good to say first. He will always focus on the success, the good qualities, the things going right. He is positive and knows that the future is bright.



  • They trust people
    I’m sure we’ve all worked with bosses who (sometimes literally) peer over your shoulder to see what you’re doing. A good boss will be clear about expectations and then let you get on with the job, giving support and encouragement when necessary.



  • They empower others
    We all need to feel that we are able to make a difference, and a good leader recognizes this. She will not hold on too tightly, but will give away power, distributing it to others and so enabling individuals to learn and grow as they add value to the situation.



  • They have a light touch
    Holding on too tight, being inflexible – these are sure ways to failure. A poor leader will try to control everything, but a great leader will know when to act and whan to leave well alone. Lao Tzu wrote, ‘Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish – too much handling will spoil it.’


Many more traits could be identified, but the ‘golden rules’ of leadership tie all of these qualities and behaviors together. It unifies the apparently diverse skill-set of good leaders and informs their thinking and their action. Can you see what it is? And, most importantly, can you put it into practice in your own life?

Written on 4/20/2010 by Mark Harrison. Mark Harrison writes about personal growth, communication, and increasing personal wealth. Check out his new book, Thirty Days to Change Your Life. Photo Credit: I’ll Never Grow Up
Mark Harrison

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