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Three Essential Leadership Principles

This month my son, Scott, and I will be doing a presentation at the Association for Talent Development (ATD) annual conference about six principles of exceptional leadership. In today’s blog I’ll preview three of these principles, highlighting where they came from and why I believe they’re essential.


Principle One: Leadership Is a Partnership


Contrary to a common misperception, leadership is not about one person being in charge and another person responding. That’s the top-down model of leadership, and its days are over.

Today, leadership is a partnership that involves mutual trust between two people who work together to achieve common goals. Both leader and follower influence the other and play a role in determining how things get done.

When Paul Hersey and I began writing and talking about leadership as a partnership in the 1960s, our work was considered revolutionary. The idea behind our situational approach was that the best leadership style is the one that matches the developmental needs of the person being led. Sometimes a person needs direction; other times they need support. The leader adapts their style to the situation and leadership becomes a partnership between leader and follower.

When leaders adopt a partnership mindset, they are conscious of the fact that they and their followers play key parts on the same team. Rather than leading through control, they gain people’s trust, solicit their ideas, and work with them to achieve results on goals. This partnership approach leads to impressive outcomes that are simply not possible when all the authority has moved up the hierarchy and leaders shoulder all the responsibility for success.


Principle Two: A Good Leader Catches People Doing Things Right


When I began studying leadership, bosses were widely regarded as people whose job it was to catch their direct reports doing things wrong. Managers would evaluate someone’s performance, reprimand them, demand that they improve, and disappear until it happened again. To me, that sounded like the opposite of a motivational environment.

In those days, people rarely looked at their boss as a partner or friend. When people saw their boss coming, they tended to hide for fear of getting in trouble. For many employees, the only time the boss ever showed up was to correct them for doing things wrong.

That got me thinking: What if that were reversed? What if the boss walked around catching people doing things right, praising their progress, and cheering them on?

These questions led to the second secret in my book with Spencer Johnson, The One Minute Manager: One Minute Praisings. When my Blanchard colleagues and I developed SLII®, we found praising to be the key to helping people move from one development level to the next. By observing behavior and cheering people on, the leader helps the follower advance from Enthusiastic Beginner (D1) to Disillusioned Learner (D2) to Capable, but Cautious, Contributor (D3) to Self-Reliant Achiever (D4).

This does not mean that a leader should ignore mistakes. A good leader will review the mistake with the person and show them how to get back on track—so they can praise them again!


Principle Three: Leadership Is Love


The best leaders know that leadership is not about power; it’s about relationships. They treat people with respect and let them know that they’re a special part of their team. They lead with love.

People get nervous when they hear the word love applied to the workplace. They doubt that you can approach the tough reality of leading people and organizations with something as soft and fuzzy as love. What happens when things get hard? What happens when people don’t behave well, or when financial results aren’t what you need them to be? Many leaders think that emotional detachment is more useful than love in the business world.

We disagree. We believe it is only when leaders extend the grace of unconditional positive regard—in other words, love—that colleagues can feel safe, valued, and ready to give their all at work.

Loving and respecting the people you work with leads to meaningful relationships and long-term, positive results. The old business model of playing it safe by keeping people at arm’s length simply doesn’t inspire the kind of commitment that creates great organizations.

Margie Blanchard sums it up beautifully: “Leadership isn’t just about love, it is love. It’s loving your mission, it’s loving your people, it’s loving your customers, and it’s loving yourself enough to get out of the way so that other people can be magnificent.”

Partnership, praising, and love: Practice these three principles as you lead people day by day. Not only will you see extraordinary results, you’ll also have more fun and fulfillment at work!


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