Five Simple Things Great Leaders Do

Five Simple Things Great Leaders Do

GUEST POST from David Burkus

When you start out your career, you’re most often an individual contributor. And in that role your knowledge and skills are most important. But if you do that role well, you’ll likely be asked to consider becoming a leader. And in leadership, the methods you relied on to be a great employee don’t often help you become a great leader. Those skills will rarely help encourage and coach others to be great employees. Being a great leader requires a new toolkit.

As Marshall Goldsmith often says “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

In this article, we’ll discuss what will actually get you there. We’ll outline five ways to become a great leader —
whether it’s your first leadership role or your fiftieth.

1. Give Clear Expectations

The first way to become a great leader is to give clear expectations. In order to perform adequately (or higher), people need clarity. Teams need to know what’s expected of them, by when, and how they’re supposed to deliver it. And they need to know the priorities behind various tasks—what is most important, least important, and what’s in the middle. The challenge is that many leaders think that saying what they expect once is sufficient. And that might work in a static environment. But in a rapidly changing one, expectations and priorities can change quickly. So, leaders need to be clear about expectations and clear about when changes have happened and so expectations have also changed. And the same is true for priorities. It’s not enough for leaders to set expectations once, great leaders check-in constantly and revise their expectations accordingly.

2. Ask For Input

The second way to become a great leader is to ask for input. Often leaders can assume their primary job is solving problems and providing answers. They were promoted into a leadership role because of their outstanding knowledge and performance, and their team often comes to them with problems. So, their job must be to supply answers. Right? But great leaders don’t assume they have all the answers. Instead, they ask the team for input on nearly every decision of consequence. Great leaders know that doing so increases how much information will get captured and how many solutions will be generated. They also know that coming out of those requests for input will be team members who feel heard, and hence valued. And great leaders know that any suggestions they make can quickly be interpreted as orders—so they’re careful not to offer those suggestions until everyone has had a chance to be heard.

3. Share Your Reasoning

The third way to become a great leader is to share your reasoning. While great leaders seek out input from as many sources as possible, the final decision often rests on them. When that happens, great leaders know to share the reasoning behind their decision—not just the decision itself. Sharing the reasoning behind decisions is a way to reinforce the input that was considered before making the decision—which is especially helpful for those who may have desired a different decision. But sharing the reasoning also helps train the team on how their leader thinks—which is especially helpful when teams or team members bring their problems to the leader. Overtime, teaching team members to reason like their leader makes it more likely they’ll be able to solve the problem on their own next time. The more often leaders share their reasoning, the less often they’ll have to make a decision—because the team gets trained to reason the same way.

4. Stay Purpose Focused

The fourth way to become a great leader is to stay purpose focused. Great leaders keep the team focused on the mission, vision, and values of the organization but more importantly, how that specific team’s work helps serve that mission. It’s not enough for an organization to have a fancy vision or a compelling mission. Whether that mission actually motivates is determined at the team-level. That’s why great leaders know how to translate that larger mission into the day-to-day tasks of the team and bring meaning to the metrics the team is being assessed on. One of the most powerful ways leaders do this is by helping the team answer the question “Who is served by the work that we do?” and then build reminders to keep that answer top of mind. People want to do work that matters, and work for leaders who tell them they matter.

5. Care

The fifth way to become a great leader is to care. That’s the secret behind how great leaders tell their people they matter—those great leaders believe it. They genuinely care about the team they’re leading. They care enough to know about team members career desires and life goals, and they care enough to help each member fulfil those desires and goals in their work. Moreover, great leaders remind their people on a regular basis how much they care. The things leaders do to remind the team about its purpose are good, but the things they do to remind them they matter are great. And they can’t be faked. Great leaders genuinely care.

And even though it’s the fifth way, caring might be the most important one. You have to care for the people in your charge in order to put them first and serve them as a truly great leader. All the other ways will become easier if you start with caring. You’ll find you give clear expectation, ask for input, share your reasoning, and stay purpose focused. And over time you’ll find that caring, and employing all these methods, will help everyone on your team do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at on April 17, 2023

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About David Burkus

Dr. David Burkus is an organizational psychologist and best-selling author. Recognized as one of the world’s leading business thinkers, his forward-thinking ideas and books are helping leaders and teams do their best work ever. David is the author of five books about business and leadership and he's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, CNN, the BBC, NPR, and more. A former business school professor turned sought-after international speaker, he’s worked with organizations of all sizes and across all industries.

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