Keep Calm and Lead On: 5 Fundamentals for Effective Leaders

These fundamentals are things I’ve learned through trials, experience and mentors. 12 Years in the U.S. Marine Corps teaches you a thing or two. If I ever hear anything insightful that I have heard before, I always take it as a good reminder. You should never stop learning. Be better than who you were yesterday each day. Never stop. The one thing that ties these fundamentals together is responsibility. As a leader, you must be able to take full responsibility for any failures or mishaps. Is that something you can accept? Use this as a reminder or a quick guide to be an effective leader.

Learn How to Follow First

What made Michael Jordan so great? Yes, he was very talented and he was athletic. But one thing that his coaches will tell you is that he listened. He followed his mentors and leaders and as a result, it made him a great leader among his peers. He lead by example. Show your willingness to follow and others will follow you. Learning to be a great follower takes away your ego, and makes room for empathy and listening. Great leaders know how to make good decisions based on listening to their trusted advisers.

Start with the “WHY”

Every individual within a team should know their role. That’s everybody including the most senior to the most junior. They must know that what they are doing is contributing to the accomplishment of the big picture goal. If you don’t clearly explain their roles, how can you expect your team to have the motivation to complete the task. No one enjoys doing something they are told to do for an unknown result. It’s human nature. There’s always a why. A leader must also have a clear and concise picture so that it can be easily explained down the chain of management. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to upper management. If you’re at the top of the chain, ask yourself, “does this decision coincide with the mission of the agency?” Ask your board of advisers. The “how” and the “what” come from the “why”.

Mission Accomplishment, Employee Welfare

Ensure that the accomplishment of the mission is in the best interest of the team. You can’t expect your team to produce if they already have received their reward. There is nothing wrong with incentivizing. Incentivize with a purpose. Again, ask the why first. There doesn’t need to be an award all the time. A simple gesture of appreciation and gratitude goes a long way as well. People like to be acknowledged for their efforts. Give individuals credit when due. The accomplishment of the mission may cause you to make decisions that are not pleasing with some folks. But just know that you can’t please everyone.

Set Clear Expectations and Set Boundaries

When you present a mission before the team, do not leave any room for interpretations. Individuals who make assumptions break down communication. And it’s not necessarily the employee’s fault. As a leader, you must ensure that the expectations of accomplishing a mission are clear and concise. It’s the leader’s job to ensure that the expectations of performances are clear and concise. It will be easier for you to gauge who are the under-performers and the over-performers. A good leader has a team of individuals who know who exactly the leader is and can trust their decisions. With that being said, you must set clear and concise boundaries as well. Followers trust and respect you as someone who has the ability to lead, not because of friendship.

There are No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders

I recently read a book called, “Extreme Ownership”. I could not agree with the book’s message even more than it explains. There are two types of leadership: Effective or Ineffective. The book gave an example of a training exercise involving a race during SEAL training. Among ten teams, one team kept winning, and another kept losing. They decided to swap out the leaders of the two teams. They raced again. Although it was a close race, the team that was constantly losing ended up winning, and the team that kept constantly winning came in 2nd. The power of leadership can inspire a team to outperform themselves. You don’t need an all-star team. An effective leader creates synergy within a team. They create individuals working as one. They give the ability for teams to work with teams as one. Whether it’s within or outside the agency, effective leaders create synergy among roles. Synergy is driven by both motivation and inspiration. Your team’s motivation is born from your energy. Inspiration is born from your charisma and undivided belief in the mission.

Every leader has a leadership style. But every leader should have a fundamental understanding of “good leadership.” It takes time to develop your own sense and style. But if you learn how to follow first, you enable yourself to learn what works and what doesn’t work for you. Leaders don’t have to be alpha types. Leaders don’t have to be extroverts. Leaders are just simply effective or ineffective. Apply these fundamentals, and mold your style around who you are as a person. Be genuine and be effective. And above all, take full responsibility for your team’s actions. 

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Gary Cordeiro /MSI

Well done. The end product of good leadership is mission accomplishment, period. Without a clear mission and without guidelines (Commander’s Intent) emplaced guarantees failure and needless loss of lives. If every mission was conducted as if it were a combat mission where life and death are the parameters of success, clear priorities become more apparent in a clear sequence of events that almost guarantees success.

Yves Domingo

Hey thanks for adding your insights to the post Gary! I appreciate it. I’m actually getting ready to write another one how we have to be able to apply these principles to ourselves. Most times we don’t set clear intents with ourselves and we end up living life just going through day to day routines. It’s gonna be good! What agency are you with? and I’m assuming your a prior too?