How to Be a Great Leader

Play the right tunes, Piper!
Illustration by: Anand Ayinikatt

Some are born leaders; some have leadership thrust at them. Either way, once you assume the charge, there’s no turning back.

Leadership may be inherent; it can also be acquired. Either way, the role of a leader is a big responsibility and must be handled with respect.

Different leaders find that different tactics and skills work for them. I’ve put together a short list of the pointers I’ve picked up over the years.

1. Lead by Example.

This is probably the most straight-forward of all, because it’s that simple. Set an example through your words and actions for those who follow you. Show them how it’s done; set goals and targets and deadlines and follow through to inspire others to follow in your footsteps.  

Also keep in mind (please switch your reading voice to Justin Timberlake’s beautiful tenor) what goes around, goes around, goes around, comes all the way back around (switch back to your normal reading voice).

Mutual respect is an important integral of leadership. Treat others the way you want to be treated and see what a difference it makes. If you have a chip in your shoulder, find it immediately and get rid of it.

2. Shine the Spotlight on Others

The spotlight is definitely the place to be. So sometimes it can get a bit difficult to lead others to center-stage, but that’s exactly what you need to do as a leader in order for your team to thrive.

Be willing to share the spotlight with the deserving ones or give it up to them completely and clap from the sidelines.

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.”

Arnold H. Glasow

As a leader, it’s not enough to be motivational in order to get work done; you also have to give credit where it’s due, and give it freely. This is because a leader’s work isn’t done with delegation, although delegation is definitely part of the job description. You have to acknowledge the hard hours put in by the delegees and keep them motivated.

3. Hold Yourself Accountable for Your Team’s Performance:

“Average leaders raise the bar on themselves; good leaders raise the bar for others; great leaders inspire others to raise their own bar.”

Orrin Woodward

Your team’s performance is your responsibility; if you’re ready to take credit for the success of your team, also be willing to be held accountable for their shortcomings and push them to better themselves.

It’s always good to know the nature of work of every member of your team. Having at least a basic understanding of the work they’re doing helps you stay informed and relevant. This also helps you recognize and appreciate the efforts of your teammates, thus making it easier for you to account for your team’s performance.

Those working under you are your responsibility, so make sure you leave no man behind.

4. Play Fair.

Be Unbiased. Be impartial. Fell discrimination every time you encounter it.  

When faced with an ethical dilemma, as is eventually bound to happen unless you’re extremely favored by the gods of morality who don’t wish to test you, try to be subjective and hold fast to your code of ethics.

One wrong call or unfair judgement in the heat of the moment might haunt your conscience for the rest of your life.  

5. Fix Your Weak Links.

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”

Henry Ford

If you’re a leader, it means you have a team of at least one following your chain of command.  

Consider your team to be a complex machinery with multiple cogs. Each cog must hold its own to ensure smooth functioning of the machine as a whole. And your team is only as strong as its weakest cog.

So test your team regularly for vulnerabilities. If someone isn’t holding up their end of the bargain when to comes to work, find the reason and fix it immediately.

Be kind with the teammate, but be demanding with the facts, because that is the only way to keep your machinery well-oiled.

Be understanding and compassionate and refrain from belittling. People come from different backgrounds and everyone is fighting their own battle, even if they appear happy on the surface.

If you see that someone is particularly frazzled, give them a little time off work to get their mental well-being sorted out.

6. Be Your Team’s Personal Cheerleader.

If you want to be a good leader, get ready to be a good cheerleader.

Take an interest in the holistic development of your team. Make sure you and your teammates keep learning and create a work environment that’s conducive to the growth of those working under you.  

As the team’s personal cheerleader, it falls to you to ensure they’re doing well not only at work, but also physically, mentally, and emotionally.  

Being a good listener can give you much-needed insight into the inner workings of your teammates. Listening can help you understand people better and understand their potential better. Some live for deadlines, but some collapse under pressure – learn to guide all types of people to realize their optimal output.

You may be selfish with your last donut or reluctant to share the last slice of pizza, but be selfless when it comes to work and put your team first. Hold yourself accountable for the well-being and consequent smooth functioning of your team.

May your pom-pom game stay strong!

7. Be the Boss of Every Situation.

Own every situation you face like a boss and take charge, no matter how difficult it may be. After all, true leaders emerge in times of crisis.

This, however, does not mean ‘be bossy’. Bossiness tends to put people off, especially if you throw in a healthy dose of “I-know-it-all” to the mix.

You must have heard of good leaders throughout history who ruled with a firm hand in a velvet glove. That is a fancier way of saying ‘be a boss without being bossy’.

Even though they might yield similar results in the short run, there is a significant between bossy and leading well, and finding the right balance between firm and efficient might take time, but it is a skill worth acquiring.

8. Stay Calm and Lead On!

If you’re always serene by nature and sure you won’t erupt like Vesuvius in volatile situations, go ahead and skip this point altogether; this point is for the hotheads out there as well as those who often seem to have only a somewhat tenuous hold on their emotions.

You may be short-tempered, but if you want to be a leader, you must learn to handle pressure in different situations well. Never let a difficult situation get the best of you.

Calmness is not something that comes easy to most. Between juggling deadlines at work and commitments to the familial front better than a clown at a circus act, there are times when frayed nerves do not even begin to describe the run-down state of our minds. But this is not an excuse to lash out. Do whatever it takes to calm yourself down in your own way, be it meditation or a few rounds into a punching bag, but make sure you do not lose your cool.

I can tell you from experience that an angry leader or a pouty leader does not inspire confidence in others. Both types of leaders are generally shunned and people will become disinterested in interacting with them.

­9. Be Consistent.

A leader’s work is never done.

As a leader, you need unwavering dedication and commitment to your work. Think of your job as your life partner and your teammates as your kids. Being ‘married to your job’ is a personal choice, but you definitely gotta’ show up for every single game of every season.  

You cannot take a week off when you feel like it and leave your team to fend for themselves.  

Consistency in showing up is not enough. You also need to be consistent in improving yourself and your skill set.   

Develop good communication abilities. Work on your interpersonal skills. Introspect and improve continuously.

10. Keep Personal and Professional Lives Separate.

When you make the conscious decision to be a leader, you are accepting a huge share of commitments that you cannot shun if you’re having a bad day.

Make sure the complexities of your personal life do not cross over into your professional life, as this can cloud your judgement and lead to hasty decisions you might regret later on.

11. Like in Chess, Plan Ahead.

Be two steps ahead when you strategize. Twenty won’t hurt either.

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a chess master: be smart, be strategic, and don’t make rash decisions in the heat of the moment. Your actions should be based on logic and should leave no room for regret.

Cross check all possible outcomes, and choose the one that is most feasible for you. You need to think ahead and think sustainable on behalf of your entire team.

Have a goal that you and your team can move towards in unison. A co-created direction is the best one to move in as it ensures the whole team is invested in the final outcome. It might be about the journey for most people, but as a leader, the destination is just as important.

12. Always Double Tap to Make Sure.

Columbus’s wisdom will not fail you here.

Double tapping is key for two things: when it comes to checking if the undead is indeed dead, and when making decisions that affect your team as a whole.

Your decisions make all the difference. So, don’t make hasty on-the-spur-of-the-moment decisions. Always think things through twice and then maybe once more for good luck before putting a big verdict out there.

Your team is following you. It is up to you to provide good guidance that you can corroborate with results in the future.

13. Be Committed to Yourself.

It is important to stay motivated while motivating others. Be committed to yourself, and have faith in your capabilities. You may not be where you want to be in life right now, but believe with certainty that you will get there eventually.  

Hold yourself to standards that you consistently try to keep. Understand your strengths and play to them. Reflect on your shortcomings and work on them.

Make a list of the things you want to improve about yourself and work on it.

Make a few mistakes, and make some more because you too have the right to mess up. But as a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure you don’t repeat your mistakes.

Learn to fail better, because that is the only way to succeed.

14. Finally, Humility.

Humility should be the glue that holds all of your talents in place. Don’t forget your roots even when you’re flying high.

Keep tabs on yourself because you evolve every day. Remind yourself of who you are as an individual and as a leader. This will help you eventually become who you wish to be.

Remember why you do what you do and the reality check will keep you from getting too big for your breeches.


5 thoughts on “How to Be a Great Leader

  1. An intelligent write-up, this one… And for that bright part, i was not able to digest them all… but i felt the smell of essence in it. Felt this sketch with words as finest work on a sensitive area. Delighted to see the values one should keep in mind for a healthy living, sorted out beautifully. Good work… and Wishes for the new explorations… Thank you…


  2. Appreciate your endeavour, nice . I agree to the points you mentioned here, just wanna add that , true leaders have a X factor about them , basically which comes from self belief . And they are good in manipulation, may be in good sense .

    Liked by 1 person

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