By May 23, 2011 Read More →

Leadership Checklist

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"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." — John Quincy Adams

I’ve created a leadership checklist that should act like a hub and spoke of effective leadership practices.  The challenge is distilling effective leadership practices into one-liner reminders that are easy to evaluate the behavior, where possible.

I used a specific “user story” format (“As a leader, I …”) to both make each line item a standalone story, but also to test these as personal “unit tests” for leadership.  By making each one more precise, insightful, and actionable, while pinning to effective practices, this should serve as a simple and scannable cheat sheet of proven practices for leadership.  If done well, it should reflect years of insight and lessons at a glance.

It’s a work in progress.  Here is is so far:

Top 10 Leadership Checks

  1. As a leader, I seek first to understand, and I listen to people until they feel heard (empathic listening.)
  2. As a leader, I set the example others wish to emulate.
  3. As a leader, I vary my leadership style to motivate when needed or direct based on the needs and abilities of the team.
  4. As a leader, I vary my leadership style between people-focused and task-focused based on the situation I’m in.
  5. As a leader, I continuously find ways to simplify.
  6. As a leader, I focus on service to others.
  7. As a leader, I allocate time for what’s important.
  8. As a leader, I do what I say I will do.
  9. As a leader, I create a compelling vision that inspires people to rally around.
  10. As a leader, I take feedback and adapt in response.

Core Checks

  • As a leader, I am a self-starter and I take the initiative.
  • As a leader, I am approachable and encourage people to talk to me.
  • As a leader, I ask questions that help move the ball forward.
  • As a leader, I build the confidence of others.
  • As a leader, I know whether my strengths are thought-leadership, people leadership, or both.
  • As a leader, I focus on self-leadership before leading others (self-leadership, team leadership, organizational leadership, etc.)
  • As a leader, I influence others through skills and connection, not power and position.
  • As a leader, I focus on “we” not “me.”
  • As a leader, I over-communicate both upwards and downwards.
  • As a leader, I realize my success comes through others.
  • As a leader, I remind myself that leadership is a privilege in that people choose to follow.
  • As a leader, I scale my impact by thinking in terms of systems and ecosystems.
  • As a leader, I think beyond the moment.
  • As a leader, I treat people the way I want to be treated.

Action

  • As a leader, I ask, "What do we want to accomplish?"
  • As a leader, I avoid inaction.
  • As a leader, I avoid unnecessary distractions.
  • As a leader, I balance the results with the journey.
  • As a leader, I create SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely)
  • As a leader, I demonstrate a bias for action.
  • As a leader, I ensure people have intrinsically motivating goals.
  • As a leader, I help identify next steps.
  • As a leader, I help people identify the tests for success.
  • As a leader, I help people identify what good would look like.
  • As a leader, I help people feel a sense of progress.
  • As a leader, I hold people accountable to what they agreed they would do.
  • As a leader, I inspire others to action.
  • As a leader, I maintain quality and deadlines while dealing with multiple priorities.
  • As a leader, I mobilize my team to achieve.
  • As a leader, I structure a path for success.
  • As a leader, I surround myself with people that balance my weaknesses and amplify my strengths.
  • As a leader, I take bold action.
  • As a leader, I take decisive action.
  • As a leader, I turn ideas into actions.

Change

  • As a leader, I anticipate and prepare for changes.
  • As a leader, I build a sense of urgency for the most important things.
  • As a leader, I communicate the "what," "why", "who", "how" and "when" of a change initiative.
  • As a leader, I embrace change.
  • As a leader, I put together the right coalition of people to help drive change.
  • As a leader, I see change as an opportunity.
  • As a leader, I socialize change in effective ways.
  • As a leader, I stay flexible in my approach.
  • As a leader, I understand and can articulate the risks of change and the risks of avoiding change.

Communication

  • As a leader, I challenge ideas while respecting other opinions.
  • As a leader, I communicate clearly.
  • As a leader, I ask solution-focused questions, such as "How might we solve that?"
  • As a leader, I communicate in an open and respectful way.
  • As a leader, I encourage people to bring me problems.
  • As a leader, I encourage people to put their ideas out on the table.
  • As a leader, I encourage an open door policy.
  • As a leader, I know how to manage up, down, and sideways effectively.
  • As a leader, I lead with my "why."
  • As a leader, I let people know they’ve been heard by replaying back what I’ve heard.
  • As a leader, I listen with the intent to learn.

Decisions and Choice

  • As a leader, I always factor the “right” thing to do and ethics when faced with choices and decisions.
  • As a leader, I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong or someone has a better idea.
  • As a leader, I am prepared to make tough decisions.
  • As a leader, I build consensus for ideas.
  • As a leader, I focus on doing business the right, ethical way.
  • As a leader, I help people understand that until a decision is made its ok to argue like hell but once it is made everyone needs to get in the boat and row!
  • As a leader, I involve the right people for key decisions.
  • As a leader, I know when to defer to other people for their expertise.
  • As a leader, I recognize that not all people will agree with my decisions.

Energy, Motivation, and Inspiration

  • As a leader, I build a team of energizers and weed out the energy sappers.
  • As a leader, I demonstrate passion and enthusiasm.
  • As a leader, I give others meaningful work and show them why it’s meaningful.
  • As a leader, I identify opportunities.
  • As a leader, I invest in people’s strengths to help them blossom.
  • As a leader, I look to the future with possibility.
  • As a leader, I make people feel valued for their contributions.
  • As a leader, I make the workplace an enjoyable place to be.
  • As a leader, I reward effort and results.
  • As a leader, I reward people when they excel.
  • As a leader, I spend more time in my strengths and less time in my weaknesses.
  • As a leader, I take time to renew and recharge.

Influence and Connection

  • As a leader, I balance connection and conviction.
  • As a leader, I build trust through reliable actions.
  • As a leader, I connect with people’s values.
  • As a leader, I demonstrate compassion for people and their situations.
  • As a leader, I demonstrate empathy for the people.
  • As a leader, I demonstrate empathy for the situation.
  • As a leader, I establish rapport before trying to influence.
  • As a leader, I read a situation to know who the owners, influencers, and decision makers are.
  • As a leader, I recognize that I cannot please all the people all the time.

Learning, Growth, and Self-Awareness

  • As a leader, I am a lifelong learner.
  • As a leader, I am open to feedback and constructive criticism.
  • As a leader, I encourage healthy competition.
  • As a leader, I encourage people to test themselves and stretch themselves.
  • As a leader, I encourage testing results.
  • As a leader, I find the lessons and carry the good ideas forward.
  • As a leader, I find ways for people, processes, and products to grow and evolve.
  • As a leader, I focus on strengths and limit liabilities.
  • As a leader, I follow the growth.
  • As a leader, I get feedback on my actions and the impact on people.
  • As a leader, I give honest and constructive feedback—the kind I would like to receive.
  • As a leader, I help people spend more time in their strengths.
  • As a leader, I know and act according to my principles.
  • As a leader, I know how to provide specific, accurate, timely, and relevant constructive feedback.
  • As a leader, I know my weaknesses.
  • As a leader, I model the best.
  • As a leader, I own my mistakes.
  • As a leader, I provide opportunities for my people to excel
  • As a leader, I seek input from multiple perspectives on how to improve.
  • As a leader, I improve my weaknesses that are liabilities.
  • As a leader, I use mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • As a leader, I use tough situations as leadership opportunities.
  • As a leader, when I make a mistake, I do what I can to make it right.

Problem Solving

  • As a leader, I ask clarifying questions about the problem.
  • As a leader, I break down problems into smaller, easier, more manageable chunks.
  • As a leader, I challenge myself to take on big hairy challenges.
  • As a leader, I focus on the task and keep my ego out of it.
  • As a leader, I frame the problem in a way that’s actionable.
  • As a leader, I help people focus on what they control.
  • As a leader, I prioritize solving the right problems first (solving the problems that have the most impact).
  • As a leader, I solve problems.

Teamwork

  • As a leader, I ask people what they need to be successful.
  • As a leader, I break the work down in a way that can be managed effectively.
  • As a leader, I clear roadblocks for people.
  • As a leader, I create a sense of ownership.
  • As a leader, I create ways for people to collaborate on problems.
  • As a leader, I delegate tasks effectively.
  • As a leader, I empower people to get their jobs done.
  • As a leader, I encourage others to spend more time in their strengths and less time in their weaknesses.
  • As a leader, I encourage others to take bold action.
  • As a leader, I encourage people to share what they know and grow others.
  • As a leader, I encourage people to team up.
  • As a leader, I find a way for the team to win.
  • As a leader, I foster team spirit.
  • As a leader, I give others the leeway to do the work.
  • As a leader, I help clarify expectations and roles.
  • As a leader, I help find ways to make my team more productive.
  • As a leader, I help manage and balance personalities on the team.
  • As a leader, I help my people balance their work and life.
  • As a leader, I help people find roles that unleash and bring out their best.
  • As a leader, I help people internalize what success looks like.
  • As a leader, I help people work together by focusing on the greater good.
  • As a leader, I know how to get out of the way and let people do their jobs.
  • As a leader, I know the strengths individuals bring to the table.
  • As a leader, I know when to play quarterback and when to play coach.
  • As a leader, I share what I learn to help make others great.
  • As a leader, I set clear boundaries and allow people to act within those boundaries.
  • As a leader, I value and encourage diversity on the team.
  • As a leader, I value the unique contribution that each individual brings.

Vision, Mission, Values

  • As a leader, I can communicate the mission in one line.
  • As a leader, I can prioritize effectively across competing concerns.
  • As a leader, I can relate the vision and mission to what people are doing.
  • As a leader, I co-create a compelling mission that is simple, sticky, and powerful.
  • As a leader, I co-create a vision that people sign up for.
  • As a leader, I create a larger playground for more people to play.
  • As a leader, I demonstrate that I respect other people’s values.
  • As a leader, I have a vision for the organization that inspires.
  • As a leader, I help people see the forest from the trees by communicating priorities and setting focus.
  • As a leader, I know what my values are and I communicate them to others.
  • As a leader, I live my values.
  • As a leader, I respect other peoples’ opinions even if I disagree with them.

Related Resources

Many thanks to the following reviewers and contributors:  Alex Mackman, Dan Ruder, Daniel Rubiolo, Eric Brechner, Evan, John deVadoss, Nathalie Irvine, Rudolph Araujo and Stephen Downes.

Photo by Adrian Aesthetic.

33 Comments on "Leadership Checklist"

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  1. QuickLinks for May 2011 | (Agile) Testing | May 31, 2011
  1. Nice list JD.
    I’ll print it out and go through it in more detail.

    I just wanted to share a little story with you.
    In the book What to do when you become the boss, Bob Sheldon shares a cool definition of a leader.

    “He was going to explain leadership to a class of children so, as you do with kids, he asked – What is a leader?

    – First a boy raised his hand and said – A leader goes first.
    – Then a girl piped up – A leader has followers”

    Is there a better definition?

  2. Evan says:

    Hi JD, I think this is a superb list.

    A couple of quibbles. The first one is probably really about the ordering. It is that a good leaders first job is to listen. Without this being a self starter and taking initiative is just impulsive and leads to wasted time, money and effort. This is really just about the impression that was created for me by having the first point as the first point.

    My other quibble is about the ‘don’t take it personally’ expression. Leaders do take feedback and adapt in response. And this can involve changing their ways of relating and personal style. So I find that expression confusing – though I agree with what I think it is intended to convey (get your ego out of it).

  3. Kate says:

    Hi J.D.,

    Very comprehensive list!
    I particularly like the Learning, Growth, and Self-Awareness section – I really believe if we cannot manage ourselves and control our internal environment, leading others is near on impossible.
    I suppose that boils down to lead by example!

  4. JD says:

    @ Daniel — I like the story :)

    @ Evan — Very good points and I agree. I added to the list and reshaped the items.

    @ Kate — I find it’s a lot easier to follow a leader that sets an example. It’s a trust a confidence thing. I also like the leaders that make others great through mentoring, seeing potential, and unleashing it.

  5. I would drop the “As a leader…” part of the sentences. It adds nothing, and obscures the value that is actually there (ironically, like many leaders).

  6. JD says:

    @ Stephen — I got mixed opinions when I tested, some people liked it, some people didn’t. I think for the ones that liked it, it was because as they read it (silently to themselves), it helped them put themselves into the leadership role, in a story sort of way.

    For now, I removed “As a leader.”

  7. A great list! Working often by myself it can be hard to get into the right head space when changing from different tasks [like from designing to bookwork etc] so this is an excellent list for me to just scan down and see a phrase that primes me for my next task.

    I really like the ‘I can communicate the mission in one line’ one!

  8. rob white says:

    Wow this is extensive, JD. Well done. Becoming a leader requires choosing qualities of character we intend to experience our selves to be, and to reflect upon them until the mind becomes absolute about them.

  9. Dips says:

    Wow..thats a cool list.I really appreciate the work you do JD.Pardon me..but “I …” is causing me an eye sore..can “we” have it replaced by “You …”

  10. JD says:

    @ Beverly — Thank you. “Primes me for my next task” sounds like a great usage scenario.

    @ Rob — Thank you. Choice and reflection really do help shape the path.

    @ Dips — Thank you. Well framed ask. I’ll bounce it off my user group.

  11. Joseph Jambu says:

    Precise/practical and most inspiring information that touches on every element of being a great leader all compiled in one Awesome list.
    Many thanks JD.

  12. Evelyn Lim says:

    Great list! This list applies to anyone because each of us has the ability to be a leader.

  13. Hey J.D. Like all of you compilations this one is impressive in it’s thoroughness. I’m grateful but I wonder if brevity might serve your purpose more here? I’d be more interested in the Cliff Notes version. Any plans for that?

    I was also struck by how the lack of alignment reading the “I” pronoun so much in the Teamwork session. But I get why you did that as a personal check of leadership.

    Thanks for all of it.

  14. JD says:

    @ Joseph — Thank you. You said the magic words — precise and practical.

    @ Evelyn — Thank you. Yes, leadership is everyone. I think everybody can lead a life of action, and use leadership skills to have better days.

    @ Tom — Thank you. I get your point on Cliff Notes. I tried to provide that up front with the Top 10 and the Core, but I could add a “Cheat Sheet” with a cherry picked set.

    I think it’s interesting how much of a role a leader can play in unleashing teamwork whether it’s a project-leader driven team, or a teams of peers, or even a self-organizing team. The key with using “I” is to focus on the part you control, and staying accountable to influencing and shaping a more effective team, which in many cases, means knowing when to stay out of things :)

  15. costas bakopanos says:

    Nice post!
    I find the top 10 list very static.

    The number one concern of a good leader is to understand his team. He might end up having different personalities of people in his team thus he will need to make sure that he motivates all and that he is communicating in the appropriate way with all.
    According to the “process communication model” there are 6 types of people: Persistent, Workaholics, Promoters, Rebels, Dreamers and Empathic people. Each group has different needs. Example: I am a Promoter and I find it very annoying when my boss tries to approach me in a empathic way. I need him to get to the point quickly and leave me alone. One of my colleagues at work is a dreamer. He is getting stress unless you precisely specify what he has to do.

    Thank you very much for the nice thoughts in your post!

  16. Sibyl says:

    Great, great list J.D. I really enjoyed going through it. I always love the things and information you put together … this was a really helpful one filled with so much wisdom :)

  17. JD says:

    @ Costas — Thank you. The Process Communication Model looks interesting, and at first blush, it looks consistent with other personality/behavior type indicators (at least from a pattern standpoint.)

    The one-liner we use at work for the pattern you described is:
    “Be brief, be bright, be gone.” :)

    The two main dynamic parts in the top 10 are:
    – Vary by Task-focus vs. People-focus
    – Vary by motivating vs. directing

    @ Sibyl — Thank you. I really like how checklists can share wisdom in the form of one-liners, either as a test case or as a mental note.

  18. JD, I love that one of your top core phrases was,

    “I ask, ‘What do we want to accomplish?'”

    This is crucial and it seems so few people begin their careers, their relationships, and their lives by asking it. This question leads to all the others.

  19. JD says:

    @ Bryan — It’s really an effective way to cut the fog and take a look from the balcony. It works like a champ.

  20. Baker says:

    Very thorough list here! This information is very useful. I will make a copy of this list.

  21. JD says:

    @ Baker — Thank you. Leadership skills really come in handy every day.

  22. Jk Allen says:

    Awe J.D. – this is a master-leadership-peice!

    Please excuse my absence…I’ve been on vacation (Disney World!). But I’m back in business now!

    Thanks for sharing. I’m going to print this out.

  23. JD says:

    @ Jk — Welcome back! I bet it was great to take a break and decompress.

    Thank you. I want everybody to have leadership skills under their belt — it levels the playing field (know-how is the great equalizer.)

  24. Hilary says:

    Hi JD .. a leader is emulated by others, respected by others .. a leader needs to be the best they can as they move forward in their chosen field – be it cleaning floors, or climbing the corporate ladder.

    I like Daniel’s story .. and I like the “How can we do this .. scenario” – bringing the whole team into play – giving them the rein to bring ideas to the project.

    Thanks .. wonderful listing .. Hilary

  25. JD says:

    @ Hilary — I’ve noticed how many of the best leaders set a higher bar or test how far the bar can go. They bring out the best in themselves and others.

  26. Tom Schaul says:

    In addition to this list, there is a book called Leadership Charisma which outlines a step by step process to becoming a more successful and charismatic leader. Worth a peak.

  27. JD says:

    @ Tom — I haven’t heard of it before, but it sounds interesting.

  28. Sherry says:

    JD: Good job! I will be a part of a panel discussion next week speaking about “Leadership Strategies While Under Fire”–your list includes many strategies we used….may I have permission to use this list? Of course, I will credit and acknowledge you and “Source of Insight”. Thank you.

  29. JD says:

    @ Sherry — Thank you.

    Yes, you have permission.

    Best wishes.

  30. Sherry says:

    JD: Thank you. May I have your full name for my citation. Again, thank you.

  31. JD says:

    @ Sherry — Yes. It’s J.D. Meier.

  32. Sherry says:

    much thanks!