“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch
Welcome to the Getting Started with Leadership page on Sources of Insight!
Here you can jump start your learning journey so you can master the mindset, skillset, and toolset to become a better leader.
I distilled the best insights and actions from what I learned over more than 20+ years at Microsoft, and more. While I did have a lot of great mentors, I do wish that I had a better way to get started with leadership. I learned a lot of things the hard way and it was tough to find the best resources and the best advice.
With this getting started guide, I’ll give you the foundation and jumpstart that I wish somebody would have given me.
What is Leadership?
There are a lot of very good definitions of leadership, but to get started, I think it helps to first ground yourself in John Maxwell’s leadership definition:
“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” — John Maxwell
I also found this quote, also by John Maxwell, to be helpful:
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John Maxwell
But I would adjust it slightly in that many times a leader does not know the way, but they figure it out by bringing people together and empowering them.
I think it also helps to realize that there is a distinction between “thought” leadership and “people” leadership. You might find that you are good at one or the other, or maybe both. Some people recognize that they prefer one of the other and that’s great self-awareness.
For additional definitions of leadership, please see The Leadership Guide.
With that in mind, here is my guide to getting started with leadership…
1. Start with Personal Leadership
I’ve learned that a solid leadership foundation starts from the belief that life is better with leadership.
Before you lead others, learn to lead yourself. And from a Stephen Covey perspective, you learn how to gradually increase your sphere of influence.
Everyone is a Leader
Leadership starts with you. Leadership starts from the inside out and there is great power in self-leadership.
As Tony Robbins says, power is the ability to take action.
Don’t give your power away.
You can practice leadership skills to inspire your mind, paint a future picture of a better world, design more effective strategies, take action, and build better feedback loops.
10 Practices of Personal Leadership
According to The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership by Joelle Jay, there are 10 core practices of personal leadership.
- Get clarity. Find what it is you want, and what strategies that complement your strengths will most effectively get you there.
- Find focus. Define focus areas and isolate practices that will help you achieve your goals.
- Take action. Create an action plan through a two-part process.
- Tap into your brilliance. How to find, and lead with, your personal strengths.
- Feel fulfillment. Discover what motivates you and makes you happy, and how to practice letting the feeling of fulfillment be fully realized.
- Maximize your time. Customizable techniques to help you achieve more with less.
- Build your team. Surround yourself with people who can advise, champion, advance, and elevate you.
- Keep learning. Redefine the process of learning, and create a practice of expansion.
- See possibility. Making it happen versus letting it happen, listening to your intuition.
- All … All at once. Practices to align a work-life balance that allows you to continue to excel.
2. Build Your Leadership Foundation
To become a better leader, start by learning the 5 Practices and 10 Commitments of effective leaders.
You can always learn and layer more things on top, but you get better, faster by practicing proven practices.
Reflect on your favorite leaders and why you like them. You’ll likely find that they have many of the 12 Traits of a Great Leader.
By holding a model in your mind of great leaders, can inspire yourself as you aspire to improve your leadership traits.
If you build your leadership foundation from these frameworks, cornerstone concepts, proven practices, and leadership principles, you will have a great start in your leadership journey. And it helps to think of leadership as a journey that you master over the course of your life.
5 Practices and 10 Commitments for Effective Leadership
According to The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, there are 5 practices and 10 commitments of extraordinary leadership.
The 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership
- Model the Way
- Inspire a Shared Vision
- Challenge the Process
- Enable Others to Act
- Encourage the Heart
The 10 Commitments of Exemplary Leadership
- Find your voice by clarifying you personal values.
- Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.
- Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling activities.
- Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
- Search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow and improve.
- Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes.
- Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.
- Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion.
- Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
- Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.
12 Traits of a Great Leader
As you become the leaders you want to become, it helps to keep in mind the traits that people admire about great leaders.
According to Bill Simms, author of Green Beans and Ice Cream, whenever he asks what the core traits of a great leader are, he gets a recurring set of 12 traits that people agree on:
- Good Communication Skills
- Willingness to Listen
- Knowledge and Experience
- Good Attitude
- Ability to Motivate
- Ability to Stay Organized
- Ability to Inspire Respect
- Leadership that Sticks (Positive Reinforcement)
Learn Vision, Mission, Values
You might hear people talk about vision, mission, and values, but in my experience, few people learn how to really use them well, both in their personal life and in their work life.
I’ve learned that when you really master vision, mission, and values, it’s a lot easier to lead.
When you do this right, I think you’ll find continuous inspiration and motivation to carry you onward and upward.
- Vision: You vision answers the question: “Where will you go?” (Informed by your mission)
- Mission: Your mission answers the question: “Why do you exist?”
- Values: Your values answer the question: “How do you operate?”
People join you because they believe in the mission, or they are inspired by the vision. Values call out what you care about.
When it comes to leadership, I find it’s important to know your personal vision, mission, and values, as well as to establish shared vision, mission, and values for any teams or organizations or efforts you may lead.
Here is a really good walkthrough of writing your personal mission statement.
Here is a really good walkthrough of how to figure out Vision, Mission, and Values for an organization or team or effort.
3. Practice Leading Others
When it comes to leading others, the most important thing is to build vulnerability-based trust, where people know you have their back.
People follow you because they believe you are competent and capable, but first and foremost, that you care.
And when it comes to leading others effectively, you need to balance directing and supporting. This is where the 4 Leadership Styles come into play. Some people will need more motivation and inspiration but get out of their way, while others may need more direction and coaching.
Create Clarity, Generate Energy, Deliver Success
To keep on track as a leader, it helps to have a short set of principles that remind you what you should be doing as an effective leader.
While there is a lot of advice here, I’ve found the 3 Microsoft Leadership principles really helpful:
- Create clarity
- Generate energy
- Deliver success
According to NeuroLeadership Institute, neuroscience research tells us that exhaustive lists are hard to remember and difficult to act on. As a result, NeuroLeadership Institute worked with Microsoft to simplify and shrink its leadership principles down to three, two-word phrases. See How Microsoft Changed Its Culture by Going Simple.
Learn the 4 Leadership Styles & Types
This is such a simple framework. If more managers and leaders actually used it, they would have a lot more engaged employees and they would bring out the best in their followers.
One of the biggest mistakes I see leaders do is they “micro-manage” the wrong people.
Some people need more direction, but others need more support in the form of motivation, inspiration or even just appreciation.
According to the Situational Leadership Model by Ken Blanchard, John Carlos, and Alan Randolph, there are 4 styles of leadership:
- Style 1 – Directing (high directive behavior and low supportive behavior)
- Style 2 – Coaching (high directive behavior and high supportive behavior)
- Style 3 – Supporting (high supportive behavior and low directive behavior)
- Style 4 – Delegating (low supportive behavior and low directive behavior)
I found the model to be both a simple tool for self-awareness as a manager and leader, as well as a useful tool for bringing out the best in team members.
Coach, Model, Care
As part of its culture change to support a Growth Mindset, Microsoft developed a simple framework:
Model, Coach, Care
However, the most common criticism is to change the order to:
Coach, Model, Care
After all, as Teddy Roosevelt taught us, it starts with care:
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”— Teddy Roosevelt
See Model, Coach, Care, Getting the Order Correct, by Kurt Greening.
What is Your Leadership Philosophy?
Your leadership philosophy is your personal view or set of attitudes about leadership that act as guiding principles for how you think and act as a leader:
One of the greatest things you can do for your leadership development is to intentionally forge your leadership philosophy.
To do so, I recommend reflecting on a set of questions that will shape your leadership approach:
- What does great leadership look like?
How do you inspire yourself and others?
- How do you best influence others as a leader?
- What do you expect from people as a leader, and what can they expect from you?
- How do you make decisions as a leader?
- How do you learn from mistakes by yourself and others?
- How do you treat people to bring out their best?
- How do you groom, grow, and develop people?
- How do you learn and grow to become a better leader?
- What do you want your legacy to be as a leader?
Your leadership philosophy comes through developing your own, personal, authentic philosophy, shaped by your values, beliefs, and experiences.
Your leadership philosophy is an ongoing exercise throughout your leadership journey as you learn, adapt, and adjust your leadership approach.
With your leadership philosophy as your ongoing work-in-progress, along with the foundational leadership principles and practices, you are well on your way to becoming the greatest leader you can be.