10 Principles of Effective Leadership

In general, people want and need to be led.  I know there are isolated (no pun intended) examples of people who prefer to be loners and be one with the Earth and such, but for the most part we spend a large portion of our lives in some type of group or team setting.  Whether it be as a family member, as part of a team or other organization, or at work, most of us will find ourselves spending a substantial amount of our time in a group setting of some sort.  And where there are groups, leadership is needed.  

For some, leadership comes to them naturally…it comes to them as a gift from God.  Not earned, just a gift.  In Luke 12:48, the word of God states “to whom much is given, much will be expected” and I believe God was speaking to leaders as much as anyone in this passage of scripture.  Without a doubt, I believe the best leaders, the cream of the crop if you will, have a gift.  But like any other gift, leaders must choose how they are going to use it.  Will it be used positively or negatively?  Will it be used for selfish gain or the good of the whole?  There is a difference between effective leadership and destructive leadership.

Also, I don’t believe leadership is restricted to those whom it may come to more naturally.  You can lead by being a good follower.  For example, everyone can lead by way of being a positive example…being on time, working hard, being respectful, embracing your role, being selfless, etc.  All of these are positive qualities and for many this is their most effective means of leadership.  Where some error is when they try to lead in ways in which they are not effective.  Many times this comes from being placed in position of authority or simply from being told “You have to be a leader!”  We have all witnessed (or been a victim of) fake leadership and simply put…nobody is buying what they’re selling.  It’s much better to be a good follower than a fake leader.               

As the head basketball coach at White Oak High School for 25 years, I was responsible for leading our basketball program. As a teacher for 29 years, I have been responsible for leading the students in which I have been entrusted and, as a faculty member, I hope I have been a positive influence on my colleagues.  In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to share my 10 Principles of Effective Leadership from the perspective of being the decision maker.  However, many of these leadership principles apply to leading in any capacity.  

PRINCIPLE #1: The leader drives the culture

Leaders drive the culture of any team or organization by setting the standard for what is acceptable or unacceptable.  They are also responsible for establishing the priorities (Core Values) and modeling the expected behavior for everyone under their leadership. Effective leaders are always the primary example of what is expected and should be willing to invest the most.  Their list of duties is always the longest and they never asks those under their leadership to do more than they are willing to do themselves.  Delegating is a necessity for those in charge but it is not a synonym for lazy.  Culture is defined at the top.

PRINCIPLE #2: Heed the advice of others but have the courage to make your own decisions

Leaders have the courage to do what they believe is right regardless of the circumstances.  They have a set of standards that they measure those decisions against while seeking the advice of those they know have a common goal in mind and will tell them the truth as they see it.  Leaders don’t surround themselves with “yes” men or puppets…only the insecure do that.  Leaders surround themselves with people who bring something valuable to the table and can provide wise suggestions for the good of the whole.  Ultimately, a decision must be made and I believe the leader, after consultation with those he trusts, makes that decision…the buck stops with him.

For this reason, I’ve never been a fan of “committees” making decisions.  I believe committees are fine for providing expertise in various areas and input or suggestions but ultimately the leader should make the call.  If the decision turns out to be a good one, the leader credits all involved in the process.  If the decision turns out to be a bad one, the leader takes responsibility.  This style of leadership makes it known where the leader stands while also holding the leader accountable.

PRINCIPLE #3: Value every role on the team or within the organization

Value leads to buy in and everyone wants to know they are valuable.  Leaders understand that everyone with a role in the process has value and they make it a point to make this value known.  Some positions within the team or organization have value that is obvious to everyone and they receive recognition for their accomplishments within the grand scheme of things. Effective leaders go out of their way to make sure those in less obvious positions know they are valuable to the whole.  They take every opportunity to point how their role was instrumental in a positive outcome…as insignificant as some might perceive.  Leaders know there is no such thing as insignificant roles, they value every role, and they establish a culture where everyone respects the role of each contributor.  By establishing this as a priority, people want to buy in to their role because they see the significance and buy in leads to accountability.

PRINCIPLE #4: Leaders build relationships by serving and showing gratitude

Effective leaders look for ways to make it more efficient for others to do their job.  Part of this goes back to driving the culture.  The leader never ask others to do more than they are willing to do themselves.  Leaders are never too good to pick up the mop, wash the jock straps, or drive the bus.  Leaders make the time to show appreciation and gratitude and by seeking ways to serve instead of being served.

In the event the leader has to “call in”, “write up”, or discipline someone, hopefully, this comes after they have taken the opportunity to point out a positive attribute or contribution that person has made to the team or organization.  Sometimes this is very difficult but effective leaders are very creative in finding ways to magnify the value of someone and take it as a challenge to make them feel appreciated. With today’s technology, it is so much easier to show gratitude and appreciation for a job well done.  Shout Outs on twitter, text messages, and believe it or not, old fashioned “tell it to their face” are great ways to express gratitude.

By using this type of leadership style, holding people accountable becomes so much easier because people want to buy in. They know they are valuable and respected and in most cases, if they must be called into account and have any pride at all, they feel guilty for letting down the leader as well as everyone else involved with the team or organization

PRINCIPLE #5: Leaders should inspire

Ultimately, I believe we are each responsible for inspiring ourselves.  However, effective leaders live to inspire others…it’s their gift, it’s what they do.  Seeing the excitement in a kids eyes when he is acknowledged for a job well done, seeing a mentored colleague succeed, or the surprise on the face of a stranger from a random act of kindness, if you live to inspire…THAT FIRES YOUR BUTT UP!!!!

A simple but very effective means of inspiration is personal touch.  Whether it is fist bumps when crossing paths, embracing arms on the bench, or a high five after a great play, there is power in physical touch.  There is also a personal touch to notes or letters.  The written word can be very powerful and can be referred to on numerous occasion or displayed in a prominent area for the purpose of daily inspiration.  Effective leaders understand the inspirational power of personal touch.

Good leaders spend a lot of time working on the perfect plan.  Great leaders spend most of their time inspiring the people who will execute the plan.  Inspired people have accomplished things that mercenaries never even dream about.

PRINCIPLE #6: At times, it has to be lonely at the top

Effective leaders know there has to be a degree of separation between themselves and the people they are responsible for leading.  Relationships have to be built but it can never be at the expense of objectivity, consistency, or accountability.  The culture of a program or organization must reflect a healthy respect for people in positions of authority which makes effective leadership vital to success.  

One of the greatest blessings I had as a head coach was having 3 of my former players be assistants on our staff.  In fact, two of them, Billy Terry (2012 & 2013) and Brett Cloud (2013) were on the bench as assistant coaches when we won our 2 State Championships and words can’t express how much it meant to me to have 2 of my boys there to experience an achievement very few ever get to experience.  As thrilled as I was to have them with me every day, I also had to make a conscience effort to not let my loyalty to them as my former players cloud (again, no pun intended) my objectivity as the head coach.  Ultimately, as far as a basketball staff, my loyalty had to be what was best for our program.  Whereas, outside of those doors, my loyalty would always be to them as 2 of my former players as well as best friends.  Conversely, I know it was difficult or awkward for them at times, as well, but they respected that I had to do what I felt was best for our program.

PRINCIPLE #7: Leaders must believe in accountability

I believe accountability is the deciding factor in determining the success of a program or organization of any type.  All the other elements that lead to a championship or elite culture can be in place but, without accountability, potential cannot be maximized.  

I have saved “accountability” for Principle #7 because I believe effective leadership makes a program or organization much more conducive to accountability when principles 1-6 have been established.  Why is accountability tough?  Because at times, it leads to adversity or confrontation.  That’s why I believe principles 1-6 help with accountability because if these steps have been taken, effective leaders know they have done their part and more. With that being the case, accountability becomes a positive…the leader is just expecting the standard that the culture demands to be met and it’s consistent for everyone.          

However, there are occasions when people refuse to meet the minimum requirements and leaders must be willing to invoke consequences if this becomes a consistent issue.  Not holding someone accountable, many times, is just a way of telling them, “I don’t think you can do it.”  If the expectations are not being met, a leader owes it to that person and the rest of the team members to address the situation and impose consequences if necessary.  Even to the point of having to let someone go.  If a leader is not willing to take these steps, if necessary, there will always be people looking to take advantage of the lack of accountability.  In most cases, once accountability has been established, those types of individuals eliminate themselves.    

PRINCIPLE #8: Leaders must know the pulse of the group they are leading

Without a doubt, it is impossible to reach a high level of success without high expectations.  A select few people are highly motivated and leading them is just a matter of not stymying their creativity or getting in their way. An elite or championship culture is something they will thrive in.  On the other hand, some people have about as much get-up-and-go as a bassett hound and you won’t have to worry about getting out of their way because they ain’t going no where anyway!  

Most people, however, are like a wheel barrow…they are going to go only as far as they are pushed.  That’s where effective leadership comes into play…getting people to do more than they believe they are capable of doing.  In order to do this, leaders have to push, they have to be driven, and they must be demanding…AND IT AIN’T EASY!  As the leader does this, at times, the one’s being led will be getting pushed closer and closer to the breaking point.  It sounds insane but that’s what the best do.  It’s at this crucial point when leaders must feel the pulse for how hard they can push. Push too hard and they break.  Don’t push hard enough and they live in mediocrity.         

To me, the key to knowing the pulse of the team was to watch my toughest kids and see how they were responding.  If they were dragging, we might need to back off a little bit or change things up some way.  The best teams I had would always stay around for a while after practice to work on their skills, play a shooting game, or some NBA style 1 on 1.  On occasion, some would try to dunk but it didn’t take long to figure out that was a waste of time.  As long as they stayed after on their own, I knew they were good to go.  Like I said, our best teams did this.  A few years, not many, the players were straight out the door after workout…it didn’t take long to take that pulse.  

PRINCIPLE #9: Effective leaders accept responsibility for mistakes and deflect the credit for success

As I referenced in principle #2, I believe it is the responsibility of the leader to be the decision maker in order to have accountability throughout the team or organization.  For this reason, I believe two of the most important ingredients in being an effective leader are taking responsibility when the results don’t go your way and deflecting the credit when they do.

As a decision maker, effective leaders exhaust every option for making the best decision possible then pull the trigger.  Once this is done, a leader has to be at peace with the result of that decision…good or bad.  

I’ve been asked many times what it was like to be in the Frank Erwin Center in Austin coaching in the State Championship games.  The most common question refers to our last possession in the 2013 Class 2A State Championship game against Brock when we held the ball for about the last minute of the game before Kris Anderson hit a short floater in the lane to win the game.  People ask, “Wasn’t it risky holding the ball that long?”, “What if Kris had missed?”, and all sorts of questions. Eventually, it usually gets down to this, “Were you nervous? Did you think about calling time out?” and my answer is always “No, I was at peace with the decision and our team trusted Kris to make the right play”.  Now that might sound like the cool answer but it was the truth.  We had practiced that set many times, executed it in games, and we were focused on the task at hand.  When have prepared to the best of your ability, you trust the process and live with the result.  Had Brock stolen the ball or we turned it over, I’m sure there would have been many people questioning our strategy but I’m confident I would have taken responsibility for that decision.  Rest assured though, I’m thankful I didn’t have to put that theory to the test!

In the postgame press conference, I was asked a question about “my” team and I was quick to point out that it was not Ron Boyett’s team, it was White Oak’s team then I preceded to talk about all the different hands that played a part in our team’s success.  I knew what the reporter meant by “my” team, but as the leader of our team, I wanted everyone to know that I understood the investment that it took by so many to achieve that level of success.  Leaders should always give credit to those who toted the load.

PRINCIPLE #10: Pray

I saved the best for last but it should definitely be done first.  As a Christian, I believe God has a purpose for each and every life.  I believe He grants gifts and talents to all His children and that our job is to unwrap those gifts, use them to benefit others, and, ultimately, bring honor and glory to His kingdom.  Like I stated in Principle #1, I believe to a large degree, that leadership is a gift.  But like any gift, it must be put to use to be effective.  That’s where I believe prayer comes into the picture.  

During my tenure as the Head Basketball Coach at White Oak, my conference period was always the period before athletics and this was very beneficial in many ways.  One of those benefits was that it gave me time to pray when I needed to and there was never a time before a meeting with a parent, meeting with my coaches or administration, or meeting with our team that I didn’t go to the Lord in prayer prior to that meeting.  Most of the time it was a simple prayer similar to this, “Father, I humble myself before you and acknowledge that you are the one and only true God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  I ask you now to guide my words and actions, to give me clarity of thought, and that all that is said and done here today will be in accordance to your will.  I’ve come to you in situations like this many times before and you have never let me down and I know you won’t now.  Help me to have peace of mind as I do my best to serve your purpose for my life.  Amen.”

Thanks for reading and Lead With A Purpose!