How to Be a Better Leader

Stan Garfield
8 min readFeb 3, 2018

Originally published October 27, 2014

We can always use more leaders who can make positive contributions to business, education, government, non-profits, and all other types of organizations and teams. Here I have compiled tips on the ABCs (Actions, Behaviors, and Characteristics) of effective leaders. Also see How to Be an Authentic Leader, the associated reading list, Lessons in Leadership, Articles, Presentation, and Books about Leadership, and Leadership Books.



  1. Principles — have a core set of principles and values, and strive to uphold them
  2. Act — take action as needed, after careful consideration, and in a timely manner
  3. Trust your people and colleagues, unless they give you reason not to do so
  4. Honest — as much as possible, be honest, open, and transparent
  5. Bold — don’t be afraid to innovate and try new things
  6. Upbeat — stay positive, optimistic, and calm
  7. Integrity — be ethical, fair, and accountable
  8. Loyal — always have the backs of your people
  9. Decisive — make timely decisions based on available information
  10. Enlighten — communicate appropriately, thoroughly, and promptly
  11. Recognize — regularly thank, praise, and celebrate colleagues and team members
  12. Serve — focus on supporting your team members with whatever they need


  1. Lead the organization’s people and teams authentically.
  2. Establish the vision, mission, and direction for the organization, develop action plans, and lead projects.
  3. Achieve a positive culture that rewards caring, sharing, and daring.
  4. Define principles and values, goals and objectives, and measurements and rewards.
  5. Engage by communicating regularly to keep all members of the organization informed and involved, regularly soliciting suggested improvements and candid feedback, and taking as much action as possible on the input received.
  6. Report regularly on the organization’s performance against established metrics.
  7. Serve the people, the stakeholders, and the local community.
  8. Hang out with other leaders to exchange ideas, solicit advice, and keep up with innovations.
  9. Improve organizational results.
  10. Practice what is preached, model the desired behaviors, and lead by example.


  1. Passion — have passion for your work, convey it to your people, and demonstrate it in your actions
  2. Integrity — establish, maintain, and promote core values; be fair, honest, and responsible
  3. Communication — regularly let stakeholders know what is going on by communicating coherently, completely, and compellingly to inspire, align, and motivate
  4. Knowledge — know as much as you can about your work, share your knowledge with others, and encourage them to do the same
  5. Love — love what you do, love your people, and show love to the people with whom you interact
  6. Empowerment — listen to, trust, and enable your people to succeed
  7. Service — serve your people, your organization, and your community


  1. Treat others fairly and with respect
  2. Respond quickly and decisively
  3. Understand what your colleagues need
  4. Support your team members
  5. Tell the truth


1. Ten Tips

  1. Follow your passions — play to your strengths
  2. Treat others with respect — and earn theirs
  3. Never give up — keep on striving
  4. Be true to your word — do what you say you will
  5. Stay positive — have fun in what you do
  6. Expect a lot of yourself — and of others
  7. Challenge conventional wisdom — think for yourself
  8. Ask not what others can do for you — ask what you can do for them
  9. Leave the world a better place — make a contribution
  10. Put a little love into everything you do — it is always possible

2. Four Fundamentals

  1. Practice and reward caring, sharing, and daring — caring for others, sharing what you know, and daring to try new ideas
  2. Insist on trust, truth, and transparency in all dealings — earn and respect the trust of others, communicate truthfully and openly, and demonstrate and expect accountability
  3. Look for opportunities to help, thank, and praise others
  4. Eliminate criticism, blame, and ridicule in all interactions with others

3. The Right Stuff

  1. Do what is right — logically, financially, morally, ethically, and environmentally — with decency, integrity, and fairness
  2. Do it the right way — honestly, accurately, correctly, and completely — with good effort, resulting in high quality, and meeting all commitments
  3. Do it right away — don’t procrastinate, make excuses, or avoid what is unpleasant — the sooner you start, the better

4. Eight Axioms

  1. Leaders should be open, honest, authentic, accessible, and responsive. People want to follow good leaders who are inspirational, straightforward, and fair. Bad leaders eventually get what they deserve, although it often appears to take too long for this to happen.
  2. Set no more than three goals, and keep them simple and easy to remember.
  3. You can’t make yourself a leader by proclaiming that you are in charge. You must command respect through your words and deeds, leading by example, and serving others.
  4. Good communication matters. Use language carefully, correctly, and clearly. Avoid buzzwords, confusing jargon, and corporate speak.
  5. Tell the truth. People can tell when you are lying.
  6. Rely on your colleagues. Ask them to review what you are working on, and they will give you good advice. If you do good things for others without concern for what’s in it for you, your colleagues will be glad to reciprocate.
  7. Lead by example, practice what you preach, and model desired behaviors.
  8. Recognize and reward for desired behaviors.


1. Roles

  • Establish core
  1. Principles
  2. Values
  3. Objectives
  • Communicate to
  1. Inspire
  2. Align
  3. Motivate
  • Empower by
  1. Listening
  2. Trusting
  3. Supporting

2. Attributes

  1. Trust, Truth, and Transparency
  2. Caring, Sharing, and Daring
  3. Integrity, Loyalty, and Courage
  1. Respect, Recognize, and Reward
  2. Empower, Empathize, and Encourage
  3. Coach, Communicate, and Collaborate
  1. Approachable, Fair, and Logical
  2. Passionate, Persistent, and Persuasive
  3. Calm, Creative, and Curious


1. Thou shalt

  1. Be bold
  2. Be upbeat
  3. Know what’s going on
  4. Tell stories
  5. Act
  6. Collaborate
  7. Seek out ideas of others
  8. Try new things
  9. Remain calm
  10. Plan
  11. Admit mistakes
  12. Speak spontaneously
  13. Use direct language
  14. Communicate openly
  15. Be visible and accessible
  16. Be courageous
  17. Tell the truth
  18. Take a chance and go for it
  19. Think for yourself
  20. Treat others fairly

2. Thou shalt not

  1. Be reluctant
  2. Point out what’s wrong
  3. Be ignorant
  4. Recite dry facts
  5. Wait
  6. Go it alone
  7. Know it all
  8. Stick to the tried and true
  9. Blow up
  10. React
  11. Spin, make excuses, and pass blame
  12. Repeat the usual message
  13. Use clichés
  14. Withhold information
  15. Hide behind closed doors
  16. Be afraid to fail
  17. Obscure, obstruct, and obfuscate
  18. Play it safe and delay
  19. Always go by the book
  20. Exploit others

3. Don’t

  • Criticize, Blame, or Ridicule
  • Demean, Embarrass, or Undermine
  • Intimidate, Threaten, or Bully
  • Lie, Cheat, or Exploit
  • Badmouth, Belittle, or Backstab


1. Know thyself

  • What are your
  1. Values
  2. Principles
  3. Beliefs
  • What are your
  1. Passions and Interests
  2. Skills and Abilities
  3. Weaknesses and Blind Spots
  • How do you allocate your time to
  1. Studies and Career
  2. Friends and Family
  3. Communities and Pastimes

2. Maintain your true self

  • Act the same in all settings
  1. Studies and Career
  2. Friends and Family
  3. Communities and Pastimes
  • Don’t compartmentalize
  • Let everyone know your beliefs, interests, and priorities
  • Embody Competence, Commitment, and Compassion

3. Lead by example

  • Model desired behaviors
  • Practice what you preach
  • Put yourself in the shoes of others
  • Prove what can actually be done
  • Demonstrate expertise and credibility
  • Keep in touch with reality
  • Convey optimism by your actions
  • Get your hands dirty

4. Be bold

  • Take prudent risks
  • Be willing to fail
  • Tackle your fears and overcome them
  • Take the initiative to start things
  • Imagine, Invent, and Innovate
  • Prototype, Pilot, and Perfect
  • Rock the boat, stir the pot, and shake things up
  • Expect the unexpected

5. Follow your true north

  • Stick to your principles
  • Act on your beliefs
  • Don’t be swayed due to expediency or pressure
  • Maintain healthy skepticism
  • Avoid fads
  • Ignore the prevailing wisdom
  • Don’t follow the crowd or run with the herd
  • Don’t always do it by the book
  • Adjust over time based on experience

6. Decide

  • Use common sense
  • Be assertive
  • Make tough decisions
  • Avoid paralysis by analysis
  • Know when to declare success
  • Admit failure, learn, and move on
  • Embrace debate, set a deadline, decide, and proceed to implement
  • Propose, Plan, and Produce

7. Have a bias for action

  • Set high standards for
  1. Achievements
  2. Results
  3. Deliverables
  • Follow up, inspect, and adjust
  • Follow through and don’t let anything drop
  • Avoid complacency, delay, and indecision
  • Attack your own position before others do

8. Communicate relentlessly

  • Write and speak convincingly, completely, and compellingly
  • Use language concisely, correctly, and clearly
  • Use multiple channels and vehicles
  • Avoid jargon, corporate speak, and buzz words
  • Ask questions, listen attentively, and respond forthrightly
  • Return calls and reply to email in a timely manner
  • Link, converse, and correspond with diverse people

9. Engage

  • Be generous with your time
  • Be approachable, available, and accessible
  • Avoid isolation
  • Practice MBWA (Management By Walking Around)
  • Seek input, encourage constructive suggestions, and follow through
  • Pay attention
  • Reach out, motivate, and inspire

10. Tell stories

  • Motivate others to action
  • Build trust in you
  • Build trust in your organization
  • Transmit your values
  • Get others working together
  • Share knowledge
  • Tame the grapevine
  • Create and share a unifying vision

11. Be thirsty for knowledge

  • Curiosity won’t kill you
  • Set a regular time for reading
  • Make time to attend lectures, seminars, and conferences
  • Listen to books on tape, podcasts, and broadcasts while multitasking
  • Know what is going on in your organization, specialty, and field
  • Participate in communities of practice and interest
  • Know your stuff and become a respected thought leader
  • Share your knowledge
  • Try things out
  • Allow time for thinking, imagining, and brainstorming

12. Deepen your expertise

13. Build your team

  • Recognize others with similar strengths
  • Seek out others with complementary skills and attributes
  • Recruit, mentor, and promote wisely
  • Learn from those you lead and those who lead you
  • Don’t be threatened by others with more knowledge and skills
  • Encourage team members to move on when they are ready
  • Constantly add to your social network
  • Set high expectations, but treat people decently
  • Replace team members as required

14. Manage your time

  • Always be on time
  • Be organized
  • Don’t short-change any element of your life
  • Don’t be a workaholic
  • Work efficiently during the normal work hours, and then go home
  • Encourage others to do the same
  • Delegate appropriately
  • Don’t micromanage
  • Budget your time
  • Consistently use electronic tools such as calendar and task list

15. Focus

  • Identify key priorities
  • Stay on task
  • Stick to a few key goals
  • Don’t get distracted
  • Follow a schedule
  • Meet all commitments
  • Expect the same from others

16. Check your ego

  • Act unselfishly
  • Let your deeds speak for you
  • Share the credit for achievements
  • Publicize the accomplishments of others
  • Don’t worry about yourself
  • Help anyone who asks
  • Pay it forward — it will all come back to you

3P Squared

Presentation Version

Articles, Presentation, and Books about Leadership



Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager