How to Survive as a Leader: Seven Things You Should Do

Lots of people want to be a leader. A leader of something. Many have the idea that being a leader means you have all the power or you can tell everyone else what to do. Often we confuse leadership with dictatorship. I sometimes hear, from leader “wannabes,” things like, “If I was in charge, here’s what I would do.” Or, “If I was the boss, I’d change that, and that, and make everyone do this.” Ah, if only it were so easy.


Leadership is about so much more than being in charge. It is, as the name would imply, about leading. In order to lead, you need followers. Your ability to move those followers, and your organization, continually toward your destination, will determine your worth as a leader. One of my favorite leadership quotes is from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Another of my favorite leadership quotes is this, “Leadership is the art of moving people along at a pace they can tolerate.” I don’t remember who said that and I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t me, but I really like it.

Leadership can be hard. It can be really hard. For the last twenty-five years I’ve held leadership positions of various kinds in different organizations. Leadership can be very, very rewarding, but at times it can also be frustrating and exhausting. There are certain things you must do in order to survive as a leader. Here are, what I consider, the top seven.

  1. Use your imagination. Many leaders, including myself, are very Type-A personalities. That means we can be very determined to have things done a certain way. It is important – no critical – to keep an open mind. Listen to your team. Look for new ideas regarding how to improve your processes and procedures. Think outside the box.
  2. Leave your “big stick” at home. Many leaders want to rule with an iron fist. They feel like this is how they can really get things done. While using this approach might allow you to get things done (at least for a while) your team will begin to grow bitter and resentful. They will lose trust in you. They will do things for you only because they have to, not because they want to. When this happens, productivity will begin to nosedive and you’ll begin to lose your best team members.
  3. Be patient. Leadership can be frustrating, even on its best day. Your patience will be challenged over and over. You’ve probably seen a really good leader at work. She makes it look easy, right? You may walk away thinking, “Why isn’t it that easy for me.” The key to making it look easy is patience. It’s important to keep your emotions in check, always do the next right thing, and never overreact.
  4. Keep your “Boss Hat” in the drawer. Many times I hear a leader say something like, “Once in a while I have to remind my team I’m the boss.” When we feel it necessary to remind our team that we’re in charge, we come across egotistical and appear to feel overly self-important. This certainly doesn’t endear us to our employees. You should inspire and motivate your team. There should be no reason to remind them “who’s in charge.”
  5. Be quick to give credit. Ronald Reagan said, “There is no limit to what a man can accomplish or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Ensuring you always get the appropriate credit is not a strategy for leadership longevity. Give credit where credit is due… even if the recognition rightfully belongs to you. If you’re doing a good job, the right people will take note… regardless of who’s getting the credit.
  6. Pay attention to the details. If you’re not paying attention to the details, who is? Once your team realizes that you’re not keeping up with the minutia, they’ll assume it’s really not that important. Practice good, healthy organization and stay on top of the details. It’ll pay off.
  7. Communicate. I can’t stress this one enough. Many strong leaders have fallen because of a failure to communicate. Let people know what’s going on. Tell people what’s expected of them. Keep people in the loop regarding your vision. Provide status updates. Dish out praise liberally and give constructive criticism where needed and appropriate. When in doubt, communicate, communicate, communicate.

Over the years I’ve seen far too many leaders fall. Even when they don’t fall, I’ve witnessed more than a few receive some really ugly black eyes. Leadership is not easy. Leadership can, at times, be painful. Leadership can wear you down. If you take your eye off the ball – even for just a few moments – you can end up paying the price for a long time. Try these seven things. They will add years to your life as a leader.

Question: In regard to which of the seven things listed above have you been negligent as a leader?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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