4 rules of effective leadership

What makes a great leader is a question that has been asked many times down the years.  Indeed a quick search for positive leadership traits brings up a whole host of lists, mentioning things such as honesty, integrity, charisma and so on.  Whilst most of these traits are indeed noble qualities, do they really define a good leader?

In my opinion they don't.  The reason they fail is that they create the impression that leadership is an absolute endeavour.  They would have us believe that leaders with certain characteristics will succeed whatever their environment.  All of which is, well, codswallop.  For you see leadership is a very circumstantial thing.  Our success as leaders depends very much on the circumstances we find ourselves in, and indeed the followers that we hope to lead.  It explains how Winston Churchill can be regarded as one of the finest leaders ever during war time, yet voted out of office the minute war ended.

So if the traits outlined in these articles don't define a great leader, what does?  The following four rules go a long way to defining whether you'll be successful as a leader.

Rule 1 - Do you reflect your team?  Psychological research has shown that leaders succeed when they reflect the characteristics of their team.  The more you are seen as 'one of us' by your team, the more likely you are to be able to lead them successfully.

Rule 2 - Do you champion your team?  As well as being seen to reflect your followers, you also need to be championing them.  Too often leaders are seen to be in it just for themselves, and it's therefore not surprising that their leadership capabilities are weak.  Leaders need to advance the collective interests of their followers in order to lead them well.

Rule 3 - Do you create this identity?  Leaders don't tend to wait for leadership to be bestowed upon them.  Instead they create the opportunity by forging the shared identities and policies of their group.

Rule 4 - Do you turn vision into reality?  Leaders should be able to show results in order to achieve a devoted following.  Shallow rhetoric might work for a short while, but followers want to see you can translate your words into reality.

If you can master all of those 4 rules, there's a good chance that you'll be a successful leader.

Adi Gaskell is a management writer and blogger.


Hi Adrian, I agree with the fact that leadership is essentially 'circumstantial'. But, that is as far as I can see it. Teams led can be as diverse as the circumstances too, eh?! If we agree the foregoing is true, then, some of the rules 1 to 4 apply while some wont fly e.g. Rule 1 - Do you reflect your team?, as a leader, by definition, is to lead, impying that the followers accept his intrinsic abilities to do so. As for Rule 2 - Do you champion your team?, it seems there is an assumption here that the mixedbags of the team players is taken as  uniform which is not likely to be the case. Rules 3 and 4 are 'rock-solid' identifiers, any day.

The above are my thoughts.


Hi David, thanks for the comment.  Rule 1 is based on social identity theory


That basically states that we think and act much more positively to people we perceive as being like us than we do to people we perceive as being different to us.

It states that the success of a leader is much a reflection of the team's willingness to be lead.

I agree with David 100%. It is certainly advantageous to be liked by your team, but leaders are 'not one of us' leaders 'lead'! They have to have a distance and earned respect from those they lead. If leaders are too close, then it becomes difficult to make unpopular decisions (which are the right ones) or instigate formal/disciplinary proceedings on a team member. A leader should be a good communicator, fair, consistent in their approach with staff and do the right thing when required.

Good discussion indeed. In my opinion there are dozens of personal traits that can affect leadership and integrity and character are absolute among those. Speaking out of personal example in the army core leader competencies are mainly three and they are as good for public / private sectors. They are quite similar to your rules and they are:

 1. Leads

a. He leads others

b. He extends influence beyond the chain of command

c. He leads by example (Rule 1)

d. He communicate clearly

 2. Develops --- (refers to your rule 3)

a. He creates a positive environment

b. Prepares himself well

c. He develops others well (rule 2)

 3. Achieves

a. He achieves results --- (Refers to your Rule 4)


But in my years of experience I have observed that the way leaders develop and deploy their knowledge are especially influenced by a handful of qualities: ambition, drive and tenacity, self-confidence, psychological openness, realism and a greedy appetite for learning. I am explaining a bit for better understanding.


Ambition: A burning desire to achieve or attain something visible and noteworthy propels individual leaders and their companies to do your utmost to reach their potential.


Drive and Tenacity: Some leaders have an inner engine that constantly pushes them to dig up to the heart of an issue and find solutions. They penetrate for specific answers and don’t give up until they get them.


Self-Confidence: You have to be able to listen to your own inside voice and endure the lonely moments when an important decision falls on your shoulders. You have to be able to speak up your mind and act quickly as well as decisively, knowing that you can withstand the consequences.


Psychological Openness: The willingness to allow yourself to be influenced by other people and to share your ideas openly enhances the know-how, while being psychologically closed can cause many problems.


Realism: Realism is the mid-point between optimism and pessimism, and the degree to which you inclined toward one or the other has a particularly powerful effect on your use of the know-hows.


Appetite for Learning: Your understanding improves with exposure to diverse situations with increasing levels of complexity, so an enthusiasm for new challenges is essential. Leaders who seek out new experiences and learn from them will build their knowledge faster than those who don’t.


Major (Rtd) Imran Hanif, CMgr, FCMI, MIPSA

Good conversation indeed. My own view is that underpinning all the rules, all the guidelines, has to be integrity. Without integrity a leaders position is built on shifting sands. Trust is earned, and only earned with experience and evidence. I did my own piece about this a few weeks back, dropping out of a recent experience of someone attempting leadership without the foundations of integrity and skill. Lacking one of those would make leading a challenge, lacking both she is on a hiding to nothing! And her attempts at leadership are the direct result of her drive and ambition - meaningless without the other stuff even with her undoubted ability to promote her self confidence and advertise her ambition!