The subtitle for this post about my top leadership lessons could easily be Everything I know about leadership I’ve learned the hard way.  It’s true that being a good leader takes courage, vulnerability, and a sense of humor.  But it also takes some skill building – the kind of skills that aren’t always learned in a classroom.

So, after 32 years of building my leadership skills in the classroom and on the job, here they are. My top leadership lessons. And, in David Letterman style, let’s start with NUMBER 10.

10. Master the Pause.

Learn how to stop, take a breath and listen.  Now do that most of the time.  Then, when you need to speak: think first, ask better questions, and re-listen with intent.

9. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

All positive change and personal growth comes when you are outside of your comfort zone. Make it a challenge to do something scary every single day. I’ve learned that the more you do uncomfortable things, the easier they become. Then you can own the new skill and do things you never thought you could do.  I remember the first time I had to fire someone – not comfortable. My goal was to make it a positive experience for both of us – didn’t seem possible.  But by rehearsing and researching best practices (be open and honest), I did it well.

8. Shovel piles sooner.

Have the conversations you need to have, when you need to have them. Oh, don’t I wish I would have learned this lesson sooner. When things happen that you know aren’t quite right, or you hear about something you should check out, or you just get that weird feeling something’s up, act on it. Ask questions and get to the truth in the situation and then deal with it. Don’t wait until it’s a big mess that needs to be cleaned up, or feelings get hurt, or you have to do something even more uncomfortable (see lesson #2).

7. Pay attention to small stuff.

Small changes in how you respond and react to situations can make a remarkable difference in workplace culture. Remember that everyone is going through challenges. Pay attention and engage.  Look people in the eye, smile, and just be nice. Small things may seem simple, but we often over look them. And, those small things will create positive workplace relationships.

6. Train together

Help your teammates be the best they can be. Find out passions and encourage them. Help people develop their careers. Then, watch them grow in their position or move on to different opportunities that they are prepared to succeed in.  The loyalty you’ll experience by supporting your team and training with them will always be an investment worth making.

5. Make fun a priority.

Don’t take yourself so serious. Make having fun at work be a part of your job.  Create opportunities to make a discussion, a project or an event fun by bringing treats, adding activities, trivia, challenges, balloons or whatever works for you. Celebrate every beginning, middle and end of a project.  Be first in line. Show up for the parties, the birthday lunches and wherever your team is hanging together.

4. Find a mentor or coach.

If you don’t have a mentor or coach already, then go buy one.  Most people say they want a mentor, but few have them.  And, everyone needs one. Having a mentor can help you clarify your career goals, work through sticky issues, and help you be accountable. If you can’t think of someone you can learn from that will give you their time and wisdom, hire a business or career coach. They are worth every penny.  Then, pay it back and be a mentor to someone else.

3. Be consistent.

Reinforce your message over an extended period of time (think drip method, or broken record) and stick with the plan. Spend your time making sure you are clear and predictable in how you handle situations. And focus on making sure you are reducing miscommunications, not contributing to them.

2. Make appreciation a habit.

We are an under-appreciated culture. People are craving for positive attention. Catch people doing good and interesting things every day. Don’t wait for milestones – find something positive to say to every person you meet. Every day. You’ll see drastic changes in attitudes and satisfaction. I guarantee it.

1. And the number one leadership lesson I have learned is …..

Run your own race.

Develop self awareness and discover who you are.  Find your strengths and work to them. Delegate out (or hire) for your stretches. That’s the key to building a highly functioning team. Then, be genuine and authentic and do it your way. Own it. Live it. Lead it.


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She coaches small business managers on HR issues and provides training on workplace communication to organizational groups.

In addition, she hosts a twice-annual Women’s Summit that brings women together to learn how to become more confident communicators.

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