Guiding principles for leaders

Leadership benefits from an approach built upon specific guiding principles that, taken together, create a clear road map for navigating any situation, according to Michael Useem in his book The Leader’s Checklist: 15 Mission-Critical Principles. The author then proceeds to enumerate the fifteen principles which he has distilled from a number of sources and from his own experience over many years.

As the author indicates, pilots follow a checklist before commencing take-off in an aeroplane, and surgeons follow a checklist before commencing surgery. However, in my view it is stretching the analogy too far to say that leaders should follow a checklist before leading. Pilots and surgeons follow checklists because they have to perform a large number of important but repetitive tasks, and the mundane nature of those tasks can lead to one accidentally being forgotten. Leaders typically deal with unstructured problems for which no predefined list of steps is available.

Nonetheless, in my view the list of fifteen principles which the author has provided are useful for evaluation of leaders, or self-evaluation and reflection. For example, the principles include “articulate a vision”, “think and act strategically”, “act decisively”, and “build leadership in others”. In my view it is useful for a leader to reflect periodically on how well each of these tasks is being performed.

There are many different opinions on what leadership is, and how a leader should behave. Some think that a good leader should engage in hundreds of key actions, whereas others think that only a few actions are necessary. In my opinion the list of principles distilled by the author is a good one, well worth consideration by any leader. Particular emphasis is placed on the last principle, “place common interest first”, which is described as the most vital of all leadership principles.


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