Leadership Secrets?

“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right”

– William McRaven, retired US Navy Admiral

There are numerous resources offering assistance and guidance in the art and science of leadership. Many popular books suggest that there are 12, 21, 36, perhaps more … essential leadership skills leaders need to master. The implication of course, is that leadership is complex. It doesn’t have to be.  Successful leaders keep it simple, and here are three little “secrets” they deploy regularly:


  1. Repeat the Important Stuff – every team member needs to know the answers to the basic “who-what-when-where-how-why” questions about your organization, and particularly your expectations! However, if you provide such information today, that doesn’t mean people will remember it tomorrow – we are all human and we often forget or don’t always hear the message completely the first time (or second or third!). Experienced leaders don’t believe you can overcommunicate. They spend time “explaining and reminding” the important things repeatedly, and in varied ways.


  1. Compound Small Improvements – The principle of “Aggregation of Marginal Gains”– means if you can identify multiple areas where you canmake small improvements, they will add up to something much greater (sometimes huge). Leaders who do this keep people connected (with the important stuff above) and at the same time, maintain focus on results and building momentum. They know that little things can make a big difference.


  1. Ask, Don’t Tell – Most people respond differently when toldto do something versus askedto do something. Why? – asking immediately includes people in the disposition or examination of an event and demonstrates respect for the individual – and people want to be respected and included! Although “telling” may result in compliance, the absence of respect and inclusion rarely results in commitment. Similarly, leaders who want to keep people “in the game” know they can do so by asking lots of questions, listening carefully to answers, and responding authentically.


Leadership is not complex (although people can be) and it is simple (although not easy). However, it must be deliberate. Skilled leaders not only perform these three secrets spontaneously, they also build them into their schedules when planning communications and interactions with their teams and constituents. A little planning ahead of time (another secret?) can go a long way for getting the best from people …

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