Game Rules for Effective Leadership

What makes a manager, an effective all-star leader? Why can’t you simply wear a “Leadership” team jersey and command respect and engagement among those you’re leading? What prevents the project team from being on board with your idea, even though you’re saying all the right words?

You can’t be an effective leadership without understanding the game rules. These rules form the basis of what you can only see externally – how a leader carries him/herself in physical appearance and conveys messages. What effective leaders tend to do differently is that they have a value system, talents and intention which make the internal leader inside match the exterior one they present to you.

I can recall from my experience a particular project when inside matched outside. I was leading a challenging project at work as a junior project manager. Project complexity, the client environment and the new solution being developed required a high-level of project management discipline which was something I’m good at. Several months into the project, having found my grove with the cadence of meetings, rigour of reporting and the level of detail in the project schedule, a senior team member spoke up and said to me, “You’re a very good project manager and leader.”

The “leader” part was a surprise to me. I didn’t feel like I was being a leader, nor was I particularly trying. I was just keeping my eye on the ball. When we discussed what that meant to him, he was referring to how convincing and decisive I was on the project. I took action. I handled disputes and conflicts with grace. I stayed level-headed to be the rock that my team could lean on. He felt I was motivating others with how much energy I gave to make the project succeed and the passion in which I took the big and the small tasks so seriously.

When the intention and confidence is truly felt, the outward leadership follows. My words and actions matched. There was no posturing required. I simply did my job with focus and consistency.

Here’s what you need to know to step up as an effective leader.

The value system of great leaders

  • Believe in what you do. When you are passionate, honest and self-aware, confidence follows.
  • Be consistent, reliable and yourself. Real leaders use no tricks or manipulation – no “putting on a good show.”
  • Exploit your talents. Maximize contributions by giving your unique energy and expertise to the project.
  • Be a student. Good leaders are always learning and have strong mentors.
  • Be focused. Effective leaders know the long view in addition to the details. Keep your eye on the end goals of the project.
  • Know what you don’t know. Admit you are not the smartest, but you also don’t need to be. Leverage the talents and strengths of your team.
  • Set an example through your words and actions. Step down from that pedestal. You are a part of the team and no task is too small for you to roll up your sleeves and help.

Leadership rules that are not meant to be broken

  • Don’t sabotage morale. Avoid complaining, disrespecting and discrediting the efforts of others. A leader never complains about other colleagues or team members.
  • Don’t just go with the flow. Be flexible, optimistic and adapt to changes. Avoid being passive with a “let’s see what happens” attitude. Often leaders plan and anticipate risks and mitigate accordingly.
  • Don’t watch others fail. Strong leaders exhibit emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills). Building talent and coaching others is a key ingredient to success. Your ability to support and guide team members’ professional development is critical.
  • Don’t micromanage. Empowerment engages teams and leverages their potential. Avoid nitpicking which is wasting your valuable energy and time.
  • Don’t play favourites. Be inclusive and sensitive to diverse and multi-cultural needs.
  • Don’t avoid the truth. That elephant in the room or the issue percolating to the surface requires a leader to face reality, not avoid it. The leader will be able to face the issue without laying blame.

Without following the game rules, you’re just going through the motions or putting on an appearance of leadership. Others will see right through that. Be real. Leadership, game on.

Email me at for career questions you have or if you would like a PDF copy of this blog post.

Curious to try 20 self-discovery strategies and exercises for your career direction?
Join others who now see their strengths, weaknesses, drivers and values in a new way with this self-guided DIY resource. If you liked this post, you’ll love my book, “Finding Passion: A Self-Discovery Approach for Navigating Career Crossroads” to help you ask the tough questions you’ve been avoiding and rediscover what you really want in your career. Available on Amazon.

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