If You Want to Become a Great Leader, There Are 3 Simple Things You Must Do

Taking time to learn these essential skills will help you be a leader that inspires.


Tom Denz

2 years ago | 7 min read

Leadership is often fabled as a mysterious black art at which only a chosen few will excel. Terms like “born leader” only help to fuel this notion and belief.

Thousands of books have been written about great leaders in business, sport, technology and many other fields. Each of them waxing lyrical about the sixth sense great leaders possess. All painting these pictures of super-human, out of reach personalities that are just “born with it.”

But I disagree…

During my time researching, studying and practicing leadership, it has become increasingly clear to me that there are three simple truths about what makes a good leader. While these may manifest in different ways at different times, they all remain within the same three core behaviors and practices.

Leadership is a skill that can be built and exercised over time. In fact, many of the people cited as exceptional leaders are not given that tag because of some real superhuman trait, but rather because they have invested many years implementing and refining these three core behaviors.

If you want to become a great leader, therefore you can also apply your efforts to practicing the same three elements.

Let’s now look at each of them in detail.

1. Show your team a clear direction

Any team large or small needs a direction and focus in order to achieve its potential. Even the highest performing group of individuals will start to lose motivation and interest if they feel their work and effort is aimless.

This is especially important in the arena of knowledge work. For someone working in a factory, it is much easier to see what you are building, how many are completed and what is left to do. However, for someone in a desk cubicle, who is one of tens of thousands of employees, it can be difficult to see where you fit in, what value to provide and ultimate what is your purpose.

This is where a leader needs to step in a show the team where they are headed. While it may not always be possible to reveal the full picture and plan, it is possible to show the next step or milestone.

A team who can see where they are going and even better, why they are going there, will be much more engaged and committed to the tasks in support of the aim. Each team member needs to understand what is expected of them and how it fits into the overall efforts and aims of the team.

Key Idea: A leader needs to clearly define what the team is trying to achieve and what each person is responsible for.

2. Give your team what they need to succeed

Most people want to do a good job. They take pride in their work and they want to make a success of it.

Your job as a leader is to help equip them and clear the way so they can get on with the job they have.


Every job that ever existed requires tools. It doesn’t matter if it is a computer, a hammer, a vehicle or a simple pencil, your team will need the right tools to do their job well.

Your team don’t just need tools, they need the right tools.

A colleague of mine used to work in a heavy engineering company. The leadership team was very focused on lean principles, efficiency, and cost-saving. One of the side effects of this focus was an effort to cut costs by making the hand tools a disposable item. Instead of buying expensive, high-quality hand tools, they would buy cheap spanners and wrenches in big quantities and then make sure the operators knew there was ready supply in the storeroom and they could access them whenever they needed a new one.

That all sounded very good in principle and planning, but the outcome wasn’t as they had expected. Instead of saving money, it actually ended up costing them more, but not for the reason you might think.

It wasn’t that the overall cost of tools increased, but rather the cost of rework and injury. As the operators started to use the tools, the lower quality soon became apparent. When force was applied, the tools began to bend, twist and even break in the operator's hands. This not only caused damage to the parts but also caused a series of strains, sprains, and cuts to the operators using them.

As you can imagine instead of making the operators happy with an endless supply of tools, instead they made them frustrated and disappointed.

What the leadership team hadn’t taken into account was the fact that the operators took pride in what they were doing. They focused on producing high-quality assemblies, that not only functioned well and were durable but also looked good and well made. But to achieve this they needed high-quality tools that gripped the nuts and bolts without slipping, allowing them to exert enough force to tighten them up.

By taking away the high-quality tools and replacing them with cheaper, low-quality alternatives, the leadership team had taken away their team’s ability to do a good job.

Regardless of the work environment, it is a key responsibility and task of a leader to establish what their team needs to do their job. Then once having established what is needed, the leader sets to work leveraging their skills, knowledge, and network to get the right tools. That is where the leader needs to show their value and experience. Let the team tell you what they need and then you put your efforts and creativity into sourcing the tools within any conditions and constraints of the business.

As the leader your job is to shield your team from the politics and budgetary limitations, using your skills and creativity to find the right tools for them.

It is also important to note that not all tools are physical. Skills and training also make up a huge part of how capable, confident and competent an employee is able to do their job. Providing the right training and skills-based instruction further allows the employee to do a great job.

Key idea: A leader asks, listens and learns what their team needs to do a good job. Then puts their own skills and experience to use to provide those tools and training.

3. Help your team understand how they are performing

Every team wants to perform well. But for some teams, it is easier to see their own progress. A soccer team knows immediately if they are winning or losing, gaining possession or losing it, creating chances or missing opportunities.

However, if you work in a small team, in a large corporation of hundreds of other teams, it can be very difficult sometimes to see if and how you are actually progressing and performing. People want to do a good job and will get very quickly disheartened and demotivated if they have no idea if their work and effort are of value or making a difference.

Again, using the factory analogy from earlier, if you are working on an assembly line and the daily target is 100 units, you immediately know how far along you are and what is left to do. You know if you are ahead of schedule or behind the target. You have immediate feedback.

For many jobs, that same level of visibility and feedback is not present. As a result, it can leave employees somewhat in limbo regarding their progress and performance. It is perfectly possible to spend 40 hours working hard all week and get to the end without knowing how or what you have achieved. You know you worked hard, you know you were busy, but you don’t have any idea if you actually made a real difference to anyone or anything. It is not hard to imagine that this can very quickly spiral into a feeling of worthlessness and despair.

As a leader, it is your job to help your team find ways to measure their progress and performance in a way that is clear and easily understandable. The true opportunity for the leader here is to put their own abilities to work to find ways to achieve this in support of the team. In complex organizations and operations, it can often be difficult to find the right marker or measure of success. It takes a creative effort to help uncover measures of value.

Key idea: A leader looks for ways to help their team see how far they have come and how far they have left to go.

When you are first placed in charge of a new team, it can feel very intimidating. You immediately feel under pressure that you must perform and show that you are up to the task. You quickly start to look for ways that you can stamp your authority and show that you are in control.

If you have been paying attention you will have noticed that each of the key points had one thing in common. Each of them started with a verb. And precisely none of them are about you.

  • Show
  • Give
  • Help

Each of these verbs describes what should be at the core of a leader. The desire and willingness to help their team succeed. Unfortunately, so many people who get put into leadership and management positions lose sight of this or indeed never see it at all. As a leader, your job is to act as a lever to help get the best out of a group of people.

It is not about you, it is about them

Thanks for reading.


Created by

Tom Denz







Related Articles