Tranductrung2009, CC4.0
Source: Tranductrung2009, CC4.0

I’ve read a lot about leadership and been career coach to many leaders and managers. In respect for your time, here, I’ve given myself the challenge of telling you the most valuable ideas I can within a five-minute read.

Adapt your job to your strengths. Some leaders are brilliant at hiring, planning, managing people, managing projects, and/or inspiring. While most leaders need to do a combination of those, leaders and managers usually have some power to adjust their job description, delegating their weak areas. What are your preferred activities, strengths, and weaknesses? Not sure? Should you solicit anonymous feedback from colleagues and supervisees? One way to get that is 15five.

Hire wisely. You may be forced to keep some employers you’d rather not. But where possible, replace employees who aren’t A or at least B players with stronger performers. You, your employees, and customers will appreciate it. And you have a high probability of finding at least B players---if you search wisely:

  • Know that for most positions, intelligence, drive, and being low-maintenance trump specific experience or skills.
  • Recruit by asking for referrals from your trusted colleagues. Relying on respondents to a job ad is dangerous. As someone who has coached countless job seekers, on average, weaker applicants do more to hide their weaknesses, for example, paper over their employment gaps and poor performance on previous jobs. Many weak job seekers also do remarkably unethical things that I won’t list here to avoid promulgating them.
  • Screen initial applicants with a short online or emailed quiz that taps candidates’ ability to do a few of the job's common, difficult tasks. To avoid applicants' hiring a ringer to answer the questions, let them know that interviewed candidates will take a parallel quiz at the interview.
  • The interview should consist mainly of simulations. For example, if the person will be running meetings, have him or her lead a few-minute one with the interviewers playing the role of the meeting attendees. Also, probe claimed accomplishments, for example, asking, “Tell me the details about how you saved the company $200,000.” Avoid questions that can be coached in advance such as “Tell me about yourself,” “What’s your greatest strength and weakness,” and “Why the long employment gap?”
  • Before hiring, ask the top candidate or two for a half-dozen references, including phone numbers. Call each after-hours saying something like, “I’m hiring for an important position, requiring excellent intelligence, drive, and a low-maintenance personality. I’m considering Mary Jones for the position. If you think she’s excellent on those three dimensions, I’d greatly appreciate a call. If not, no need to call back.” Most people are reluctant to give a bad reference but are willing to not call back to get that point across. Of course, there are reasons other than disliking a candidate for not calling back but unless you get at least three of six call-backs, beware.

Inspire through a combination of vision, walking the talk, ongoing earned praise, and criticism with teeth.

  • Vision  Make clear to your employees that even a mundane but ethical goal is worth striving for. For example, the head of an accounts-payable department might remind the employees, “Getting the right amount of money without delay into people’s hands ensures that they can feed their families and businesses pay their bills. That’s important.”
  • Walk the talk. A lazy, unethical, or otherwise low-standards boss cannot expect his or her employees to do better. Few lazy people rise to leadership but some do burn out. Realize that if you start slacking, you risk your employees doing the same.
  • Give only earned praise. Too many leaders and managers give praise so easily it’s devalued. Others give too little praise for fear of engendering complacency or a request for an excessive pay increase. Be liberal with truly earned praise, for example, with a hand-written note. Employees love taking those home to show to family.
  • Criticism should not be viewed as a dirty word. Tactful criticism with, where possible, suggestions for improvement should be an ongoing part of every manager/supervisee relationship. Managing by walking around, giving in-context feedback should be standard procedure.  
  • Hire slow, fire fast. Usually, within weeks if not days of hiring, it becomes clear whether an employee is likely to--without spending too much time coaching them-- be at least a B player. If not, it’s wise to counsel the person to find a better suited position. Doing that rather than starting documentation for a termination procedure can be less painful for all concerned. Do hire slowly; cut losses quickly.
  • Don’t rely on excessive pay or pecuniary rewards to motivate. Generally, as long as compensation is at least adequate, employers are motivated primarily by their job being ethical, not too demanding or too easy, and which they receive earned praise and tactful feedback. If employees are demanding more pay and you think they’re already reasonably paid, that can be a sign of problems within your workgroup. Investigate.

Case-by-case, weigh the pros and cons of whether to make a decision on your own or get input. We live in an era in which unilaterally made decisions are often viewed as too hierarchical. But I’ve seen many workplaces ground into torpor or tepid decisions through too-frequent use group input, let alone decision-making by consensus. On a case-by-case basis, decide whether the speed and boldness of a unilateral decision outweigh the benefits of group input.

The takeaway

Even though this may have been the world’s shortest course in leadership, you probably won’t adopt all its ideas. So ask yourself, “Is there at least one idea you’d like to use starting today?

HERE is a brief video in which I present similar but not identical content.

HERE is the link to an hour-long program on leadership I recently did on my KALW-FM (NPR-San Freancisco) radio program.

Dr. Nemko's nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach. Marty Nemko at

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