Scott Maxwell, CC 2.0
Source: Scott Maxwell, CC 2.0

I recently wrote The World’s Shortest Course in Leadership.  Perhaps it was too short because a number of readers have asked me to write a follow-up. Your wish is my command.

Hire slow, fire fast. One point I want to reiterate from the previous article is that key to being an effective leader is to hire slow, fire fast. Mine your network for good candidates. And if a new employee, even in the first days, shows signs you made a mistake, it's usually wise to replace the person. The time you'd spend trying to sufficiently improve the person could likely be better spent. Your employees and customers will appreciate your acting expeditiously. To facilitate making a change, where possible, hire people on a trial basis.  I offer more on how to hire wisely in the aforementioned, World’s Shortest Course in Leadership.

Respect but suspect. Too often, one or more employees wants to sabotage you, perhaps because s/he wants your job or simply because s/he doesn't like you---personal jealousy, psychological problems, etc. Keep your antennae out.

To that end, try to surround yourself with people likely to be loyal to you yet who are intelligent and who are secure enough to disagree with you and to tell you what's really going on with the troops. 

Be crisp. Of course, crisp leadership is useful beyond in terminating a weak employee. For example, when obtaining group input, as soon as you feel the time would be better spent on something else, make the decision, usually giving your reasoning and acknowledging others' input. The good leader doesn't reflexively adhere to today's egalitarian ethos in which buy-in, input, and consensus are extolled over bold decision-making. Rather, s/he evaluates when it's most time effective to unilaterally decide. Especially in fast-moving fields such as high-tech and biotech, businesses that unnecessarily dither often go out of business.

Expert power can be more important than charisma. Much advice on leadership urges charisma, but many fine leaders are introverted, for example, Charles Schwab, Avon CEO Andrea Jung, and Warren Buffett. Their secret sauce? Expertise.That could be content expertise or in leadership, or example, excellence in leading an analysis of an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT.)

That said, storytelling and, more broadly, public speaking matters. See my article, Good Public Speaking Without Fear: And HERE, I try to demonstrate good storytelling, starting at 28:47.

Know how to inspire. Not surprisingly, prerequisite to inspiring is that a leader be an exemplar of what s/he wants others to do: hard-working, direct yet tactful where possible.

Next, you must come up with a worthy vision, if only for the next project, and be able to compellingly explain to the troops why the plan is worthy and important. That's key to inspiring employees--for them to follow your plan because it feels right.

Only secondarily use externals—rewards and punishments. Money and plum assignments don't much motivate existing employees. Similarly, too frequent praise soon loses impact. Also, strike a balance in giving criticism: Give it too rarely and you're not providing enough feedback. Criticize too often and you’ll likely demotivate your workforce.

Pivot promptly.  When a project is flagging, the effective leader quickly assesses how to adjust, often gathering input from the troops. Then, s/he inspires them to persevere by expressing fair-minded optimism that the revised plan will likely improve results and that the benefits to the workers, customers, and even society are worth the persistence.

Ethics is Priority One. Management guru Warren Bennis describes managers as people who do things right, leaders as people who do the right thing.

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

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach. You can reach him at

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