Five tips to inspire first-time leaders

Written by
Kirk Lawrence

07 Sep 2016

07 Sep 2016 • by Kirk Lawrence

70 % of companies report moderate to severe leadership shortages. As an estimated 85 million baby boomers retire or take on less demanding roles, the global leadership shortage will only escalate.

I bring a practitioner’s approach to this area with more than 35 years of experience leading large and small organizations. I offer the following leadership tips based on my own experience that organizational leaders can use to inspire and direct leadership development in their organizations.

Tip 1: To be a good leader, first be a good follower

Most leaders start in humble, entry-level positions and work their way up the corporate ladder, and this is a good thing. Emerging leaders who work their way up learn about what motivates them and their co-workers and what makes a team work well together to achieve goals. They also learn what good—and not so good—leadership is, and this allows them to develop empathy and compassion for those they will one day lead. In essence, they learn key “followership” lessons that will serve them well when they become leaders.

Good followers learn five skills that will serve them well as good leaders:

  • Awareness
  • Diplomacy
  • Courage
  • Collaboration
  • Critical thinking

Tip 2: Listen and learn

Emerging leaders need to understand that unless their predecessor was fired, which can happen but is not the norm, the person they just replaced spent years learning, growing, making mistakes, and getting better and better at the job. New leaders should take a few weeks to really listen and learn. To hone listening skills, new and emerging leaders should:

  • Know what they don’t know.
  • Actively listen and care for the messenger.
  • Use 360 degree listening—meet face to face.
  • Don’t interrupt. 

Tip 3: Practice the ethic of reciprocity

The ethic of reciprocity is known by many as the Golden Rule—to treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves—but is really is a universal ethic that spans religions, philosophical, and secular systems. It is also an ethic that has worked its way into leadership theory and practice. The ethic of reciprocity is not just applicable to leaders—it a pretty good rule for how to live life. 

Tip 4: Dont confuse being liked with being respected

Organisations must coach young leaders about the difference between being liked and being respected. They must be coached that they will have to make difficult decisions that are not popular in order to make their organisation better. And that they’d better be prepared to sell their teams on the decision to get buy in. 

Tip 5: At the end of the day, it is your integrity that defines you

New leaders should be coached on why integrity matters and how their organizations support integrity in leaders. In a 2012 white paper for the Center for Creative Leadership, authors William Gentry, Kristen Cullen, and David Altman identified nine things leaders do to show integrity:

  1. They support the team even under pressure.
  2. They take responsibility for their problems; they accept mistakes and failures and learn from them.
  3. They help others without expecting something in return, but they help because it is the right thing to do.
  4. They still live by their principles when given power.
  5. They treat low-level employees with respect.
  6. They don’t waste their free time. They use it as an opportunity to create or learn something.
  7. They surround themselves with peers who push them to be better.
  8. They don’t pretend to know everything.
  9. They welcome valid criticism.


It has been my experience that these tips on how to inspire young leaders are consistent across industries and organisational structures. Organisations can help ensure the success of new leaders in their organizations by coaching them on being good followers, respecting and expanding on the good work of their predecessors, practicing reciprocity, learning how to gain respect, and perhaps most importantly, maintaining their integrity.