A quick look in any bookstore (or Amazon, if you prefer) reveals literally hundreds of different diet books.  Whether it’s Atkins, Keto, Vegan, or South Beach, each diet takes a different approach to nutrition.  At its core, though, losing weight boils down to only four words: eat less, exercise more.  When all is said and done, that’s the only real way to become a healthier you.

Leadership is no different.  There are hundreds of books on the subject, and many different philosophies of leadership, some covering a broad spectrum of ideas, others more narrowly defined.  However, at its heart, leadership is about a few core principles – foundational ideas shared among all schools of thought.

Sitting in Atlanta traffic provides ample time for thought and reflection.  The other day, during my slow daily commute, I started thinking about the basics of leadership. I asked myself the question, “If I had to distill leadership to its most basic elements, what would they be? What are the core principles of this otherwise complex subject?”  Like chemists and physicists, I think there is a lot to be learned by breaking things down to their basic components and studying what you find.  It often helps you to understand the big picture better, to see how different components fit together.  John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.  Nothing more, nothing less.”  That’s absolutely true.  This simple definition gives us a foundation to build from – we must create equally simple action steps to go with it.  If leadership is indeed influence, how do we put that knowledge into action?

So, here’s what I came up with – three sentences -12 words total – which I think capture the essence of leadership in a nutshell:

Treat people right

Know where you are going

Take them with you

That’s it.  Pretty simple, right?  Think of all that money I just saved you on leadership books and training!

If we examine these three ideas, we can see all that is involved in leading others.  “Treat people right” is about acting with integrity, creating a positive work environment, and valuing others. It involves concepts such as character, values, morale, respect, and relationships. “Know where you are going” is about having a clearly defined mission and inspiring a shared vision, what Simon Sinek refers to as “Finding Your Why.” This requires a set of common values, clear goals, and a vision for the future, which then translates into operational tasks.  “Take them with you” is about inspiring others to be the best version of themselves. To take someone with you as a leader requires influence, teamwork, coaching, mentoring, and a personal investment in the development of those you lead. “Take them with you” goes to the very core of leadership, since the true measure of our success is not just about getting others to follow us, but creating additional leaders along the way.

If you want to be a successful leader, your focus must be on these three core principles.  They form the heart and soul of all leadership.  Fail to perform any of the three, and you will fail as a leader.  Master all three and people will follow you anywhere.

~ Written by Tony Leonard, Co-Founder- Guardian Leadership