The most important rule of being a good leader

Herein lies the golden rule of managing a team of actual human people.

I’m leading a team again now, a few months after I handed off my last team. It’s a different team this time, so with any luck we’ll get the benefit of all the things I learned the first time around.

I mentioned this to a friend who asked the obvious follow-up, “well, what did you learn?”

In response, I probably rambled for a while, but you now get the benefit of me having tossed it around in my mental tumble dryer. If I were to put the most important rule in a sentence it’s this:

To be an effective leader you must care for the project and the people on the team in equal parts.

Unbalance your concerns, and you get terrible results.

For example: if you care too much about the results, you can only crack the whip or ignore the team’s feelings or steal their lunches from the office fridge so many times before they get fed up.

On the other side: if you care too much about the people, you will create an environment in which it’s acceptable to do bad work. Soldiers need a direction to shoot and ramifications when they shoot at civilians.

You need to hold the team accountable in respect of the project, and you need to set up reasonable project parameters in respect of the people.

And when I say people – you are included in that. Any leader is also part of the team. You have to care about yourself as well. You can’t lead a team drowning in self-pity.

This is not a hard concept, nor a complex one. It’s just one of those things that, when you hear it, makes you think, “oh, shit, that makes sense!” That’s how it went for me anyway, and forming it into words made a lightbulb in my head go off. Er, on. Light came out of the bulb. You know what I mean.

“So … but … I don’t care about people,” you’re saying.

Well, then you can’t lead an effective team. Ever. (Read: maybe sometimes in certain circumstances where it would be totally okay.)

And now that I’m writing this out, it’s possible this is also the golden rule for working on a team and not just for leading it.

Something to chew on.


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