First or Worst: What Builds and Breaks Leaders

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When you move into a leadership role, nobody hands you a playbook. Maybe your boss will give you a few leadership pointers. Or, if you’re really lucky, maybe your company will put you through a new leadership school. But the sad truth is, most leaders are left to figure a lot of things out on their own.

It’s strange that more companies don’t invest in leadership development. The returns for doing so are substantial, not just in terms of developing capable leaders, but in terms of employee retention, deepening the company’s bench strength, and lowering overall company risk.

If the company you work for doesn’t invest in leadership development, you shouldn’t resign yourself to being a poor or mediocre leader. Don’t sit back and let out a big sigh and relegate yourself to being a mediocre leader. Instead, take ownership of your own development. You can learn a lot by talking to leaders you admire, reading leadership books, and watching online videos.

Of course, most of what you’ll learn about being a good leader will come from your actual experiences on the job – especially situations that challenge and perplex you. You’ll learn how to get things right by first getting a lot of things wrong.

For over thirty years, I’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours coaching and developing leaders. My company, Giant Leap Consulting, designs, develops, and delivers comprehensive leadership programs for emerging and experienced leaders. Those leaders have taught me a lot about the difference between leaders who succeed and those who don’t. What follows are some of the lessons that are worth knowing if you want to succeed as a leader.

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First or Worst: What Builds and Breaks Leaders

Leaders Who Don’t Succeed

  • Self-focused: More concerned with what they’re “getting” than giving. Overly preoccupied with the privileges leadership comes with versus the privilege that leadership is.
  • Pigheadedness: Over dominate people and situations. Bent on being the smartest person in the room. Make unilateral decisions. Value their own judgment above the judgment of others. Doesn’t listen.
  • Low EQ: Imbalanced between head and heart – overly rationalistic and logical, even when dealing with people issues. Values spreadsheets more than people.
  • Exploits Fear: Hyper-focuses on the potential for failure. Uses threats and adds “or else” to each directive. Pulls rank to remind people whose boss.
  • Easily Offended: Quick to interpret counter viewpoints as questioning their authority. Moody and temperamental. People tiptoe around their explosive ego.

Leaders Who Succeed

  • Other-focused: Knows that their success is contingent upon helping others be successful. Always aims to help everyone add more value so as to become more valuable.
  • Has a Strong Core: Embodies a set of values and principles. Always strives to do the next right thing, even when doing so comes at a personal cost. Isn’t wishy-washy.
  • Gives-A-Rip: Cares deeply about the work being done and the people doing it. Takes pride in doing a good job and doing an even better job next time. Works with urgency.
  • Seeks Personal Mastery: Sets goals and plans for achieving them. Is personally organized and disciplined with the use of their time.
  • Entrusts People: Takes time to develop relationships. Delegates as a way to develop people. There to support people, not hover over them.
  • Develops Business-mindedness: Learns how their company makes and/or loses money, and how the team they’re leading contributes to the bottom line. Learns how each function and division contributes to the entire enterprise.
  • Practices Humility: Remembers their roots. Listens without interrupting. Gives others grace and gratitude and apologizes when they don’t.


Now, are these the only things you’ll need to know as a leader? No. So you’ll have to keep learning and growing. That’s what leaders do. Consider these baseline leadership essentials table stakes. If you consistently and conscientiously strive to do the things successful leaders do, there’s a good chance you’ll be in a leadership role for a long, long time. Better yet, there’s a good chance you’ll actually enjoy being a leader!

Headshot of Bill Treasurer
Bill Treasurer

Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting, Inc., and the author of six books. Bill’s newest book, Leadership Two Words at a Time, serves as a leadership playbook that any leader can use to amp up their effectiveness, performance, and productivity. Bill recently launched the Leadership Essentials Academy, a virtual learning experience that was developed exclusively for new leaders.

For the last three decades, Bill has led courage-building workshops for thousands of leaders throughout the world, including for such renowned organizations as NASA, Accenture, UBS Bank, Spanx, Lenovo, eBay, Walsh Construction, Southern Company, Saks Fifth Avenue, the National Security Agency, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Connect with Bill on LinkedIn at

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First or Worst: What Builds and Breaks Leaders

Don’t be a leader that fails! Learn how to transition from individual contributor to leader and be successful with Bill Treasurer’s tips.

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