Principles of leadership

I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to inspiring workplaces with great leaders and thinkers of all shapes and styles. And through my observations and own experiences, I’ve picked up on some core principles that I find prevalent in all great leaders.

First and foremost, I find the most fundamental principle of leadership to be empathy. It is not management, power, or hierarchal position. And it’s not how extroverted or charismatic you are. It’s the consistent and deliberate practice of placing yourself in the shoes of your customers and the people you work with. The second principle is ego. More specifically; the ability to control it and detect when it is influencing your behaviour. Everyone has an ego, but it is especially damaging if allowed to reign over your decision making. And finally; direction. Direction is about doing the right thing; maintaining focus on what matters, and filtering any external noise which detracts from this focus.

The leadership equation


Take away your ego, add empathy and direction, and you have leadership.

In reality, there is a good degree of overlap and crossover between these principles. For example, you cannot be empathetic if you are egotistic. And you cannot be focused on what matters if you are not empathetic. But for the sake of clarity, I will go into the details of each principle separately.


Empathy is about seeing the world through other people’s eyes, and leading through their perspectives, wants and needs. Humans have the natural inclination to dwell inside the mental cocoons of their own psyche. The remarkable leader is one who develops the ability to look, feel and think beyond themselves, and understand the viewpoints and thought patterns of others. This is the single most powerful mental skill you can possess, not just in the domain of leadership, but in every aspect of life that involves people.

Great leaders empathise with the people that surround them, and great companies empathise with their customers and the markets they seek to penetrate. Empathy-driven companies solve real problems for the customer, and thus succeed. Ego-driven companies solve problems that don’t exist or don’t matter (e.g. revenue, profits, etc) and thus fail.

Here are some practical way you can practice empathy:


Ego is about self-awareness and introspection. While empathy is about looking into others, ego is about looking into and understanding yourself.  Everyone has an ego. Yes, you too. It’s unavoidable, and it’s human. Your ego has the potential to be highly destructive, and people who are most effective at leading keep their egos from driving their behaviour. Ego-induced mind states and behaviour include wanting to be right, wanting to be obeyed, defensiveness, personalising events, feeling offended and feeling angry.

Ego-driven leadership can be a blocker to utilising and unlocking the talents and skills present in a team. You can either lead through your ego, and keep these talents locked away, or you can disregard your ego and lead through others. This means enabling others to be leaders themselves in some shape or form, whether it is advocating a good idea, or empowering an individual or group to take ownership over something that matters to them.

Ways you can practice the principle of ego include:


Direction is the constant, unrelenting focus on what matters, and what makes an impact. 

Opinions don’t matter; data matters. Words don’t matter; actions do. What your ego says doesn’t matter, but your gut instinct, which is a product of your intuition and past experiences, does. (Yes, there is a difference). Your vision doesn’t matter, if it doesn’t resonate with the customers that you seek to attract.

Direction is also just as much about enforcing focus, as it is about implementing it.

How you can practice good direction:

In essence

In essence, what does an empathetic, introspective (not ego driven), and focused (directed) leader look like? They know what matters for the company, and they listen and delegate well. They do not lose their temper often, and they shield the team against noise that detracts from focus. They are empathetic and conscious of the need for self-development of the people around them. They are easy to talk to, and approachable, but extremely firm and relentless with maintaining focus. They do not jump to conclusions on poor performance, but they do not hesitate to relieve people of their roles within good reason. They lead by example, and are willing to get their hands dirty. And finally, they can be just like you and I.

Really, this is just an idealistic view of leadership which reflects my personal experiences and viewpoints. There are vastly differing styles of leadership which prove to be effective in different contexts. And mostly importantly, there is also no such thing as a perfect, empathetic, ego-free, focused leader. The human condition means you will sway from these principles from time to time, and you will make mistakes. You will lose your temper, get offended, or sometimes engage in destructive behaviour. But the more you consciously make the effort to develop these skills and traits, the more positive impact you will make in whatever you may be engaged in.


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