Anyone can manage but it takes a great deal of empathy and organization to be a successful leader. Gone are the days of dictator-like management! If you want productivity to increase you must respect the people who can provide this. This is not to say that there are not times when stern guidance is not necessary but it can be done respectfully and privately. Most people know they have to work to pay their bills, to keep their homes, to put food on their tables, and to just survive in this world. Really, they get it! So let’s not make each and every day one that they struggle to make it through. You can help people to both enjoy their work day and be productive! Here are ten steps to becoming or maintaining successful leadership:

Work smarter, not harder

I do not know too many employed people who have not heard this phrase at some point during their careers. However, even though a timeless cliche it is still the best advice running!

In busy work situations, it is so easy to get wrapped up in moving things along that you can literally come to the end of your day and have hardly any of your leader tasks completed! How often has this happened to you? This is where the remaining nine tips I am going to provide you with will help you to work smarter and not harder. Once you really grasp this concept you will find you are able to not only complete your leadership tasks but your teammates will become so efficient with their work you will not find the need to jump in.

Get to know your employees

One of the first things I taught managers to do was to take the time to get to know their employees; or as I liked to think of the people I had to supervise… teammates. We were all put together to be productive in a certain area. We were all on the same team.

Take a few minutes to talk to your teammate. Find out what that person likes about their job and ask if they have any recommendations to improve their work. Find out if there are situations that make it difficult for the person to be there each day. Find out if there are glitches within the system that actually hinders productivity. Your teammates are there, hands-on, they know if something can be improved. However, many feel their suggestions are unwelcomed. Let them know this is not true.

Get your hands dirty

I realize this contradicts the “work smarter, not harder” concept above but it is a necessary part of becoming a good leader. Make it a habit to work in your teammate’s position for a good 30 minutes a few times a week. Do this until you have worked in each position that you supervise. You cannot understand what each person deals with until you have done it yourself. Work beside your teammate, talk to him or her, ask questions, and listen. If you already know the job they are doing then offer tips and guide but do not dictate. Be patient and share why doing a task a certain way makes it more productive, in your opinion. But, don’t be so close-minded that you miss the point of this exercise. The point is to not only understand the job but to find out if there are better ways to do the job. Sometimes your way is not the best way. Be open-minded and listen.

Start the Day Bursts

This was one of my and my teammate’s favorite things! I termed them “burst meetings” and held one at the start of every single shift. We would gather together and each teammate would say one short, positive reason they were excited about the day. It did not have to be about their job! It is super important to remember your teammates have a life outside of work, let them talk about that if they wish. I let them know my door was open and if anyone had anything happening in their life that would hinder their productivity for that particular day to please come and talk with me. We would then take three really deep breathes and I would tell the group why I appreciated each and every one of them.

99.9% of the time you cannot do anything to solve their problems but you can be an ear. Sometimes they just need someone to know what they are going through. Be empathetic to the situation. You may not be able to do anything to help but you can let them know you care.

Recognize Strengths

Listen carefully! This is so important. The best way to discover your teammate’s strengths is to offer incentives! Find ways to offer small incentives for great suggestions, superior work, low error rates, or other areas that can improve. During one of my management positions, I noticed some of my workers were able to get out of the work area and earn bonuses where others could not. However, the ones that were not able to leave their post were the ones that provided the product to the ones that left. Not a very fair situation, right?

I then put into place an incentive program that made it where the workers who could not leave would earn a small, cash payout for superior work on our most productive workdays. If they were able to put out a product that was free of errors they would each earn a cash incentive. It was a huge hit! Productivity increased, error rates plummeted, and our customers were elated! I received frequent calls from customers asking what changed and thanking us for the change. On top of that, I always hit my bonus goals! It was a win-win situation and well worth the effort to keep it running.

Appreciate Loyalty

Sometimes you may have a worker that is not as productive as you would like but their loyalty to their job was unwavering. Embrace their strengths. I once had an employee that was pretty slow on her feet but extremely good with building relationships with our customers. Her phone skills were superb and our customers looked forward to seeing her in the mornings. However, my regional director observed her work and recommended I let her go! I quickly informed him of her strengths and suggested an alternative situation. In the end, I kept a loyal teammate and I worked with her to improve her floor production but increased her time working with our customers. It is rare to find someone who will be at their job every day, no matter their personal life situation. She was one of those rare people and no way was I going to let her go and she remained in that position for a good 10 years after I moved to assist with the opening of another business. My strength was assisting owners with getting their business up and running. I loved what I did and was very successful for many years.

Employee Swaps

Obviously, this will not apply to every type of management situation but when it can, you need to do it! Have you ever worked in a position and discovered there was another area, within that company, that you knew you would really love? This happens all the time. Find those people! Help them to get to an area they know they will love being in. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve helped to restructure an organization and 99.9% of the time it was a win-win situation. Life is just too short to go through each and every day doing something that does not make you feel good. Very few people will ever truly want to work outside of their home but that does not mean they have to spend that time performing a task that is daunting, boring, or just flat out “the last thing they ever thought they would ever have to do.” Don’t be afraid to let other leaders know you are willing to swap employees. They may have someone who would be an asset to your area and vice-versa. Talk to human resources and see if a swap is a possibility.

To-do Lists Work

Take 20 minutes at the end of your day and develop a to-do list for the following day. I never went into a new day without a to-do list. Make this a habit and stick with it. You will find yourself becoming more productive each day. This also helps you to “let go” of your work when you leave for the evening.

Training is Key

I absolutely cannot stress this one enough. This was another one of my strengths. I developed training programs in just about every management position I was in. I took the time to ensure the leaders understood the importance of training. If it was a situation where their teammates were involved with their customers I would then ensure the leaders had a solid quality customer service training program in place. Remember, good training is on-going. If you see an area where your teammate can improve, help him or her to do just that. I’ve had many employees that had to go through training more than once before they really grasp the job. But, when they did, they were some of my best production workers! Our team ran smooth and productive! Never assume someone does not have what it takes just because they need extra training! Those are typically the ones who want to do the best job they can and do it properly! Embrace them.

Lend them your Ear

This goes along with the advice provided at the start of the day burst meetings. It is always important for your teammates to understand you are there for them. Even if you cannot listen when they want you to do not dismiss and move on. Ensure you schedule a time to listen. If you have a time constraint then communicate that before you meet with them. If someone comes to your door and you have 5 minutes before you have to leave for a meeting, say so! But, do so gently and respectfully, you can say something like, “I want to be here for you and you are important to me but I have to be at a meeting in 5 minutes. Can you share in that amount of time or would you like to come back when I can give you more time?” Just as you want your leaders to hear you, so do your teammates! Be there for them as much as possible.


I hope this provided you with a few skills you can use to become a more productive leader. I’m going to leave you with a few books that made a big difference in how I lead my team. Some you can get as audiobooks and listen to during your commute to and from work. Do it! It is worth the time to read or listen and learn.

Recommendations to improve leadership skills

It’s Your Ship by Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff

When Captain Abrashoff took over as commander of USS Benfold, it was like a business that had all the latest technology but only some of the productivity. Knowing that responsibility for improving performance rested with him, he realized he had to improve his own leadership skills before he could improve his ship. Within months, he created a crew of confident and inspired problem-solvers eager to take the initiative and responsibility for their actions. The slogan on board became “It’s your ship,” and Benfold was soon recognized far and wide as a model of naval efficiency. How did Abrashoff do it? Against the backdrop of today’s United States Navy, Abrashoff shares his secrets of successful management including:
See the ship through the eyes of the crew: By soliciting a sailor’s suggestions, Abrashoff drastically reduced tedious chores that provided little additional value.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: The more Abrashoff communicated the plan, the better the crew’s performance. His crew eventually started calling him “Megaphone Mike,” since they heard from him so often.
Create discipline by focusing on purpose: Discipline skyrocketed when Abrashoff’s crew believed that what they were doing was important.
Listen aggressively: After learning that many sailors wanted to use the GI Bill, Abrashoff brought a test official aboard the ship-and held the SATs forty miles off the Iraqi coast.
From achieving amazing cost savings to winning the highest gunnery score in the Pacific Fleet, Captain Abrashoff’s extraordinary campaign sent shock waves through the U.S. Navy. It can help you change the course of your ship, no matter where your business battles are fought. Purchase on Amazon at:

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

If you’ve never read The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, you’ve been missing out on one of the best-selling leadership books of all time. If you have read the original version, then you’ll love this new expanded and updated one. Internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, and author John C. Maxwell has taken this million-seller and made it even better:

Every Law of Leadership has been sharpened and updated
Seventeen new leadership stories are included
Two new Laws of Leadership are introduced
The new evaluation tool will reveal your leadership strengths—and weaknesses
New application exercises in every chapter will help you grow
Why would Dr. Maxwell make changes to his best-selling book?

“A book is a conversation between the author and reader,” says Maxwell. “It’s been ten years since I wrote The 21 Laws of Leadership. I’ve grown a lot since then. I’ve taught these laws in dozens of countries around the world. This new edition gives me the opportunity to share what I’ve learned.” Purchase on Amazon at:

Extraordinary Influence by Dr. Tim Irwin

The age-old question for every leader—how do we bring out the best in those we lead? Anyone who has run a company, raised a family, lead an army, or coached a team struggles to find the key to help others excel and realize their potential. It is surprising how often we resort to criticism vs. an approach that actually results in a better worker and a better person. What if we could speak Words of Life that transform those under our influence and ignite fires of intrinsic motivation? What if those we lead found great purpose in what they do and worked at their jobs with all their heart? Isn’t that what leaders, parents, and teachers really want? Ultimately, don’t we hope to foster intrinsic motivation so that the individuals we lead become better employees, better students or better athletes? Recent discoveries of brain science and the wisdom of top CEO’s that Dr. Tim Irwin interviewed for this book give us the answers we’ve long sought.

In most organizations, the methods used to provide feedback to employees such as performance appraisal or multi-rater feedback systems, in fact, accomplish the exact opposite of what we intend. We inadvertently speak Words of Death. Brain science tells us that these methods tend to engage a natural “negativity bias” that is hardwired in us all.

Science in recent years discovered that affirmation sets in motion huge positive changes in the brain. It releases certain neurochemicals associated with well-being and higher performance. Amazingly, criticism creates just the opposite neural reaction. The most primitive part of the brain goes into a hyper-defense mode, compromising our performance, torpedoing our motivation and limiting access to our higher-order strengths.

How do we redirect employees who are out-of-line without engaging our natural “negativity bias?” Leaders must forever ban the term, “Constructive Criticism.” Brain science tells us that we can establish a connection between the employee’s work and his or her aspirations. This book calls for a new approach to align workers with an organization’s mission, strategy, and goals, called Alliance Feedback. Purchase on Amazon at: