John Addison: Why Real Leaders Do What Is Right

UPDATED: March 28, 2016
PUBLISHED: March 28, 2016

So often, I hear leaders say a choice they made was a “matter of principle.” I find myself thinking an awful lot that that doesn’t mean what they think it means. Especially when, more often than not, it’s pretty obvious their decisions and actions had a lot less to do with principle and more to do with something else—like what is best for them. And the organization and its mission seems to be an afterthought at best. This kind of leading may work in the short term, but the veil eventually falls away, and those true, unprincipled motives come to light.

Real leaders, on the other hand, do make their decisions based on principle. You can usually tell because their choices and actions tend to be defining moments in their lives—moments that reveal who they really are, or moments that put them on the path to the leader they will become. Sometimes it does both.

Related: John Addison: The Real Leadership Quiz

If you want to be a real leader who doesn’t just give good lip service, you have to approach your leadership role (whether it’s official or not) with a mindset based on principle.

Do what’s right.

It sounds simple, but when you are the leader, it falls on you to make decisions that are in the best interest of your people and the organization. It means your job, your focus, has to be on the long-term benefits of the enterprise, on making principled decisions based on the company’s mission—not what might work at this exact moment or what’s popular. And, whatever choices you do make, know you will never make everyone happy. If you try to make everyone happy, you will make no one happy.

Trust your gut.

Learn to trust your gut for the right answer. As a leader, you may get data and numbers, but then you have to rely heavily on your instincts to decide what needs to happen next. You have to have enough faith in yourself to convince everyone else it’s the right thing, especially when it’s not the most popular thing.

Create growth.

As a real leader, you’ll learn to understand your role is less about your own growth and more about that of your team and of the company. Ensuring their growth will be your biggest job, and the only way to do that is to lead with purpose and values in mind—even when it’s hard. Your job as the leader is to be a guiding principle and to guide on principle. Any other kind of leadership will lead to the stagnation of the mission and the enterprise.

You have to decide: Do you want your legacy to be the guy who did the popular thing that everyone loved but sank the company? Or do you want to be the guy who made the tough, principled decisions and led the company to greatness?

Related: John Addison: When the World Seems Against You, Here Are 4 Tips for Being a Mentally Tough Leader

John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-seller. Renowned for his insight and wisdom on leadership, personal development and success, John is a sought-after speaker and motivator. Read more on his blog, and follow John on Facebook and Twitter.