Don’t Over-Complicate It – 7 Simple Truths for Leadership Success

Complicated DrawingWe tend to over-complicate things in life, and when it comes to defining what successful leadership looks like, we reallyreally, over-complicate it. Much of what constitutes leadership success comes down to common sense, but unfortunately it’s not always common practice.

Searching the shelves of your local bookstore (do those still exist?) or doing a search on would lead you to believe that to be a successful leader you’ll need to discover the keys, take the right steps, obey the laws, figure out the dysfunctions, embrace the challenge, ascend the levels, look within yourself, look outside yourself, form a tribe, develop the right habits, know the rules, break the rules, be obsessed, take control, let go of control, learn the new science, or discover the ancient wisdom. Did I say we like to over-complicate things?

I don’t think leadership should be that complicated. If you’re looking for leadership success, consider these seven simple truths:

1. There aren’t any shortcuts – Leadership is hard work and most of it is on the job training. Formal education and ongoing development are essential parts of developing your leadership competency, but don’t think you can transform yourself into a great leader by reading a certain book or taking a particular training course. Great leaders are built by being in the game, not by standing on the sidelines or sitting in the classroom.

2. Great leaders start by being great followers – Most successful leaders were successful followers at some point. They learned how to be part of a team, put the needs of others ahead of their own, and work toward a goal bigger than themselves. In our hero-worshiping culture, we tend to place the spotlight on the individual achievements of leaders, and not pay much attention to how they cultivated those winning ways earlier in their career. Learn to be a good follower and you’ll learn what it takes to be a good leader.

3. There’s no mysterious secret to leadership success – Contrary to the titles of popular leadership books, there is no single, mysterious secret to unlocking leadership success (see truth #1). All those books I lovingly teased earlier offer valuable insights about various aspects of leadership, but most of them tell you what you already know to be true…which brings me to the next point.

4. You already know what it takes to be a good leader – Not to plagiarise Robert Fulghum, but you probably learned in kindergarten most of what it takes to be a good leader. Be nice. Play well with others. Say please and thank you. Do what you can to help others. Of course you have to mature and apply those fundamentals in adult ways like being transparent and authentic with others, challenging people to strive for their goals, holding them accountable, and having difficult conversations when needed.

5. The difference between management and leadership is overrated – Tons of books and blogs have been written debating the differences between these two concepts. Yes, each has its own unique characteristics, and yes, each of them overlap significantly in the practice of leadership and management. Leaders have to manage and managers have to lead. Learn to do them both well because they are much more similar than they are different.

6. Leaders aren’t special – We’re all bozos on the same bus. Leaders aren’t any more special than individual contributors and everyone is needed to have a successful team. If you view leadership as service, which I happen to do, you should consider your team members more important than yourself. Get your ego out of the way and you’ll be on your way to success.

7. Leadership is much more about who you are than what you do – This is probably the most important truth I’ve learned about leadership over my career. I view leadership as a calling, not a job. As a calling, leadership is about who I am—my values, beliefs, attitudes—and my actions are the visible manifestation of those inner ideals. If you want to be a successful leader, your primary focus should be on the inner work that is required, not on behavioral tricks or techniques.

So there you go, those are my seven simple truths. What do you think? What would you add, delete, or change? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. Just don’t make it too complicated.

Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts normally appear the fourth Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.

27 thoughts on “Don’t Over-Complicate It – 7 Simple Truths for Leadership Success

  1. Pingback: K.I.S. - Keep It Simple Deetslist Blog

    • Thanks Stephan! A person can only learn so much in the classroom or by watching others. You’ve got to get in the game to experience the blood, sweat, and tears to really develop yourself.

      Stay in the game!


  2. I firmly believe that we complicated a lot in how we lead our people, how they can listen to us?, how they can enhance their work?, how…?, we think in how to make them do something instead of apply all those question on ourselves and making such changes in us.
    The gap to do so between in ourselves and in themselves is quiet open, if we work on us we can have more control in our achievements contrary of our people they are in control of them.
    Then as a leader clarify and get accountability for you in first place.

  3. What you have effectively pointed out is why peer group learning can be such an important and integral component of leadership development. Yes, the knowledge and experience is commonly in the room.

    • I agree Rod. Our team members bring so much to the table in terms of skill and knowledge and it’s our job as leaders to help them unleash that power and apply toward their goals and those of the organization.


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  6. Thanks for the great read! I try to remind myself from time to time when things get complicated. “My goal is to make other leaders.”

  7. I have always overlooked the little things and for me that seems to always “over complicate it”! I have really taken on a new look at the way I lead this year. Many good reads out there, one in particular is by David Silverstein, He has a brilliant short read called Become an Elite Mental Athlete. He talks about taking care of yourself and how your body and mind should be healthy and that leads to the things in your life to run at a better performance level. That’s not a big thing, just a lot of little simple things that make leading at work for me so much better!

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  10. 7 truly simple, easy things to remind us that we’re all really in this journey together(bozos on the same bus). I’ll be sharing each of these 7 truths, one by one, and rotating them each day. 7 truths make a full week! KISS is a great reminder too. Thank you for the compassion and inspiration in your posts! Blessings to you and yours….Carissa

  11. Pingback: Don’t over Complicate it – 7 Simple Truths for Leadership Success | HENRY KOTULA

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