12 Most Influential Leader Actions

12 Most Influential Leader Actions

It’s late at night when I’m writing this post. While brainstorming ideas it occurred to me how interesting it would be to research great leadership acts throughout history. Particularly I’d be interested in finding the not-so-notorious variety from the more unassuming leaders. Alas, however, I happened upon this idea too late in my writing “process.”

The intrigue of the idea did lead me to create this list of 12 influential leader actions. I scanned my memories for moments when I witnessed a leader show his true grit. Such moments aren’t always obvious for their leadership brilliance. Sometimes great leader actions aren’t known until after the fact. It’s only when we take the time to evaluate the course of events do we see those bright spots overlooked in the hurried pace of doing.

Influential leader actions encourage others to do what is right or needed.

1. Remain quiet

Filling the space with your voice can rob a poignant moment of impact. I’ve watched leaders remain silent to signal to the other person to think through a response to a given situation. Remaining quiet takes discipline. Telling, blurting out, or even directing others how to accomplish something merely reinforces the… you know.

2. Fess up to mistakes

The notion that an apology is a sign of weakness is crap. A leader who can admit to a mistake is a sign of strength. For most of us, it’s not easy to publicly explain we made a mistake. But when a leader owns his own folly, we’re watching him humble himself before us. We certainly could use a little more humility in our organizations.

3. Know your people

Every manager I coach struggles with balancing work with spending time with employees. The demands of work and projects make it easy for us to rationalize away spending time with the team. The team will deteriorate over time if people are not encouraged to connect with one another. Performance is influenced by a leader’s willingness to connect with employees.

4. Sharpen situational aptitude

Popular in academic leadership material is the topic of chameleon like leaders. Depending on the research, it’s either a good thing or a sign of a fake. I’m referring to the health ability for leaders to be like chameleons. As a leader, you need agility to shift how you interact with senior leaders, the public, with customers, and employees. Leaders who can read a crowd, interpret quickly nuances in body language and adapt his behavior perform better than the leader who believes “my way is the only way. After all this is who I am.”

5. Observe interactions

This isn’t about spying on people. Observing interactions is about paying attention to what’s happening in your teams, within the organizations. Curiosity is key here. Notice who speaks up? Who is ignored? Who quietly delivers? Who’s boastful but under-delivers? Who reaches out to others? Then apply your situational aptitude.

6. Make meaning

It’s rough in today’s work environments. Too many employees feel overworked and under-appreciated. Managers feel their hands are tied when it comes to helping employees grow in their jobs. I’ve seen too many companies create elaborate plans to show appreciation for employees only to have them fail. The plans are added to the pile of flavor of the month ideas. One major reason for the failure is leaders don’t spend enough time talking directly with and learning from their employees about why the work environment sucks.

Employees want meaningful work. It’s our job as leaders to learn what that means for employees and how it connects with the company’s goals. As long as the work environment sucks, meaningful work will struggle to survive.

Last thing on this item: I’m not against engagement or employee satisfaction surveys but too often they are substitutes for leaders hearing directly from employees where things are good and lacking.

7. Create optimism

I recently wrote about managers not waiting for upper-management to do something about improving the work environment. One way for managers to improve the work environment is to create workplace optimism. How? Here are a couple of ideas:
•  Look at the frequency of your positive interactions between you and your team and between others within the company. Jim Kouzes once explained a 3:1 ratio — three positive interactions to one negative.
•  Get to know your employees’ aspirations and help plan to accomplish them.

8. Be consistent

Be consistent in how you hold people accountable. Be consistent in coaching. Consistently honor your word. Consistently recognize contributions. Consistently lead to the shared vision. Be consistent in showing your leadership philosophy.

9. Be spontaneous

I see a lot of managers carrying the weight of everyone’s work on their shoulders. Absent is fun and spontaneity. All work and no play whittles down morale, productivity, engagement and a whole host of positive inputs to success. Influential leader will find ways to break up the work and add fun to the day or the moment.

10. Uphold high expectations

This action is woven throughout many of the others in this list. Influential leaders help people uncover their strengths and then collaboratively map out a plan to apply them. This joint discovery and plan position a leader to uphold high expectations of each person on his team. Influential leaders know what people can accomplish and stand for greatness in each person on the team.

11. Don’t look away

When performance slips or if trouble surfaces, don’t look away. The problems will not go away. If left unattended, the problems get uglier and develop roots. As painful or awkward as the problems may be, influential leaders work with others to relieve their grip on team dynamics and performance which can suffocate the culture otherwise.

12. Have a stand

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The quote is attributed to Malcolm X. I find it to be a motivating force to know what is important, what I believe. Influential leaders constantly groom their leadership philosophy, letting it grow informed by failures and successes. Leaders who have taken a stand for making things better for others can see when decisions or actions threaten this important belief. How powerful it is when a leader swiftly acts to neutralize “evil forces” threatening a high performing individual, team, and organization.

Vigilance is key for influential leaders. It takes a cultivated viewpoint that places responsibility for helping others above pursuit of personal gains. Influential leaders understand, albeit quietly, that personal gain is an outcome of helping others. The reverse merely creates platitudes and shallow, short-lived results and relationships.

Featured image courtesy of  Paul Nicholson via Creative Commons.

Shawn Murphy


Shawn Murphy is founder and president of Achieved Strategies. He works with organizations helping leaders bring out the best in their people during times of change and through leadership development. His purpose is to help organizations restore optimism in the workplace and to work with leaders to lead in the 21st century. When not working, he blogs at Switch and Shift on topics to help leaders inspire optimism and New Era Leadership. He’s a coffee addict. Music fiend. Dry humorists. Movie junkie. Wannabe painter/artist. He’s working on his first book.

468 ad

#4 and #5 were my two favorites here, Shawn. As for #1, I like the phrase "Be Still"


Shawn: love the idea about "great leadership acts in history." I belive that it isn't always the great acts that make great leaders, sometimes it's the small things. Read my blog at www.ipsoconsulting.blogspot.com "Leadership: it's the little things that count"....

Not quiet in the same league as your insightful thoughts, but interestingly related.


@danielnewmanUV @12most thanks for the post. I like have a stand.


@thomasmcdaniels Happy Sunday, brother! I sure appreciate you.


 @ChrisChanner1 Chris, I completely agree with you that small acts of leadership can have as much or great impact than the "big leadership acts." Your example in your post is a perfect example. The words we use are powerful signals to others, whether we like it or not. Clearly the leader you reference had some awareness of this truth.