Joe Willis is the author of this blog and a facilitator at The 2019 LIVE Instructor-led Supervisory Academy. This blog supports his workshop titled “Lead the Way: Leadership for Supervisors.”


All employees are entitled to outstanding leadership. You will provide that leadership…

Throughout nearly 20 years in direct leadership assignments ranging from 3-person teams to organizations with more than 250 employees, those 12 words were a mantra I turned to on countless occasions to guide my decisions and actions.  My understanding of “leadership” however, has evolved over the course of my career and along the way I adopted a few guiding principles to keep me pointed in the right direction as I frequently found myself very confused and uncertain about what to do next.  In this blog post I would like to share them with you and then extend an invitation to join me at the Supervisor Academy hosted by Invista Performance Solutions on November 14, 2019 to explore these in more detail.


First, I want to share three reasons I believe it helps to have a principle-based approach to leadership. I look at principles as the buoys and beacons that guide me safely through a channel and keep me heading in the right direction when the shores are treacherous and the currents are strong.


1. Leadership is messy.

Leading people is a messy business.  I learned very early that the rule book is completely clear only a fraction of the time and our gut intuition is just about as reliable – especially early in our careers.   Between ethical conflicts and office politics, doing the “right thing” can be a challenge sometimes to say the least.

2. We will not suddenly rise to the occasion when we’re promoted.

The Greek poet and soldier, Archilochus said, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”  I don’t suppose he was referring to an online course when he spoke those words; in fact he probably wasn’t even thinking about a 3-day conference in Vegas.  When he said training he meant the day to day discipline of putting in the hard work that we often associate with physical training or the academic rigor of a demanding course of study.  That kind of training that can be exhausting, just thinking about it.

Training for leadership is very similar.  Much like running we need to practice often to get good at it.  We can attend a seminar or read a book for a little insight on how to improve – but if we really expect to perform when it matters we need to get out and push ourselves.

The truth is, leadership is developed through a series of experiments and sometimes they don’t go the way we plan.  The key is to figure out the leader you want to be someday, including the characteristics, behavior patterns, and competencies you’ll need then.  Push yourself to be THAT leader now so that when the day comes that you have to fall back to the level you’ve trained for – you’re ready for the challenge.

3. Leadership is really a set of competencies – not a skill in and of itself.

Leadership is a set of skills that are loosely packed into an all-inclusive umbrella term that’s poorly defined by many organizations and even when it is clearly defined can still be difficult to comprehend and contextualize.

Consider all of the skills and attributes that are required to effectively lead your team. These skills need to be trained and practice both in isolation and in conjunction with one another.  For example, making the right decision means very little if you can’t communicate it to your team.  Conversely, being a charismatic communicator helps – but only if you’ve made the best decision to communicate.


My guiding principles.

What follows are 12 principles I’ve adapted from the United States Army’s 11 Principles of Leadership throughout a 20-year career leading women and men in a wide variety of assignments.

In addition to the mantra above, I’ve referred back to these principles countless times consciously and unconsciously to guide my decisions and actions as a leader.  In the upcoming Supervisory Academy on November 14th, we’ll explore these in more detail as participants create their own set of guiding principles (or adapt these to fit their own needs).


  1. Be the example – have the courage to uphold the standard at all times.
  2. Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished.
  3. Take pride in the work you do and expect the same from your team.
  4. Recognize the intrinsic dignity and worth of all people.
  5. Continuously improve.
  6. Be technically proficient.
  7. Make a decision – develop a bias for action.
  8. Know your people and look out for their welfare.
  9. Communicate consistently with your people, never leave them uninformed.
  10. Be responsible with your resources and expect the same from your team.
  11. Develop your people and train them a team.
  12. Lead yourself and others according to your values – all the time.


If you want to learn more about this topic, register here for the 2019 LIVE Instructor-led Supervisory Academy!