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What’s the most important leadership principle?

The more years as I spend as a leader, the more I realize that the most important leadership principle is one I ignore all too often.

most important leadership principle

The most important leadership principle I wish I’d known earlier is this: Slow down.

To give myself permission to pause and see things from a different point of view. To question my own initial reaction. To create space to dig deeper to solve an underlying root cause instead of projecting what I think other leaders would do in a certain situation.

When you don’t take time to slow down as a leader, you start to cram, you start to rush – and you start to believe a narrative that you control everything as the leader. That you are at the center of it all, and it will absolutely all work if you only push harder.

This couldn’t be further from reality. When you are the leader, yes, you have a title and responsibilities – but the only thing you truly control are the inputs that shape an environment. You are a creator of context for your team: A steward of the team’s vision, an arbiter of “good enough” and “what’s right” in the organization, a vessel for communication, and a catalyzer for aligned action. But you are not the puppet master. You do not control your team.

When we forget to slow down, as the most important leadership principle, we forget this. With that forgetfulness, we, as leaders, insulate ourselves from opposing views and admonish feedback. We overstep, immerse ourselves too in-the-weeds, and change direction without bothering to explain the why. We become preoccupied with how things “appear” to our team, instead of asking how a change could in fact be of real service to the team. We cancel meaningful opportunities to connect with the team because we “just don’t have the time.”

I’m reminded of the beautiful quote by Victor Frankl, who wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

When you slow down, you create that space. Space for a thoughtful response. Space to ask the imminent question all leaders must ask: “How am I creating an environment for my team do to their best work?”

Are you slowing down enough to ask yourself this question, regularly? Are you slowing down enough to remember this most important leadership principle regularly?

As your day winds down, I urge you to reflect on this. To consider if you can slow down enough, even for a minute, to reflect on if you’ve been upholding your highest use as a leader – and in what ways.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.