Golden rules for wise leaders

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

In 1976, Betsy Bernard worked as a summer intern at AT&T. About 26 years later, she became the company’s president.

In earning more than a dozen promotions to climb the corporate ladder, Bernard learned the secret of workplace success: model the kind of thoughtful, respectful behavior that you expect from others.

Now a director on corporate boards, Bernard identifies six “golden rules of leadership” that managers can use to propel their career growth: everyone’s time is valuable, no temper tantrums, get to the point, be candid, say “thank you” (and mean it!), and integrity is everything.

Managing People at Work interviewed Bernard:

MPAW: How did you arrive at these golden rules?

Bernard: They reflect how we treat each other. They’re easy to say but hard to live by. The rules revolve around the element of communication—how we inform, inspire and excite others.

MPAW: The first rule, “everyone’s time is valuable,” calls for punctuality. Why is that so important?

Bernard: Showing up on time is a lesson drilled into us from kindergarten. Yet from my experience in corporate America, I’ve found it’s violated daily especially in a hierarchical way. The reason it’s so important is, how do we feel when others don’t respect our time? If I’m the boss, I’ve got people sitting waiting for me who are being unproductive.

MPAW: The third rule, “get to the point,” also relates to respect-ing others’ time.

Bernard: If you truly respect others’ time, think ahead and identify two or three main points you want to make. Practice so that you can articulate what you want to say in a way that’s understandable. As a test, I ask myself, “Would my mother understand this message?” Then I ask, “How do I want others to change as a result of this message?”

MPAW: How do you practice?

Bernard: I map out what I’m going to say in bullet points. Then I constantly refine it by shaving words to make it more succinct.

MPAW: Your second rule involves controlling temper. How can hotheads learn to do that?

Bernard: Identify the triggering events. I had a fellow who struggled with temper and we explored what triggered it. He found that lack of sleep, overscheduling his calendar and not being prepared were factors. The next question is, “What can you do to cope?”

MPAW: What’s the hardest rule to follow?

Bernard: Being candid. Some people don’t want to disappoint and deflate their boss. But my experience is, if you’re candid and earnest, you can share even bad news in a way that motivates rather than deflates.

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