Guiding principles for a great career

I have been working in China this month – in Guangzhou, a city home to 12 million people.

We were there to conduct a Leadership Development Programme for a large global company. The participants were all young leaders, from diverse Asian countries – all in the early stages of their careers.

Many of the young leaders on this programme were still learning to lead themselves and now they were being asked to step up and take responsibility for others too.

It’s a crucial transition point in their careers and presents an exciting opportunity to grow into. But moving from team member to team leader can also be difficult.

Our job was to equip them with the knowledge and skills to make this transition faster and smoother.

The first step in this process is to help them develop a leadership philosophy. It is their own personal theory of leadership that acts as a set of guiding principles for how they will conduct themselves.

To help demonstrate how a leadership philosophy can guide them, we asked the Managing Director of the Chinese business to share the guiding principles that he has used to build his career as an international leader.

Here are the 9 practical gems he offered these young leaders on building a great career.

  • 1. People are your number 1 priority. The higher you climb the more dependent you are on those below you. The people you lead have three expectations of you; ‘know me, value me and focus me.’ This principle allows the people you lead to be successful, and the more successful they are the more successful you can be.

  • 2. Always exceed expectations. Try to do this everyday. Make a real effort to be crystal clear (your responsibility) on what is expected of you and how to exceed expectations. If you do you will rise to the surface, be noticed and succeed.
  • 3. In the short term careers are not always fair. There will be setbacks. Welcome them early on in your career. If you do not encounter setbacks early on, you will not be able to learn from them and they will then come later in your career when it is harder to recover. Remember that a horizontal move is not a backward step. Make your foundations strong so that you have a strong base to launch from.
  • 4. Be bold with your ambitions. If you think small and plan small you will win small. Thinking big breaks the status quo and pushes a company into achieving large positive goals. Do not dream incrementally. Leaders need to look into the future and imagine the amazing things a company can do and then they must discover the steps needed to achieve those goals.
  • 5. Make clear choices. Not everything is important. There are usually only a few critical decisions that will drive a company or team forward. When everything matters resources are diluted and you will be focused on the wrong things. Reduce noise and focus on the essential.
  • 6. Work together. Early on in your career it is all about you. You are trying to establish yourself. However this will not carry you all the way. Make sure you work with others to achieve more and that the people who work for you work as a team. People love to work in silos, its safer, but it is important to stop this and work together.
  • 7. Confront and connect. Master the balance between the two. First connect, build a relationship, and then use that relationship to drive healthy conflict where it is safe to disagree and discuss. Leaders need to make the best decisions for the company, not the individual. This can be uncomfortable at times, but if you connected well at the start and have forged a strong working relationship it will lead to great results. Always remember to reconnect and keep working on your relationships.
  • 8. Be brave. We love people with courage. The easiest solution to a problem is often not the correct one. Make the difficult choices. Sometimes you will fail, but if failure isn’t an option, success isn’t either. Courage is a muscle you need to work every day.
  • 9. Love what you do. No one can fake passion. People will feel it and it will be difficult to inspire others. Know your subject, be an expert on what you do and be curious about the world around you.

Like all executives he has managed to simplify his thinking into non-theoretical, actionable concepts. Have you done the same?

What principles guide how you act as a leader? Please comment below. We love hearing from you.

We will send you our template to help you refine or start crafting your own guiding principles. With the break coming up it’s a great reflective exercise for the holidays.

Thank you for your support this year. We wish you a well-earned rest and a safe and happy festive season.

If you’d like to be in touch please call me on +27 82 894 4288 or mail me on


  1. Dale Hillary 30 November 2015 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    Hi Grant,
    Another really great article…so true and pertinent in today’s world!
    I will certainly share this with my contacts.
    All the best for a happy Festive Season and a successful and fulfilling 2016!

    Best regards,


  2. Margie van Rensburg 30 November 2015 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Fabulous article Grant – thank you. Inspiring words. The leadership qualities that spring to mind for me are authenticity and the ability to have courageous conversations.
    Hope you have a great Christmas break.
    Warm wishes

  3. Michael 30 November 2015 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    Hi Grant,

    This is something I never thought about before. Real good insight.

    Kind regards,

  4. Bill Annandale 30 November 2015 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    This is all highly relevant, difficult to argue with but these principles take years to develop and require great depth of self awareness. I would add that any new leader needs to remember not to gravitate toward becoming a part of a clique: always be above that and serve every constituency because employees soon figure out where your influences lurk.

  5. Hansie 30 November 2015 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    Great post, and totally applicable at this moment as I natrowed my team down to a young upcoming team.
    I need wisdom hoe to lead them because it obviously differs

  6. Julie Hulme 1 December 2015 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Very pertinent, I shall definitely share with my team. I agree that to develop this way takes a great deal of self awareness as Bill Commented. And to me that is one of the key characteristics of great leaders, you must know your own weaknesses better than you know your strengths!

    I believe these are my strengths, self awareness, trust in others, (even when you are scared to, you must encourage and allow people to fail), and be demanding of yourself and others, set challenging targets.

    He who never made a mistake, never made anything!

    Merry Christmas!

  7. Malick 16 December 2015 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    Very interesting…for me the point 7 (Confront and Connect) is very relevant, especially Reconnect…Sometimes we need to reconnect and keep the relationships strong

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