Axioms to Lead By


Alex Pollock

With Spring in the air I wanted to chat a little on a lighter theme. We’ve shared discussion on the results of bad leadership and disengaged employees, frustrated by working harder yet accomplishing less. On a sunnier note, let’s look up, take a deep breath and reflect upon those things that we know for sure…those axioms of leadership…those things we can hold on to.

What are those truths that allow us to continuously improve our leadership effectiveness AND “hit the numbers” AND “lift people” to experience greater success? Here are some of my axioms to get us going…

  • people don’t care what you know until they know you care
  • go slow to go fast
  • facts are friends
  • 3 C’s matter: character, competence and chemistry
  • a shepherd never beats the sheep
  • you’ll never fatten the lamb by constantly weighing it
  • always take the high road
  • excellence matters
  • courtesy counts
  • pay now and play later
  • fight for your family
  • train well for short sprints
  • finish well

I trust that this listing triggered some emotions. I’d love to hear from you.

About NAEM Staff

The National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM), is a non-profit professional association that empowers corporate leaders to advance environmental stewardship, create safe and healthy workplaces, and promote global sustainability. As the largest network for environmental, health and safety (EHS), and sustainability decision-makers, we provide peer-led educational conferences and an active network for sharing solutions to today’s corporate EHS and sustainability management challenges. Visit NAEM online at

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  1. Bruce Klafter

    April 20, 2009

    I like to tell folks they can a few more flies with honey than with vinegar. In the context of the workplace that means avoiding the overreaction when annoyed, treating even “difficult” colleagues with an even, respectful tone and generally being a “good guy” rather than a tough one. Many people deal very badly with confrontations, so you risk some really poor results when you go that route. Which leads to another maxim – pick your fights carefully!

  2. George Hellert

    April 20, 2009

    Additional thoughts:
    • Honesty is critical to character.
    • Be creative in developing a better approach
    • Fighting for family means fighting for the greater good despite opposition.
    • The best leaders support their teams as the foundation of their position, power, contribution.
    • A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world.
    • Peter Drucker – “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.”
    • Does the benefit outweigh the cost ? Management “feel good” can be beneficial – and can be easily overdone.
    • Balance is crucial. Balance work with resources.
    • Consider bench strength. An all-star team with the best players in the league – one for each position cannot win the title.
    • Audits:
    o The best motivational tool is a positive desire to be part of a winning team. The worst motivational tools apply negative reinforcement.
    o “Report-card” audits provide negative reinforcement – use with caution.
    o Pre-audits, on the other hand, help identify areas of needed improvements and are a welcome continuous improvement tool.
    o Be careful of what you measure whether you represent an environmental agency or corporate management. Meeting a “magic” number or technical detail can quickly overshadow the underlying intent.

  3. Brenda Rian

    April 20, 2009

    Alex – thanks for your always-interesting thoughts. I love pithy quotes. Yours are up there with my favorites. You’re in good company…..
    “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle

    “The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results in something which has made life worth living.” –Fredrich Nietzsche

    “The ordinary acts we practice every day are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”
    –Thos. Moore

    “Everything worth doing cannot be accomplished in our own lifetime.” –St. Augustine

    “Love is more demanding than law.”
    –Bishop Desmond Tutu

  4. David Williams

    April 21, 2009

    The “top of the pyramid” for me is this: Be Genuine. There are lots of other axioms and pieces of advice you can follow, but for me it all starts with being genuine.

    What does that mean? I think it means you can be really excited about something at work if you truly are. It means you can be annoyed about something and show it sometimes if the reason you are annoyed and letting someone know you are annoyed is done because you really care about fixing a problem. It means privately and publicly praising someone on your team for a job well done. Also means privately pushing someone to do things differently or take on more challenges if they need to.

    Think about how many leaders you have worked for or watched and ask how many were genuine. Many make a life’s work at not making any mistakes – that is different than doing the right things. Never get too excited about something (because you never know who might not like the idea or if it will really work out). Never get too annoyed with lack of progress or grinding through non-value added work (because you might make the people who own those kingdoms angry).

    If you are not genuine, then for 8 to 10 hours a day you are an actor playing a role.

  5. Barbara Lemos

    April 24, 2009

    I am always amazed at what people can achieve if you believe in them, encourage them, and resist all temptation to micromanage them. This quote sums it up”

    “If you want to build a ship, then don’t drum up men to gather wood, give orders, and divide the work. Rather, teach them to yearn for the far and endless sea.”

    – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  6. Cathy Hansell

    April 28, 2009

    In my own experience, as well as learning from excellent mentors, good leadership comes from within yourself…a sincere, passionate drive for the betterment of the work and people around you. Everyone, in any role and at any level, can be a great leader.

    Axioms to live by to be a good leader? First know yourself. What are your own personal drivers and desires. Books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale and “Purpose Driven Life” by Warren, “Radical Leap” by Steven Farber and 7 Habits by Covey all will help you to identify what makes you tick.

    Then learn from the best leaders…Jack Welch (29 Leadership Secrets), Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan (Execution-the Discipline of Getting Things Done),Henry Cloud (9 Things A Leader Must Do) and John Collins (Good to Great). All of these authors are successful, motivating leaders and drivers of great change. Finally, talk with leaders and people that you admire.

    Common key characteristics emerge quickly, and have become my leadership axioms: be yourself, be kind, be aware that all your successes are never due to you alone, listen to everyone, be a servant leader, pull your own share of the load, trust your judgment, and have courage in your convictions. I try to live these everyday.

    One of the greatest leaders that I have even known,and have been priviledged to work for was named Fred. He is a brilliant and kind man, and appropriately termed a “people person”. With his great intellect and kindness, he motivated and led large organizations to follow him. Now, that’s a leader.

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