As a refresher on the fundamentals of leadership, this highlights 100 of the best ideas and quotes for first-time leaders from my New Leader’s Playbook articles here on and from our new book, First-Time Leader. (Request an executive summary of the book.)


1. Leading is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.

2. “Business leaders must explicitly define their organization’s purpose… it shapes every other aspect of “BRAVE Leadership.”…behaviors, relationships, attitudes and the work environment. The purpose, “why” we do what we do, creates a meaningful place to work. The values are also important in creating an intentional culture because they are “how” we do the “what,” whether it is pizza or widgets or accounting.” – Nick Sarillo

3. Leading is different than managing. Where managing is about organizing, coordinating and telling, leading is about inspiring and enabling and co-creating.

4. Taking over as a leader for the first time is a critical, career-defining moment. Getting this transition right accelerates your career trajectory. Avoiding avoidable mistakes at this juncture requires preparation, commitment, and follow-through.

5. Focus on the cause. People follow charismatic leaders for a time. But they devote themselves over time to the cause of a BRAVE leader who inspires and enables them in the pursuit of that cause.

6. The number one problem first-time leaders face is failing to understand that leading requires entirely different strengths than does doing or managing.

7. We’ve all experienced first-time managers who come in with guns blazing. They think they can be successful by doing more of what they were doing before and telling others to do the same. But telling diminishes. At best people comply with the teller’s direction. More experienced managers persuade and support.

8. Great leaders go one step further to co-create a purpose-driven future with their followers.

9. The basics matter, no matter how high the peak.

10. Happiness is good. Actually, three goods: (1) doing good for others, (2) doing things you’re good at and (3) doing good for you. These three goods come together in great leaders.

11. BRAVE leaders have the courage to accept that leadership is not about them, but rather about working through behaviors, relationships, attitude, values and the environment to inspire and enable others.


12. Environment sets the context for everything else in terms of where you are playing.

13. “Through reading poker books and practicing by playing, I spent a lot of time learning about the best strategy to play once I was actually sitting down at a table. My big ‘ah-ha!’ moment came when I finally learned that the game started even before I sat down in a seat. In a poker room at a casino, there are usually many different choices of tables. Each table has different stakes, different players, and different dynamics that change as the players come and go, and as players get excited, upset, or tired, I learned that the most important decision I could make was which table to sit at”. – Tony Hseih

14. “We always enter markets where the leaders are not doing a great job, so we can go in and disrupt them by offering better quality services.” – Richard Branson

15. “It is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong.” – Leonard Lodish, Wharton

16. Align around an interpretation of the situation assessment.

17. Make clear choices around where to play and where not to play within your context.

18. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.

19. Play where you can solve someone’s problem and build the strengths required to solve that problem either in your early team or through external partners.

20. Reconfirm where to play choices, within the ever-changing environmental context.


21. Values are the bedrock of a high performing team. Get clear on what really matters and why.

22. “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek

23. “A principle isn’t a principle unless it costs you something” – Bob Goldstein, Procter & Gamble

24. Start with the cause, the why. Get all aligned around your purpose. Make sure all believe in its import and are committed to a common vision.

25. Lock in core values.

26. Align on a shared purpose: vision, mission, values as the foundation for all that follows.

27. Once you define what matters, and what the end game is, and the team is onboard, decisions become more straightforward, and there is buy in from the team (sometimes even in hard times).

28. Reconfirm the organization’s core values, trying to change them only if absolutely necessary.


29. Attitude encompasses strategic, posture, and culture choices around how to win.

30. “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

31. Clarify strategy, posture, and culture to guide relationships and behaviors.

32. Choose what you are going to be best in the world at.

33. “Changing a corporate culture is a five-year effort.” – Lyle Heidemann, True Value

34. Look well beyond the professed culture: It’s not what people like about their preferences. It’s just that value statements and creeds are often aspirational. You must understand the resting, steady state norms of behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, and the work environment that people default to “when the boss is not around.”

35. “If you’re copying others, you’re always shooting behind the duck.”  – Scott Kurnit

36. There is no value in sameness. Be different.

37. Focus the team on what creates the most value for your team’s internal and external customers across the value chain: design – build – sell – deliver – support.

38. Let that choice guide team expansion priorities.

39. Then adjust your attitude, relooking at strategic priorities, posture, and culture and how they sync.

40. “Start-ups are the innovation point in our economy. The funding structure is set up for the majority of these crazy, audacious ideas to explode… in a bad way.” – Scott Kurnit

41. “Strategy and execution has to be joined by a very strong psychological conversion of beliefs, from the old patterns to the new.” – Andy Bodea, Equifax

42. Once everyone understands the attitudinal choices, relook at relationships and behaviors through that lens, evolving them as dictated by the new attitude.


43. Relationships are the heart of leadership. If you can’t connect, you can’t lead.

44. “Letting people know you care is of surpassing value.” – Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean

45. Everything you do or don’t say, do, listen to and observe communicates and drives how you connect – 24/7, forever.

46. Whoever taught you to say “please” and “thank you” was prescient. This is the key to encouraging people on your team.

47. Spot feedback can save you all sorts of time and angst over the long term and earn you respect.

48. MAP your communication: Message, Amplifiers, Perseverance.

49. “At MasterCard, I’m the outsider. So the only way I could get up to speed on the culture, what’s working, what’s not working, our competitive strengths and the like was to invest in listening.” – AJ Banga on his early days as President and then CEO of MasterCard

50. “Since I knew I was going to go deep underwater, I wanted to have just a couple of big priorities that I wanted to stick to for at least the first month…Having those touchstones helped me to bring a little bit of order into the chaos of starting a new job.” – Michael Brune on his early days as Executive Director of the Sierra Club

51. “As effective as the organization has been over the past 118 years, we need to do our best work in the years ahead. The challenges — and opportunities — are too great.”  – Michael Brune first note to the staff of the Sierra Club

52. “I start by getting a sense of what I want them to feel when they’re done hearing from me – what I want them to feel, not hear me say” – Charlie Shimanski – American Red Cross

53. “First and foremost, you have to believe what you’re saying.” Paul Farmer, Qliktech

54. “Let the fish swim. Let the rabbits run. Let the eagles fly. We don’t want a school of average ducks.” – the moral of George Reavis’ Animal School Story

55. “Never name an animal you’re going to eat.” – Rob Gregory, PrimeGenesis

56. “Presume not that I am the thing I was; For God doth know, so shall the world perceive, That I have turn’d away my former self . . .” – Shakespeare’s newly crowned Henry V in Henry IV, Act V, Scene v

57. “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” – Sun-Tzu

58. How people manage onboarding leaves a lasting impact on all involved. It is a crucible of leadership – a transformational experience that helps shape all involved.

59. Get a head start by having a plan and jump-starting relationships.

60. Manage the message by making sure what you do matches what you say matches what you fundamentally believe.

61. Work on the organization.

62. Build the team by applying the components of BRAVE leadership

63. Build an ADEPT team by Acquiring, Developing, Encouraging, Planning, and Transitioning talent over time.

64. There are only three questions in any interview: Can you do the job? Will you love the job? Can we tolerate working with you? Or strengths, motivation and fit.

65. Put your new recruits on the road to success even before they start. Make them feel welcome and valuable to an organization they can take pride in.

66. Ensure that each new employee has a BRAVE onboarding plan in place.

67. Encourage and enable relationships and provide new recruits with any help they may need along the way.

68. Mitigate organizational risk.

69. Mitigate role risk.

70. Mitigate personal risk.

71. If you are facing a low level of risk, do nothing out of the ordinary. (But keep your eyes open for inevitable changes).

72. If you are facing manageable risk, manage it in the normal course of your job.

73. If you are facing mission-crippling risk, resolve it before accepting the job, or mitigate it before doing anything else if you are already in the job.

74. If you are facing insurmountable barriers, walk away.

75. Understand the business and competitive environment, organizational history, and recent results.

76. Adopt a converge and evolve approach to taking charge.

77. Make a conscious choice about pivoting from converging to evolving.

78. Time that pivot right.

79. When onboarding into an organization, fit within the organization’s broader ecosystem as well as your work group; deliver with fewer resources and less structure; create change instead of waiting for it to happen.

80. When you make an internal move, keep in mind that: you can’t control the context; it’s hard to make a clean break; there is no honeymoon.

81. Strive to shorten the time between announcement and start: one of the biggest differences between joining from the outside and getting moved from within is that more time between announcement and start is better when joining from the outside—to give you time for preparation and pre-boarding conversations. On the other hand, when moved from within, less time between announcement and start is better—to minimize the period when you’re doing two jobs.

82. When getting promoted from within prepare in advance, especially around securing the resources and support you’ll need going forward.

83. Take control of your own transition, especially around deciding what to keep the same and what to change.

84. Accelerate team progress after your start by evolving the strategies first, and then operations and organization.


85. Behaviors are the actions that make real lasting impact on others.

86. “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” – Alfred A. Montapert

87. “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” – John Wooden

88. “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.” – computer scientist Jan LA Van De Snepscheut

89. Take into account the theoretical, but drive to the practical.

90. Figure out the very few things you must do yourself and delegate the rest.

91. Break complex initiatives into stages.

92. Gain early momentum and keep going until it’s time to stop.

93. Analyze the ABCs: Antecedents, Behavior, Consequences and balance of consequences.

94. Agree the main tenets of your culture and start implementing operational practices to embed those tenets.

95. “Leadership means you have to lead”. – Omar Hussain, Imprivata

96. “I used to believe that if it doesn’t get measured, it doesn’t get done. Now I say if it doesn’t get measured it doesn’t get approved . . . you need to manage by facts, not gut feel.”  – John Michael Loh, United States Air Force Air Combat Command during the first Gulf War

97. “The world is full of heroes who get in the way – the bright, passionate, compassionate ones who are blinded by their passion. They strive to “get it done” at any cost, not realizing the true cost is the diminished effort against other, higher value adding activities.” – Marc Hafer, Simpler Consulting

98. Put in place enabling practices to scale.

99. “My aircraft” – Charles Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s words to take over control of the situation from his co-pilot on the way to landing his plane safely on the Hudson River after it had lost both engines.

100. Reinforce vision and values – the number one job of a leader.

Follow this link for an overview of George Bradt’s New Leader’s Playbook.