The 5-Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned in a Lifetime


Last month while I was enjoying some downtime, I had the opportunity to reflect on some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as an HR Professional and leader. Most of them were learned the hard way, and I have the scars to prove it. Believe me, I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes over the course of my career, but I’ve also learned something from just about every one of them.

Here are a few lessons I want to share with you:

Be the “fearless” leader your employees expect (and demand). 

Stand up for those you lead even though you’re the most likely to take the bullet. You can’t lead from behind! It may mean taking the heat for a mistake made, fighting for a well-deserved raise for an underpaid team member, or arguing for much-needed resources. Regardless of what it is, your people must know you have their backs and you’ll go to the wall for them even it’s in front of a firing a squad.

Be the “communicator” that they need. Your people want to know what you know, what you think, and they don’t want to be the last to know. Communicate honestly, transparently, and consistently.

You’re the leader, people want to hear from you. I’m a firm believer that honesty is the best policy when it comes to communication. Let people know what’s going on — the good, the bad, and the ugly. And when you make a mistake, take your lumps and own up. They won’t lose respect for that but they will withdraw if you try to duck the issue.

Be the “collaborator” that they want you to be.

It can be lonely at the top. No one has it all figured out. No one has all the answers. No one knows everything about everything. You have people on your team who want to and can help the company achieve the goals. Find bright, experienced people and develop a group you can turn to when you need help. It’s not a sign of weakness, as some might think, it’s just a great way to improve your decision making.

Be the “head-cheerleader” that never quits.

The greatest gift you can give to your team is your enthusiasm and passion. The ripple effect is astounding. No one wants to follow the “Debbie-downer” and no one likes to be labeled a loser. Share the praise for a job well done, foster a spirit of “together we can achieve awesome results because we ARE the best”, and take more than your share of the blame when things don’t turn out exactly as planned. 

Be the “do-gooder” they deserve. 

Above everything else, you need to do the right thing. Being open, transparent, and authentic is not always easy but it’s the cornerstone of great leadership.   It might be tempting to cut a corner, play a game, or just pass the buck, but it’s never worth it.  Your integrity is something that takes a career to build and can be easily lost with one bad decision. Guard it carefully because it’s precious.

As I said, I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes over the years, but each mistake I’ve made has taught me a valuable lesson. Sometimes there’s no other way to learn but the hard way. Hopefully, sharing these lessons can help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made and be the Brilliant Leader your team knows you are!


Carol Westberry, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Founder & Consulting Partner

  • Human Resources Strategy

  • Human Resources Management

  • Compliance

  • High Performance Leadership

  • High Performance Communication