How to develop successful leadership

Welcome to 9 key habits for successful leadership, a set of simple habits to encourage you to expand, stretch and challenge yourself with your leadership.

My intention and focus is to allow you time to reflect and action those ideas that resonate the most with you in order to get the most out of your leadership or management style.

Each of the habits has an action step to allow you to reflect and then implement something towards what you have learnt.  

And if you want, I have created a Cheat Sheet which contains all of the 9 Key Habit Action Steps at the end of this article, together with a beautiful workbook to help you work through your own personalised leadership journey. 😉

And, while you will find that you have a number of habit strengths, you will also find one or two of the habits that you could probably develop and therefore grow into over the next year.

Try not to judge yourself against any of these habits.  Rather, notice what each habit says to you and then decide which resonates as an area for focus.

Let's get started!


To become a leader, you need first to be the servant....

9 key habits of successful leadership

And, one of the hardest parts to stepping up is in learning to serve.

What is Servant Leadership and why does it matter?

Simply speaking, servant leadership is a leadership philosophy.

Where traditional leadership typically involves the exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid", the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Servant leadership turns the power pyramid upside down; instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.

Servant leadership is an ancient philosophy. There are passages that relate to servant leadership in the Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao-Tzu, who is believed to have lived in China sometime between 570 BCE and 490 BCE:

The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When you are lacking in faith,
Others will be unfaithful to you.

When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’[2]

Chanakya wrote, in the 4th century BCE, in his book Arthashastra:

the king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]
the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.
citation needed]

Servant leadership can be found in many religious texts, though the philosophy itself transcends any particular religious tradition. In the Christian tradition, this passage from the Gospel of Mark is often quoted in discussions of servant leadership:

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
44 and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all.
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)


When leaders shift their mindset and serve first, they unlock purpose and ingenuity in those around them, resulting in higher performance and engaged, fulfilled employees.

Unlike leadership approaches with a top-down hierarchical style, servant leadership instead emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power.

At heart, the individual is a servant first, making the conscious decision to lead in order to better serve others, not to increase their own power.

The objective is to enhance the growth of individuals in the organization and increase teamwork and personal involvement.

A recent behavioral economics experiment demonstrates the group benefits of servant leadership: teams of players coordinated their actions better with a servant leader resulting in improved outcomes for the followers (but not for the selfless leaders

Source: Wiki: Servant Leadership

9 key habits of successful leadership servant leadership


  1. How can you practice Servant Leadership in your team today?
  2. In what situations would Servant Leadership benefit you and your team?
  3. In what situations would it be inadvisable to use Servant Leadership?
  4. Consider the quote above: where could you use the meaning behind this quote to drive your walk as a servant leader?

Two: Strength and Focus

9 key habits of successful leadership strength and focus

Leadership is not about you - it’s about them.

If you are a leader, you will need to step back from the lime light in order to build your team and allow them to shine.

This is not easy when you have spent years honing your technical skills and abilities and learning how to stand out from the crowd so that you can get stuff done and be noticed for that next career move.

Leaders and Managers have been taught that to give way to others, especially your team means weakness and shows that you are lacking in the “stuff” needed to lead.

But being a leader who puts their people first is about building your character. Strength is a habit which can be developed.

And strength is a great habit to practice when it comes to your people.

After all, no leader has ever been able to do it completely alone.  It takes a team to get things done and to achieve extraordinary goals.

Your job is to create environment your people need to flourish, the tools and resources they’ll need to achieve their specific performance objectives.

And, then, your job is to focus on your people’s strengths so that they can bring their best selves to the work they do.


One: Building trust that you have their backs - and trust is the number one way to boost employee engagement

Two: Developing the necessary capacity to achieve the results you desire - your team becomes confident in their competence meaning they are able to focus on the WHY rather than the WHAT (head vs heart)

Three: Allowing your team to become high performers who are highly engaged - and highly engaged teams are 480% more committed to helping their companies succeed. Check out a great video which shares more about this

Four: Playing to your team's strengths which means you get the added benefits of commitment and passion (the missing ingredient to engagement)

9 key habits of successful leadership calling behaviour 2


Engagement allows leaders and managers to release the discretionary effort that is critical for high performance. To do this authentically, you have to turn your back on the crowd and step out of the limelight so you can focus on your people.

  1. What could you do more of to allow the sort of focus that allows you to lift your people up rather than yourself?
  2. What could you do less of everyday, that may be taking away from your ability to focus on your people?
  3. What do you need to do less of to gain more connection and engagement from those around you?


9 key habits of successful leadership calling behaviour

Do you treat your people as if they are their behaviour?

Let's face it:

We don't always show up the way we should: when we get distracted, stressed, have had a fight with a partner or colleague - these are all examples where we potentially show up in ways that are counter to who we are and can wreak havoc on the people and environments in which we work.

But, people are so much more than their behaviour.

Yet, we often treat them as if they are their behaviour.

This can be a real problem, especially if you are a leader or manager.

For example:

Say Sarah, one of your long-time staff members comes into work this morning - she is short-tempered, irritable and ignores you when you call out your usual "good morning" to her.

You've noticed her give you and others the cold shoulder the past few days but have tried to ignore it.

Today however you have had enough.

You decide that Sarah is rude and inconsiderate. If she is going to ignore you and give you the cold shoulder, you will do the same back. Really, you don't need her negative attitude affecting you!

Three Questions to Consider:

  1. How will this play out in the way you behave towards her going forward?
  2. What will the rest of your team think when they see your response to Sarah's behaviour?
  3. What alternatives could you come up with to better deal with this situation?

As I look back over the years, I reflect on how often I have heard people label poor behaviour in terms of the personality of a person rather than dealing with the actual behaviour in my workshops and coaching.

As leaders, we lose out on valuable opportunities to engage the hearts and minds of our people when we let poor behaviour slide: instead reacting to the behaviour as a personal attack on our leadership or management.


  1. How do you call out poor behaviour in your team, family, friendship circle?
  2. What are the impacts of letting the behaviour slide, to that relationship?
  3. Are there any conversations that you know you need to have but you have been putting off?

If so, think about how you could deliver your message in a way that creates safety for you and the other person.  Plan it: prepare for the worst case and then prepare for the best case scenario and how both look and feel to you and the other person - plan, plan, plan!

Four: Inspiration

9 key habits of successful leadership inspiration

How do you inspire others?

"Our research indicates that what really matters is that leaders are able to create enthusiasm, empower their people, instil confidence and be inspiring to the people around them," says Peter Handal, chief executive of New York City-based Dale Carnegie Training, a leadership-training company.

Four Habits to Build Inspiration:

Whilst inspiring others may seem a daunting task, I'd suggest that as usual, it’s not about what you should be doing, but building and developing and honing who you are.

We are after all, human beings not human doings.

One: Face Your Challenges

"The gossip at the coffee machine is usually 10 times worse than reality," Handal says. "Employees need to see their leaders out there, confronting that reality head-on."

As a leader or manager, your job is to step up and face the challenges you and your organisation are facing. And, then, to keep the communication channels open with your staff so they know what's happening.

Nothing is worse than silence.

When your team consistently sees you stepping up, being brave and honest in tough situations, then this sets the example for them to follow.

Two: Create a Safe Work Environment

People want to bring their best selves to work. And, in order to do this, they need to feel safe in the place they work.

Creating boundaries for behaviours and then making sure you call behaviours when they are not appropriate is a crucial part of setting the scene for safety. Just like children, we need as adults to know that there are boundaries that need to be agreed to and stuck to.

And, then there are those times when you don't get it right, that you check your ego at the door and humbly say, "I'm sorry"

Accepting responsibility when you have done "wrong" goes a long way to creating a safe place because we are all human and we all get it wrong sometimes.

Three: Be Curious

Good leaders and managers remain intellectually curious and committed to learning. They're inquisitive and always looking for new ideas, insights and information.

Innovation and new approaches can come from many places: our people, our processes, our networks - we should always be on the lookout for knowledge or people who might create the spark, giving you and your team an advantage.

Four: Provide Support and Encouragement

None of us is quite as strong as all of us.

When you see your team members trying, struggling, succeeding, failing, managing, achieving - give them feedback that builds and encourages them.

So often, a well placed word of encouragement or feedback at the right time can mean the difference between giving up and stepping up.

Feedback should always help a team member - not deflate them.

An inspiring leader or manager is one who "holds the line for their people" so that success can become a reality.

For more ideas on how to inspire others, check out a great read: 9 Awesome Ways to Inspire Others

9 key habits of leadership inspiration


Being inspirational is about the actions you take everyday to support and encourage the best in your team.

  1. What actions could you be taking each day to be more encouraging of your team?
  2. How could you encourage your team members to dream bigger, to believe in themselves more?
  3. What could you share more context around in the workplace that would allow your team to better understand your motives and the situation itself more fully?

Five: Courage

9 key habits of successful leadership courage


Let's face it.

We don't always show up the way we should: when we get distracted, stressed, have had a fight with a partner or colleague - these are all examples where we potentially show up in ways that are counter to who we are and can wreak havoc on the people and environments in which we work.

Being authentic and who you are meant to be is not an easy task. It means stepping up into courage.

I am not at all courageous.

Those times I step up into courage are the times when I least want to.

I much prefer to be comfortable and have everyone in my life getting along with each other - and me 😉

I want to avoid discord as much as possible.

And I'd much prefer to have my life flow rather than have disruptions.

But, life doesn't work like that.

Life is hard.

Life is tumultuous.

The people in our life don't always agree with us - or want what we want.

Often, I find when I look back, that life throws our way stones and boulders that disrupt our everyday and force us to make choices that take us out of our comfort zones.

But in order to know how to deal with the chaos of change, we need to recognise the patterns we have in our lives that are NOT working for us.

Do you have a story in your life that is patterned with choosing the immediately comfortable road that inevitably leads to conflict and more challenge?

Take a moment to think about this. It is important to get really clear on the pattern; writing it down may be helpful to solidify the idea.

Most patterns can follow this format:
When ______, I _________.

For example, mine is "When I am not sure where I stand with other people and something negative has happened, I assume I am overreacting and do not ask them their take on a situation to get clarity and a different perspective. I often end up feeling negative towards them and this will come out in my behaviour with them."

Now that we are clear about our patterns, we can get clear about our goals.

How do you wish your pattern would look?

Using the same "When ______, I _______" format, brainstorm what could fill in the second blank instead of your current reaction.

For example, mine is "When something negative has happened with someone, I ask them to share their perspective of that same situation - paying active attention to their words, tone and deeper nuances to understand their perspective - but not reacting or getting aggressive."

Again, take a moment to really get clear on your sentence. You should be able to look at it and think "YES!"

Looking at your new sentence you've created, how do you feel?

If you're like me, you have butterflies in your stomach. I feel excitement and trepidation in equal measures. It would be great to be able to do this, but what if.....? What if I cannot control my emotions?

What if I am opening myself up to criticism? It is clearly far safer in the short-term to not make myself vulnerable, but it is far safer in the long-term to be the courageous person I want to be.

Armed with the knowledge that a new, braver you lies behind your second pattern sentence, write down (then DO!) a specific situation in which you can practice your new pattern. Start big, start small, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you start to dip your toes into the waters of your own courage.

Source: Maria Jackson :- adapted for the Skill Junction community

9 key habits of successful leadership courage 3


  1. What does my "When ......I ..... statement look like?
  2. What aspects of my actions, expression or words do I need to pay attention to when I step up into courage
  3. What patterns have you noticed in yourself that most need attention - that are holding you back from the work you need to do to step up as a leader in 2018?

When you step up into courage, your true self shines through - no matter how clumsy your attempt.

You'll notice that when you practice courage regularly, confidence is the wonderful by-product you get, which allows you to venture further down the road on your unique life journey.

Six: EnJOYment

9 key habits of successful leadership enjoyment

Not everyday can be a JOY, but can we learn to enjoy even the everyday moments?

I believe we can. If we can learn to be more conscious.

Definition of enjoyment a feeling of pleasure caused by doing or experiencing something you like. : the condition of having and using something that is good, pleasant, etc. (Merriam-Webster definition)

How often do you get to do something that you truly enjoy?

Enjoyment is such a fundamental part of a life well-lived. And yet, as we start out our year with good intentions and a lonnnngg list of to-do’s, we may already start to feel the pressure of expectation building.

Stress, pressure, anxiety.

These common feelings rob us of our enjoyment and the joy in this enjoyment.

We all have a different capacity for enjoyment and different perceptions and perspectives on how it can be achieved.

From a Perspective of Children:
If I take my daughter and her friends for example.
Enjoyment to them is:

  • Playing together, being physical under the sun with running, jumping, shouting, squealing. 
  • Concentrated focus.
  • It’s cuddles and laughter.
  • Sweet food.
  • More running and jumping, swimming, climbing. Games, puzzles, drawings, being creative, being the centre of attention.
  • More connection.

From the Perspective of Adults:
If I share my observations and shared input from those I work with, in my workshops and coaching, I’d say that enjoyment for adults is all about:

  • Momentum, 
  • growing, 
  • finding purpose and meaning in life,
  • living that meaning and purpose through children, 
  • marriage, relationships, 
  • hobbies, 
  • meaningful work.

For far too many of us, we lose out on the wonderful opportunities for enjoyment in the day to day grind of doing rather than being.

I know that I am guilty of this when work becomes manic and I have deadlines to meet. I look up and time has flown away.

I try as much as possible, to build in time away with my family to reconnect and refresh my spirit.

Life is so short.

We never know what lies around that next corner.

Whatever you do, try to become more conscious about making sure that you build in time to do small things that bring you immense pleasure and satisfaction.

And so today, why not make a list of all the things that you enjoy the most.

To give you a head-start, I am including a list that Maheshwari Tanwar shared in a Quora post I came across when I was doing my research.

It brought a smile to my face, I hope it does for you too:

  1. The smell of books. *-* (Both old and new)
  2. The way the sunlight shines through the trees. *-* (Kinda magical)
  3. Making the perfect maggie. *-* (With just the right amount of water)
  4. Drinking cold water in the middle of the night. *-* (A gulp of heaven)
  5. Blowing bubbles. *-* (Occupation: professional bubble maker)
  6. A baby holding my finger with its whole hand. *-* (Innocence at its best)
  7. The smell of rain. *-* (You knew this was coming)
  8. Reading a book I can’t put down. *-* (Please look at the first point again)
  9. Warm towels. *-* (Warm showers, warm clothes, everything cozy)
  10. Popping bubble wrap. *-* (Part time job - without the payment, of course)
  11. Watching sunsets. *-* (And sunrises too, because, why not?)
  12. Listening to a song I loved after years. *-* (Nostalgia)
  13. The reflection of the moon on the sea. *-* (And beaches, in general)
  14. Laughing till my stomach hurts. *-* (And then laughing a bit more)
  15. Mornings when I get enough sleep. *-* (Rare occurrence 😛 )
  16. Buying new stationery. *-* (Literally the only thing I go shopping for)
  17. Pizzas, subways, anything with cheese. *-* (Good food for good mood)
  18. Looking at city lights from a high rise building. *-* (nights, in general)
  19. Wearing oversized clothes. *-* (inexplicable happiness)
  20. Getting upvotes for a genuine answer on Quora. *-* (makes my day ^-^)
9 key habits of successful leadership enjoyment 2


9 key habits of successful leadership showing up

Vulnerability beats bravado every single time

and yet, let's compare and see how you fare with these two questions:

  1. How many of you think that vulnerability is weakness
  2. How many of you think that vulnerability is courage

Most people I have worked with would say its number one:

Vulnerability is a weakness....

And yet it is essential for leaders and managers if they want to show up authentically within their teams

Vulnerability is defined as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty.

It fuels our daily lives.

Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.

Thinking that vulnerability is weakness is a profound disbelief that we want to counter.

Part of being vulnerable is showing up and sharing your story with your team where they get stuck and think they can't go on. That they are the only person who has ever encountered that particular problem or challenge.

A great leader is someone who has a wealth of personal stories to share within their team at the appropriate time - to uplift and help inspire action.

I absolutely adore the following quote and it has helped me so much during those times when I have struggled to be vulnerable as a leader:

9 key habits of successful leadership showing up


  1. What's your story?
  2. What were your highlights?
  3. What were your lowlights?
  4. What lessons does your story illustrate?


9 key habits of successful leadership gratitude

Gratitude is a character trait and habit that I hold dearly.

Practicing gratitude focuses our gaze in the direction of all that is good in our lives.

And, even though our brains are naturally wired for threat, to help keep us alive, we divert attention to positivity and reward when we practice gratitude.

We create a space inside ourselves that allows us to experience peace and joy when we practice gratitude..

So, if we can learn to be more conscious in counting our blessings, we are going to find it a lot easier and more automatic to see the positive in our lives.

A once-daily practice of “counting our blessings” focuses our brain on the positive throughout the day

So, shall we try it out?

Take a moment to put your phone on silent and set aside your to-do list.

Pull out a piece of paper and your favourite pen, close your eyes, and take a deep breath.

What are you deeply grateful for? 

Sit with this question for a moment, noting what arises. Then, get those thoughts down on paper, however you would like.

Well done – you’ve just practiced gratitude!

Gratitude: the Gift of Giving

And, the corollary of this is to extend your gratefulness to others in your world.

“My cup has been filled with the gifts of so many. How can I fill the cups of others?” - Maria Jackson

As a mom, I insist that Clara send a thank you card to every person who gives her a gift. As a well-loved little girl, there are so many people who take time to thoughtfully share into her life. By practicing gratitude, I am hoping to teach Clara that it is better to give than to receive – and it helps her to identify with the person rather than the gift alone, making the giving more meaningful.

Think of someone you are grateful for – a coworker, a mentor, a friend, a family member, your favourite fruit seller at your local market:

Why are you grateful to this person?

You don’t need to be the world’s best writer, and you don’t need to write a novel.

Clara doesn’t yet know how to write, but she does love sharing her colourful drawings and it brightens up the days of those she appreciates.

The beauty is in the fact that you took the time to share your heart.

You might just make their day. I wouldn’t be surprised if this practice of gratitude makes your own day, too!

Source: Maria Jackson, adapted for the Skill Junction community


9 key habits of successful leadership connection 2

As we end off our 9 Habits that Super Successful Leaders and Managers practice, I have left the most important habit 'til last....

Christmas 2017 was a very special time spent with family – our extended family on both sides, Adrian’s and mine.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I adore family and family is my number two priority in my life after my Lord above.

And, living as we do in Australia, I don’t get to see my extended family very often because they all live far over the ocean in Johannesburg, South Africa.

So, our 2017 Christmas was incredibly special and important to me.

I got to engage, live, laugh, connect, cry, love, fight, ruminate aloud with my brother, dad, niece and nephews, in-laws and family friends in a way that allowed my soul to fill up.

I also got to see Clara engage at a simple yet incredibly poignant level with all the varied members of our large, unruly, chaotic clan on both sides.

Although she has always known that Mom and Dad are not her only family, being with our wonderful family has made a big difference to her perspective on the world and her place in it.

Brain Rules for Aging Well” is a great little book by a developmental molecular biologist and writer by the name of John Medina. The book explains the brain research behind aging and what we can do to age gracefully and with energy and verve.

So, what are the secrets to having a healthy, old brain?

It’s pretty simple: relationships.

In one 12-year study, 1,140 seniors were measured for their social activity and their cognitive health; the group that socialised most, showed a whopping 70% less mental decline than those with little to no social activity.

Now that I know the facts, its hard for me not to compare the results against my own life and where I am in my relationships: 

Am I doing the best that I can to prioritize the relationships that will give me a long, healthy, meaningful life?

Mendina goes on to share the following: "While you maintain your closest relationships with five people at a time, researchers find, you can have meaningful relationships of varying quality with an additional 150 people."

Five people.

Well, that got me.

Although I can easily identify the 5 closest people to me, I have to ask myself if I am doing everything I can to maintain a meaningful connection with them.

And I would have to admit to “No” – even with my admitted focus and priority on family, my daily focus on work and juggling life gets in the way of connecting meaningfully more often with these 5 special people in my life.

I recognise that I stop short at connecting more often – even though it may just be a “whatsapp” message because of my focus on getting stuff done in my “everyday world”.

If we can reach out and connect with our closest loved ones more meaningfully, I’d say that not only our brains and bodies will thank us in the long term but so will theirs.

So, take a moment.

Can you list the five people in your life with whom you would like to have a deeper, more meaningful and connected relationship? 

While you’re at it, brainstorm what action steps you will take to reach out to each person on your list

Source: Maria Jackson, adapted for the Skill Junction community
9 key habits of successful leadership connection


Each of these 9 key habits of successful leadership can start a groundswell of momentum towards a more positive future for you and your team.

My hope is that as you've read through each of these habits, that you've highlighted those areas which really stand out for you.  

I hope that you have a real sense of your strengths as a leader and which of these habits you can develop for the good of you and your goals as well as your team.

Final Reflection:

  1. Which of these habits stood out for you and why?
  2. Which are your strengths?
  3. Which are your areas for development?
  4. Which of these habits do you tend to overuse?
  5. Which of these habits could you be using more within your team?

Thanks and acknowledgement:

This series, 9 Key Habits for Successful Leadership, took many weeks to research, develop and roll-out.  I owe a big thanks to Maria Jackson an author for SixSeconds whose series on Wellbeing I absolutely loved and who inspired me to put pen to paper within my own community.  

See you at the top,

Signature Sign Off - Kerry Anne Cassidy

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