"Leaders Cover, They Don't Expose" & Other Lessons on Leadership Ethics & Etiquette

There is an unspoken code for leaders.

Once you are in leadership, you drop the "I" for the "you" first, then "we" after. Leadership is never about the leader.

This shift can be challenging, especially when you consider that from childhood to this position of leadership, you had to prove that you stood out and were up to the task.

In leadership, there are ways of thinking, speaking, and acting that either establish or discredit you as a leader. Here are 10 Leadership Ethics & Etiquette that will help you to adjust into the role of steward (not owner, not boss) of people, organizations, and industry:

1. Prioritize Your Values

As the leader, you set the code of conduct within your sphere of influence. When you prioritize values, such as respect, family, rest, faith, accountability, others will follow. Don’t want to receive a message before 7 or 8 am? Don’t send messages before 7 or 8 am. Want your weekend to yourself, stop sending emails to others on Friday afternoon and on the weekend. Create, live, and protect the life you want to enjoy at home and at work.

2. Know the business

You don’t have to be the CEO or MD to think 360. i. Where is the business going? ii. Where is it now? iii. What does it need to get there? iv. What needs to be aligned? Where? To make that happen? Leaders stay abreast with the wider business as well as their specific responsibilities.

3. Be accountable for your team

There are no pointing fingers in Leadership. There is no “Me against… " Well, "anybody”. You are a leader with your team under your stewardship. No matter how they individually or collectively are, they are yours. How well or badly they do also depends on you.

Your team reflects your leadership. If you want purpose-driven, talent, driving results, build purpose-driven talent to deliver results.

What you allow goes, what you don’t, stops.

If something happens under your watch, you are held accountable for the consequences.

4. Help your leader to win

Whether you report to the Board Chairperson, CEO, or an external client, your job is to help them win. Even if a senior leader, approach your role with the mindset of an armor-bearer; as far as it is up to you, your work serves to facilitate your leaders'.


There is no room for ego nor flexing, even if you know more and believe you would make a better leader. They are on the seat above you and for as long as you answer to them, you do everything within your power and then some (that is legal, ethical, and moral) to help them win. And do so with a good attitude.

5. Criticize Privately

I messed up royally with this one, please learn from my mistakes. If there is an area of skills development or attitude adjustment someone needs to make, and you either have the positional, or relational obligation, don’t criticize them in public. Request for a time when you can privately connect one on one to talk through the issue first. You may find you don’t even need to involve others after that. Protecting others’ humanity and dignity is above everything, even the cost of their mistake to the organization, or to you.

6. Praise Publicly

See something praiseworthy? Say something praiseworthy. Do it immediately, do it lavishly, do it publicly, and do it often. It doesn’t even matter whether that person is a direct report or peer, make it a habit to praise and affirm the behaviors you want to encourage and reward.

People don't hear praise enough, it means all that more when it is genuine, public praise for doing something well.

This is the rule: If someone doesn't do something well, tell them, if they do things exceptionally well, tell the whole world!

7. Do It First

Think about what you have been telling someone to do but they don’t. Then, answer this question: Do you do it yourself? In all situations in life, remember that:

“Everything rises and falls on leadership” John C. Maxwell.

Leaders go the way first, then they show the way. You are a leader, not a bossy taskmaster. The best inspiration and motivation for your colleagues is you doing it first; humbly, openly, even imperfectly, and consistently.

8. Share Generously

Contrary to what the insecure will tell you, sharing insights, opportunities, even your very position, serves to elevate, and not undermine your leadership. By a leader that creates the space and paves the way for the capabilities and advancement of others. Not one that keeps your boot on the neck.

9. Eat Last

Want to be captain? Comes with the territory: leaders eat last. This scripture has marked my leadership:

“Be diligent to know the state of your flocks, and look well to your herds;” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:23‬ ‭AMPC‬‬

When you read it to the end of the chapter, you get the message that when you take care of your people, your people will take care of the business (and you). But the principle is that you must understand that part of the package of leadership is taking care of your people first. If you can take care of yourself too, that’s great, but if you have to choose between you and your team, put your team first (even if the company won’t).

10. Don’t Lament, Flag Discontent

Your seniority makes you mission-critical. You can't afford to pout, lament, and mop around in discontent. If things aren’t going well, request time to speak to your direct leader to address it. Don’t brood over it and vent at home, or gossip with colleagues. You are too big for that. Since we all have biases and therefore, blinders, you may want to first request to speak to a trusted adviser to gain a fresh perspective and approach to the matter before addressing it with the person in the organization that can help you steer it to resolution. If not satisfied with the measures taken, strategize on how you would like to proceed, and notify those concerned. If you feel the issue is too grave to continue with the organization, give ample notice, and give your utmost to prepare a smooth transition for your team, colleagues, and company. Remember, even if they go low, you go high. There is more to this industry and your career than this organization. But how you lead yourself and others here, can make it break future prospects.


Bonus: Connect in Your Industry

Your leadership goes beyond your ability to lead your organization well. Being an executive leader, you most probably also have the market and global understanding to influence trends, and impact industry developments. You can't keep all of that to yourself.

Like it or not, leadership requires you to go over and above your job description and your contractual engagement with your company. As a leader, there is a social contract, an expectation that you would make yourself available to share your expertise with the wider professional community, and in so doing, shape the future of your industry.

It can be daunting, and super exhausting, but armed with a plan, you've got this! And God's got you!

Leadership Lessons

What are some unwritten, unsaid leadership lessons you stumbled upon as you started out in leadership?

Please share them in the comments below.


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