Five Things That Made Me a Better Leader

By Tom Buhler


1. I stopped making stupid rules.


Every rule takes away a chance for us to make a choice or a decision.  Rules end the conversation, and we always need to be talking and thinking differently, or else we’re in a process of atrophy. Managers become rule enforcers instead of leaders. It’s fine to have standards or guardrails that reflect your company values. Use these standards as topics of discussion starting with recruiting and onboarding, and continuing throughout the employee life cycle. And when someone deviates from the values–the standards–well that’s a time for some feedback, that’s a coachable moment. I call it freedom with accountability.


 2. Don’t worry about being liked.


Are you a people pleaser? It’s normal to want to be liked, but it’s a problem if you have a need to be liked. A need to be liked causes managers to withhold direct, constructive feedback. It can lead to delayed decision making in the hopeless quest to get universal agreement. You don’t need to act like a jerk at work, but realize that your team members don’t need another friend, they need a leader who will coach them and advance their career, who will make the sometimes tough decisions to protect the team or advance the company.


3. Fill your schedule, with purpose.


Time is the most valuable asset you cannot own. I’m obsessed with minutes. I know that every minute wasted or freely given away is another minute that can’t be spent coaching their team or on getting results. For best results, throw out your to-do list, and schedule everything. Identify your daily most important task and schedule it first thing in the morning (before interruptions and while you are cognitively at your best). Pre-schedule time to lead; schedule your recurring weekly one-on-one’s, your quarterly town-halls, your twice a year career path meetings. What about downtime? What about time to think? Yes, schedule that too.


4. It’s good to show weakness.


Too many old school leaders believe “leadership is acting” or we must always wear a mask to project confidence and optimism. The best leaders today realize that authenticity and vulnerability are the fastest ways to earn trust. And as Stephen M.R. Covey said, “Trust is the one thing that changes everything.” I’m not talking about striving to shed tears and share fears. That’s an inauthentic way of being authentic. Share your past failures as learning experiences. Share the bad news with the good. Drop your mask and be your unique self.  



 5. Leadership Is Not a Choice.


Leadership in a word is: influence. And we know from behavioral psychology that we are always influencing those around us. You influence when you stand up to the bully, but also when you remain a bystander. You influence when you challenge the idea in the conference room, and also when you remain silent. Leadership isn’t a choice, because you are leading (i.e., influencing) all of the time. This means you are leading not just at work but also at the dinner table, and on the sidelines of the soccer field. But are you leading in a positive direction or a negative direction? Be mindful of your power as a leader. Lead with intent.




Whether you are a front-line supervisor, middle manager, or senior executive, these 5 things might help you to become both the boss everyone wants to work for and the high achiever every CEO wants to hire.




Tom Buhler serves as the Chief Community Affairs Officer at Butter Buds Inc. He’s the founder of Visioning a Greater Racine.