Top Leadership Secrets

My Top 11 Leadership Secrets From 25 Years In Corporate America

My Top 11 Leadership Secrets From 25 Years In Corporate America

I’ve learned a LOT from my 25 years in corporate America. The majority of this time was in higher education administration. I’ve been blessed to have some fabulous leadership mentors throughout my career. I’ve also been blessed to have some great examples of poor leadership over the years. Sometimes, we learn more from the people we consider poor leaders than we do the strong ones. While this article focuses on my top 11 leadership secrets, I could write a novel about all things big and small related to leadership. We’ll save that for another day!

Top Leadership Secrets

I’ve certainly made my fair share of leadership mistakes. There are definitely things I would do differently. Here are my top 11 leadership secrets:

Leadership Secret #1: Integrity and credibility are sacred

success componentss

A leader must have integrity and credibility to get anything done with excellence. It takes time to nurture and one moment to destroy. Key factors to nurturing strong integrity and credibility include:

  1. Be honest and transparent.
  2. Create and nurture trust. This includes having the right trust in the right people for the right reasons AND being someone worthy of trust. Here’s an article I wrote about trust in more detail.
  3. Truly care about your team. People bring their heart to work so anything going on in their personal lives DOES affect their work life to varying degrees. When you lead from the space of knowing people bring their hearts to work, you can create a caring environment. When people know how much you care about them as individuals; not just as a number, people will move mountains for you.
  4. Show vulnerability. Let people in. Allow others to get to know you…the person beyond the title and job. Share your humanness.


Leadership Secret #2: Ask the right questions


As a leader, your job isn’t to know everything; it’s knowing the right questions to ask in every situation. Granted, it’s important to deeply understand what your team does, why it’s important and how things work but you don’t need to know EVERYTHING. It’s impossible. Recognize you don’t know everything, defer to the experts and remember to ask the right questions.


I recently saw the movie “Sully” which was based on the true story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, or “Captain Sully,”  saving all 155 souls on board (and countless civilians) on US Airways Flight 1549 which landed in New York City’s Hudson River January 15th, 2009. When Captain Sully took part in the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation into the ‘water landing’, there appeared to be overwhelming evidence that the Captain could have safely returned to the airport. After watching repeated simulations demonstrating the NTSB’s theory, Captain Sully asked how many times the simulation pilots took to get the result? (The answer was 17 times) He asked where the human factors were in this exercise? In the simulation, the pilots KNEW immediately their job was to return to the airport. In reality, there was 205 seconds of assessing the situation, taking procedural actions, talking with air traffic controllers and, ultimately, determining there wasn’t enough time or altitude to safely return to the airport. In such a densely populated area, the only thing they could do is land in the water. Captain Sully knew the right questions to ask. He knew enough about his craft to know what to ask.


Leadership Secret #3: Communicate your values and mission and create corresponding goals and expectations

 Leadership Word Cloud Concept

One of the key roles of leadership is to communicate your organization’s values and mission. Everything you do should support this. If you are a CEO or President of your organization, be sure to create and clearly communicate your values and mission. This should drive your goals.

One of the biggest reasons new employees leave an organization within six months of hire is because the understanding of their job responsibilities differed with the actual job and there wasn’t goals or expectations in place.

Key factors to remember about creating goals, standards and expectations include:


  1. Creating specific measurements for all tasks. What gets measured gets done. This includes quality and quantity standards.
  2. Foster new ideas and innovation. Always expect your team to develop new ways of doing things.
  3. Communicate the what and why of goals. When people understand why they are doing something, it helps them have ownership and engagement.


Leadership Secret #4: Make time for planning


As a leader, you have competing demands on your time. I get it. Some days, you can feel like a chicken with your head cut off and go all day without eating or …gasp…going to the bathroom. Admit it. You’ve done this before! It’s critical, however, that as a leader, you are constantly working to improve your own skills, talents and abilities. The most successful people take time for planning and growing themselves. As a leader, you are responsible for focusing on the right things.

Leadership Secret #5: Engage top talent


Creating a world-class team achieving first-class results requires you to keep your shining stars. This is something I am wildly passionate about. You do this, in part, by:


  1. Setting the example and tone.
  2. Invest in training and development.
  3. Ensure your team has the right resources.
  4. Involve others in decisions affecting their job.
  5. Delegate authority with tasks.
  6. Recognizing and rewarding results.
  7. Quickly address performance issues.
  8. Provide timely feedback.
  9. Communicate – Communicate – Communicate.
  10. Support your team. Have their back.
  11. Take ownership of your teams’ mistakes.
  12. Graciously and generously share compliments.
  13. Leverage strengths

Check out a presentation I facilitated HERE on the top of recruiting, engaging and retaining top talent.

Leadership Secret #6: Communicate


In my recent article about the 5 mistakes new managers make, I talked more about communication. The bottom line here is you MUST have good interpersonal, written and oral communication skills. Remember,


  1. It’s what you say AND how you say it.
  2. Body language matters.
  3. Timing is everything.
  4. Create standards for email communication (utilize subject lines) so everyone knows what to expect.
  5. Learn the power of words, how people communicate and relate to them accordingly.
  6. Actively listen…truly listen. Paraphrase what you hear to ensure understanding.
  7. Objectively communicate your needs and your team’s needs clearly and concisely.

 Leadership Secret #7: Provide Feedback


If you don’t take time to let your team know how they are doing, you leave them blowing in the wind and creating disconnect. Providing feedback includes:


  1. Using the goals, standards and expectations, create a written framework for what good performance looks like and what will happen when performance measures aren’t met.
  2. Meet with your team regularly. Depending on the job, this could be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. In some cases, it could be daily.
  3. Give your employees the opportunity to share feedback, insights, issues, etc…


One of the goals here is that at official performance review times, there should be NO surprises. Having an ongoing feedback loop ensures everyone is on the same page. It also prevents the anxiety and procrastination that can happen when you delay administering reviews because you haven’t provided ongoing feedback!

Leadership Secret #8: Hire right and fire fast


Hiring right and firing fast means that you take accountability and responsibility for hiring the right people and take accountability and action when someone isn’t working out. Here’s what hiring right and firing fast means:


  1. Take time to assess hiring needs and create a matrix of the qualities ideal candidates possess. Ensure new hires are a right fit; both from a job and culture standpoint.
  2. Hire to your weaknesses. It’s easy to hire other people just like you. It’s a stretch to hire and surround yourself with people that have strengths you don’t.
  3. Hire people that share your values.
  4. For goodness sake, hire for attitude. You can train the right people to do almost anything. It’s much more difficult to coach to poor attitudes.
  5. Have an effective new hire on-boarding process.
  6. Swiftly address poor performance. Document everything. Delineate between “don’t know how to do” versus “don’t want to do” issues and act accordingly. Be compassionate yet firm. Be consistent. You can’t afford to influence your entire team because one person isn’t cutting it. Also remember that just because someone isn’t a right fit for a particular job doesn’t mean they aren’t a right fit somewhere else.


Remember, costs associated with hiring include direct and indirect costs. If you look at these numbers, it behooves you to always, always hire right.

Leadership Secret #9: Nurture relationships


Leaders must understand how everything fits together. They need to build effective relationships up, down and across the organization.

Leaders influence results through and with people. Successful leaders exert positive influence. When I worked in corporate America, I created good relationships with every department across the university. Information technology, human resources, compliance, legal, academic affairs, admissions, enrollment, records, training, academic counseling, public relations, alumni, vendors, the Department of Education, National Family Privacy office, Inspector General, financial aid, administration, national, regional and state education associations, veterans affairs, campus leadership and more.


Leaders must understand how everything fits together. They need to build effective relationships up, down and across the organization. Click To Tweet


Leadership Secret #10: Use and trust your intuition

 Trust your intuition

As a leader, you are hit with all kinds of data and analysis. This is certainly important when making decisions. The biggest thing I’ve learned in leadership and life is to use my intuition. Whenever I’ve hired someone that looked great on paper and references all checked out but there was ‘just something about them’ and I didn’t listen to that voice, I always regretted it. Here’s an article about how to strengthen your intuition.


Using your intuition is about engaging your heart and mind. Trusting your gut will always serve you well. True leaders understand and embrace this.

Leadership Secret #11: Have courage

 Have courage

Sometimes, leaders do things that aren’t popular. Have the courage to always, always do the right thing; even in the face of criticism. When faced with difficult decisions, the greatest leaders of our time did what they knew to be right and they helped everyone understand why. They weren’t worried about what people thought of them or what was popular. They had courage and heart to do the right thing in the face of difficult circumstances.

If you are ready to:

1. Rise above your internal chatter and the crap that keeps you playing small AND

2. Lead your business like the “Rockstar” CEO you know you are  AND

3. Create a culture of highly engaged employees and loyal/raving clients  AND

4. Save time, money and countless brain cells stressing over how to lead, manage, grow and succeed in business AND

5. Take imperfect action

JOIN me for the Leadership Rockstar Group Coaching Program starting Monday, May 22nd, 2017. It’s the only program of its kind that integrates mindset, leadership, hiring, culture, and legacy in one place. You get live coaching with me every step of the way.

Leadership RockstarsIf you want to be a ROCKSTAR LEADER… a LEGACY LEADER… register HERE and let’s get started!




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Tandy Elisala

Family Caregiver Coach, Cancer Empowerment Advocate and Chief Inspiration Officer at Center for Inspiring Greatness | Empowered Family Caregiver
Tandy Elisala is passionate about helping family caregivers go from being overwhelmed and stressed to empowered and calm. Tandy went through cancer four times and learned how to heal using conventional, complementary, and alternative therapy. Tandy left her corporate career to take care of both parents simultaneously while raising three kids as a single mom. She took care of both parents for 2 1/2 years until their respective deaths. Tandy now teaches what she learned on her journey. Tandy is a family caregiver coach, a multiple best-selling author, inspirational speaker and mom to three adult kids, one angel dog and one diva cat.

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25 replies
    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Me too! Integrity and credibility are CRITICAL for leadership success. To inspire, influence and impact people and results, you’ve got to have these things.

  1. Lorii Abela
    Lorii Abela says:

    You have covered great areas here. I cannot pick one which is the best as they are all important. They complement each other. Interestingly enough, you can use them in all areas of your life.

    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      I’m glad all these areas were important for you, Lorii! I smiled inside reading your comment that these are things we can use in all areas of life. Indeed, leading ourselves and creating a life that matters starts with these areas.

  2. Mindy
    Mindy says:

    Tandy, these are wonderful tips! I am saving this, maybe even printing, they are that good! Thank you for this. Oh, and I’m going to see Sully tonight! Can’t wait! 🙂

    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Mindy, you made my day! Thanks so much. I’d love to know what you thought of the movie, Sully. I thought it was awesome!

  3. Erin
    Erin says:

    I appreciate using intuition. I think most people take so much time pondering what others want/think/feel they don’t take the time to trust their own gut! I guess this goes along with your point about courage. Wonderful post!

    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Thanks so much, Erin. I think intuition is critical for leadership and life. I agree that intuition and courage go hand in hand. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Mitch Tublin
    Mitch Tublin says:

    Enjoyed reading your leadership tips. So many people talk about leadership and then keep doing whatever they always do. One of the errors people make is to assume a title means someone is a leader.

    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Amen, Mitch! Leadership has NOTHING to do solely with title. Leadership is earned. We have to change our habits to consistently influence others.


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  1. […] you to see intuition in a leadership related article. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in 25 years of leadership experience is that one of my chief assets is my internal guidance system. Leadership is a little bit of science […]

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