leadership doctrineRarely do we analyze the belief systems that we hold near and dear.  Yet, as leaders, by truly recognizing and utilizing our belief systems, we can transform the way we approach our co-workers, our organizations and ourselves. Over our lifetimes, we collect a vast array of different experiences, which build our personal beliefs and assumptions.

The following 5 principles, woven together, establish a doctrinal foundation for the development of a personal worldview that is simultaneously simple and profound.  This is a worldview that I realized was incubated during my formative years growing up in the Nickerson household in New Jersey.  I have named it the Nickerson Leadership Doctrine.

It is straightforward, and a reference that I rely upon when determining leadership decisions, creating organizational trajectory and establishing healthy personnel relationships.  I share these principles with you for your edification and for your leadership development.

Be Honest

In this leadership doctrine, honesty was the trademark character trait in our family as I was being raised along with my two older brothers.  Nothing was more important that telling the truth.  My father was insistent.  Now, while developing leaders, I share the same mantra.  Being honest is the only way to develop trust.  Trust is essential in any healthy, vibrant organization.

The public relations firm, Edelman, has been conducting an annual global survey since 2000, called the Trust Barometer.  Its purpose is to gauge the public’s trust in leaders and institutions. In 2014 the survey gathered data from more than 33,000 respondents.  Only 20% of respondents trusted business leaders to tell the truth, and only 13% trusted government officials to tell the truth.

According to Edelman PR president and CEO, Richard Edelman, “We’re clearly experiencing a crisis in leadership.” In the 2018 survey, trust declining 23 points, dropping the U.S. from sixth to last place out of the 28 markets surveyed.  The survey examines the institutions of government, NGO’s, business and media.  This year’s shattering loss of trust in the United States represents a hinge moment in history.  The steady lose of the successful WWII generation and baby boomer leaders is occurring at a fast pace.  We have yet to find leadership in any area that promises to put us back onto a trajectory of trust.

Any aspiring leader must focus on communicating and behaving in an honest fashion to begin rebuilding a sense of trust.  Trust takes time to build but can be extinguished in the blink of an eye with a callous disregard to facts.

Don’t be ugly

This principle was contributed by my mother, born and bred in Georgia.  It’s a southern phrase with a simple translation—don’t be rude or insulting to another person.  In our household, it was a constant reminder to be nice and kind.   Thee is no reason to show disrespect to another human.

In business today, leaders are much more successful when they display respect, compassion, and empathy toward others.  Angry outbursts should be checked at the door.  No leader is going to be approachable by others if there is uncertainty about how the leader will react.  No one is going to stick around and continue to work for a malicious leader.

Take ownership

Denial gets you nowhere.  If you have made a mistake, own it.  There is not a human on the planet who has not made a mistake, so being perfect is out of the question.  Certainly, you have heard that the best lessons in life often are learned from our mistakes.

My brothers and I found that by admitting when we did something wrong allowed us to move on from it and get back to living our lives.  Yes, there often was punishment, but it was short-lived and then life got back to normal.

In business, ignoring the situation can provide the mistake more power than it deserves.  It can become a barrier in making future progress in a project you are completing or hinder your confidence in making an important decision.  You might be afraid you will make another mistake.  By defining your mistake, your staff will have one less reason to criticize you.  They actually will increase their respect for you because of your willingness to be honest and vulnerable.

Taking ownership of your mistake often leads to making an apology.  It also gives you the courage to do the right thing.  As a leader, people are watching what you do and being willing to model your own ability to admit that things went wrong goes a long way sustaining a trusting, honest environment.

Explain your point of view

The line in our household was always the same.  When entering conversations, if we found that we didn’t know something about the subject under discussion, we were told, “Go look it up.”  That meant making a quick foray into the World Book encyclopedias that we had on our bookshelves.

The message being made was clear.  Be informed.  Do your research.  It has stuck with me to this day.  The caveat to this principle is the willingness to change perspectives if the research provides a different conclusion.  The freedom to be relentlessly curious came from knowing that it was the evidence that supported the argument that was most important, not the argument itself.

As a leader, you will find yourself more successful moving your company forward when you apply this principle.  Always start with data and research.  Know the opposing perspective(s) that others hold why they support it.  Be sequential in explaining how you arrived at your point of view—argue the points of your defense without besmirching the other perspectives.  Stay positive, respectful and professional.  Always reference the data and the benefits of pursuing your perspective.  Even if you have to make an unilateral decision that others oppose, stay respectful, and thank them for their input.  Strong, effective communication is an essential tool in any leadership doctrine.


Nobody is perfect, as stated previously.  If things go off the rails and people misbehave, look for ways to bring everyone back on board.  Be willing to offer second chances.  Accept apologies.  Always keep in mind that showing your authentic side matters because people want to know you believe what you say.   Above all, as a leader, stay committed to honesty, transparency and fair play.  Forgive, learn, and move on, according to the Nickerson Leadership Doctrine.


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