The Four L’s of Leadership

pic for 4 L's blog

Working with leaders across many different industries holding many different levels of responsibility, I can honestly say there isn’t a time I don’t add something new to my leadership toolbox. Whether someone shares a technology short cut or a new way to look at conflict, I continually grow. Leading from wherever we are presents us with opportunities to explore as well as take strategic action if we want to commit to leading.

As I saw with a group of leaders this week in a Problem Solving workshop, cultivating strong customer relationships requires focused and compassionate leadership. Even though these leaders were in a client-driven industry, they also needed to meet the expectations of their team members. There was great frustration with always saying “yes” to their customer needs at the expense of a work/life balance. So how were they going to tackle their two-sided challenges and model effective leadership?

Here are the four L’s of Leadership that may come in handy for you too:


Before embarking on any challenge, leaders need to open their listening channels to make sure they are hearing what is being said by both the team members and the client.

  • Focus on the message being shared
  • Don’t interrupt with unrelated comments or an agenda
  • Look at the facial expressions and body language to pick up on feelings
  • Ask insightful questions about the timeframe, deadlines, missing information, lack of resources


The hardest part of problem solving is defining the problem properly so that a correct solution can be reached. So take the time to understand clearly what the client is requesting and why the team member is having difficulty meeting those needs. A great way to approach a mutually beneficial outcome is to collaborate and brainstorm together.

Ask the client, “Is this a drop dead deadline or can we take a few more days?”

Ask the team member, “How can I support you in making this happen?”


In the workshop one of the participants told us a great story about telling the client the truth. When he realized that a certain report would take an additional week to create, he simply told the client that he would need some more time to collect the data for an accurate deliverable. He asked for a two week extension and guess what? The client said that would be fine. Set yourself free by being honest and asking.


In coming up with a collaborative solution, it is essential to show empathy for both our teams and our clients. Each has their perspective on a joint project and should be validated with respect, compassion and personal care. To do this:

  • Keep everyone updated on the progress- the more communication the better
  • Provide team members with the skills, knowledge and resources to be successful
  • Be an extra set of eyes and ears, allowing both the teammate and the client to openly share concerns
  • Display appreciation and gratitude to everyone involved

How do you use the four L’s of leadership in your role? Do you have any additional L’s to add?

11 thoughts on “The Four L’s of Leadership

  1. Great post. In my very first position out of school at a bank, we had a remarkable leader and head of our fast track leadership development program. I was surprised that was bold enough to talk about the importance of “love” in leadership When he died suddenly of a heart attack, I asked if i could write up his philosophy as a tribute in the company news letter. The response: “people die all the time” we can’t do something like this for everyone.” That sentiment opened my eyes and got me thinking more deeply about the culture there. I left 3 months later for a better job with an culture that felt right.

  2. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story about an important past leader in your life. He sounded like a very inspirational leader who really made an impact on your career.

    Love in leadership is often a missing piece because people are fearful of showing all their sides. They worry that they will be judged for being vulnerable. Of course just the opposite is true- when we show others our vulnerabilities we are simply being human. And being human is essential in leadership.

    Compassion and empathy reign high on the leadership success list.

    Thanks Karin!

  3. Hi Terri. Amazing stories, great article. I’ve had some expierience as a project leader. I find mostly valuable the 4 L’s as you point out. Maybe they add or form that emmerging L for “Lead”, which I find very challenging.

    To lead people is actually not so simple, and I would say it doesn’t come out so often and naturally as one may think. So to lead paying attention to this 4 L’s will be of great help.

    But anyway, you will have to lead your team from where you they are, to where you know and want them to be. This involves essentially Change management and lots of communication. Bringing future to present, moving forward from one point to another, requires the leaders abilities to create and share vision, motivation and confidence.

    Best regards.

  4. You make an important point, Terri—many people experience tremendous frustration with always saying “yes” to their customer needs at the expense of a work/life balance.

    I have found that by fine-tuning my ability to read people’s non-verbal behavior, it can help guide me in understanding the dissonance between what is being said and what is not. By simply training ourselves to notice the changes in gestures or body position, it can be a gold mine in knowing how to stop “beating around the bush” by wasting time talking around the problem instead of drilling down sooner.

    Great post, Terri!

  5. I love the idea of spending time reading non-verbal cues because those signs are what a person is honestly feeling. I have noticed that some people are much more observant when it comes to non-verbal body language and facial expressions. Some leaders really have a hard time picking up on all the nuances and often take the verbal message as fact.

    I appreciate you sharing those insights with us!

    Thanks LaRae!

  6. You make some great points Juan and especially adding the “L” of “Lead”. I also agree that moving our teams from where they are to where they need to be requires strong and effective communication. When leaders can be clear about the vision of a change and explain the reasoning behind it, the team is more likely to be motivated in making the change.

    Thanks Juan for stopping by and offering your great additions!

  7. My favorite here is liberate!!

    I work with people all the time who tell me: “I could never…” ask for more money, more time, more support. Or I hear “I need to give them something…” even though it’s not my best, I’m not done etc.

    It is freeing to speak the truth with a solution in mind. Asking for the time needed was a great solution for the person in your post and it probably scared them to ask.

    There’s something to be said for speaking the truth and asking for what you really need to co-create success – you get it (or learn for next time).

    Liberate is awesome and a word that we don’t see associated with the leadership conversation enough.

    Another great post, Terri!

  8. Terri, Great lessons in leading! I know this has become popular, but a related L may be Lean In. This is part empathy and part accepting diversity. In both there is strength. Thanks! Jon

  9. It was scary for the person to ask for an extension but once he did he realized that clients are human too. The rest of the participants felt liberated too just hearing about the possibility of asserting the truth.

    You bring up an excellent point about co-creating for success. When clients and their organizations realize they are on the same team working for the same goals, empathy and compassion roll in. Each begins to see one another’s perspective and is willing to meet those adjustments.

    Thanks Alli for continuing this important dialogue!

  10. I love the “L” of Lean in! It is essential that we accept and welcome diversity as well as different perspectives. That type of thinking leads to creative innovation and new ways to look at problems.

    Thanks Jon!

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