Leadership Library Logo

Leadership Library Advice: Fourteen Leadership Principles

Leadership Library Advice: Fourteen Leadership Principles by Dr. Charles McClain
Dr. Charles McClain
Recommended by: Zora Mulligan, Commissioner, Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development

1) What is your suggestion about?

Dr. Charles McClain
Dr. Charles McClain

This is an unusual recommendation because it’s not available online or in a bookstore. This is a list my old boss Dr. Robert Stein shared with me after his mentor, Dr. Charles McClain, passed away in 2015. Dr. McClain was a two-time commissioner of higher education, the founder of Jefferson College, the visionary who imagined that Northeast Missouri State University could be transformed into the state’s private liberal arts institution, and the hard-driver who turned that vision into reality at what we now call Truman State University.

The list describes McClain’s principles and habits. Rather than summarize it, I’m providing it here:

  • Be willing to take a public stand for an idea that you believe in but is not widely held by others.
  • An achievement that benefits the world is much more important than who gets credit for it happening.
  • Treat others with respect, even when you disagree vehemently.
  • Instincts are often correct.
  • Communicate major ideas for any new initiative in clear, concise language.
  • Review work products often and reiterate versions over and over again before releasing them publicly.
  • Practice formal presentations before the curtain goes up.
  • Be over-prepared in new situations.
  • Take time to remember details and acknowledge co-workers’ personal lives.
  • Establish priorities rather than spread yourself thin across too many agendas.
  • Reach out to people — one-on-one — when you’re trying to convince them about a new idea or approach.
  • Make a commitment to regularly evaluate the worth of what you are doing.
  • Regardless of the power and authority you may have, remain humble and appreciate the roles all play in bringing about needed change.
  • Take joy in being alive and feel blessed for the life you have been given.

2) Why did you choose it?

When Gov. Mike Parson made his first address to a joint session of the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate, he encouraged audience members to remember the leaders who have come before us, those who have left their mark. This is a good time to reflect on leadership that lasts, and Dr. McClain embodies that in my line of work. He not only survived the many difficult jobs he took on, his work has left the kind of legacy most leaders can only dream of.

3) What is a key takeaway for leaders driving improvement in how we deliver for the citizens of Missouri?

The thing about this list that gets me every time is how humble and workmanlike it is – it’s a list that describes the tremendous effort required of leaders. No stunts or gimmicks, just hard work, careful preparation, courage, and communication, communication, communication.

The last line may be the most important of all, and is worth reiterating: Take joy in being alive and feel blessed for the life you have been given.


Leave a Comment

We encourage comments that further our purpose of enhancing the management of state operations and may edit entries and comments to advance that purpose. Comments selected for inclusion will disclose the name of the commentator and the department where they work.

Comment on


  • Connie Cooper, Department of Corrections
  • June 18, 2018 10:22 am
  • These habits by McClain are awesome if only each employee could be more like this and follow these.
  • Barb Darling, Department of Mental Health
  • June 18, 2018 10:27 am
  • Thanks for sharing this list, it holds a lot of wisdom. I printed it out and posted it in my office as a reminder of how to stay on track.
  • Karen Lockhart, Department of Social Services
  • June 18, 2018 11:16 am
  • I think these Fourteen Leadership principles are wonderful guides to increase our efficiency as government agencies. I will post them in my cube and reflect on them often. Thank you for sharing these ideals.
  • Jama A. Mahanes, Department of Mental Health
  • June 20, 2018 10:48 am
  • That was a very inspirational article. I have always been a firm believer in those concepts and it was great to see all of them written down in one list. I am a retired (30 years!) teacher and in my second career. I am the Provider Relations supervisor at the Kansas City Regional Office for MHD-DD. These are the same concepts I encourage my team to adopt. We practice these when working with our provider agencies. Thank you for this article submission.
  • Susan Alexander, Department of Social Services
  • June 26, 2018 11:51 am
  • Dr. McClain was a good man, and a great president at Truman State University (NMSU) when I was in school there. It does not surprise me that he wrote these principles. They are posed in my office, and I am considering giving them to each youth that graduates while with us.
  • Margaret Tyler, Department of Health and Senior Services
  • July 2, 2018 5:09 pm
  • While there's a sense in which each of us can be a leader, I especially appreciated this selection because it was the first one that wasn't addressed mostly to managers.