A Leadership Primer
based on The Leadership Challenge
by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
The Need for Leadership
With the postmillennial shift in values and organizational style, life in organizations today can be quite confusing and - at times - frustrating . In some functional communities, no one seems to be in charge. In this environment, the impersonal forces of external factors become the de facto leaders and the participants of such an organization feel constrained to be in reactive mode. In other groups highly politicized cultures dominate in which leaders pursue self-serving agendas and spend more time on spin control than genuinely serving their internal constituents and external missions.
Since it was first published in 1987 The Leadership Challenge has garnered a well-deserved reputation as a classic work on leadership. With over 1 million copies in print, the book won the prestigious Critics’ Choice Award in 1995-1996. Herbert D. Kelleher, the president and CEO of Southwest Airlines Co. calls the work “a masterpiece.” The chairman and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co., Robert D. Haas, asserts, “I found myself constantly nodding and saying to myself, ‘That’s right! That’s how it’s done! That’s what it feels like!’ [Kouzes and Posner] capture the essence of what I’ve found is at the heart of transforming leadership.”
The Basis of The Leadership Challenge
The Leadership Challenge began as a research project in 1983 when James M. Kouzes, chairman and CEO of TPG/Learning Systems (a company in The Tom Peters Group) and Barry Z. Posner, professor of organizational behavior at the Leavey School of Business and Administration of Santa Clara University, began to study the time period that selected leaders designated as periods of achieving their “personal best.” At that time they used surveys of over 1300 leaders. But from 1983 until 1997 the authors have been able to use data from thousands and thousands of managers. This study lead to the leadership model behind The Leadership Challenge and their evaluation instrument, The Leadership Practices Inventory. That instrument has been used on over ten thousand leaders and fifty thousand of their constituents.
What is Expected of Leaders
The authors put together a questionnaire that they’ve given to over 20,000 on four continents. Participants in the survey are asked to choose qualities that they would wish to see in seven hypothetical that are being elected to a leadership council. The people taking the survey are given a choice of twenty individuals with each individual representing ideal qualities of leadership.
Kouzes and Posner did this survey in 1987 and again in 1995. Both times four qualities were considered most important:
1 – Honesty
2 – Forward-looking
3 – Inspiring
4 – Competent
The Five Fundamental Practices of Exemplary Leadership
These characteristics are reflected in what Kouzes and Posner suggest are the five practices that – taken together – encapsulate the essence of outstanding leadership. They’ve further analyzed these five practices into ten commitments. They are:
A. Challenge the Process
1. Search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve.
2. Experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes.
B. Inspire a Shared Vision
1. Envision an uplifting and ennobling future.
2. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes and dreams.
C. Enable Others to Act
1. Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.
2. Strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support.
D. Model the Way
1. Set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values.
2. Achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment.
E. Encourage the Heart
1. Recognize individual contributions to the success of every project.
2. Celebrate team accomplishments regularly.
Challenge the Process
The first commitment of the practice of Challenging the Process is:
Search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve.
Leaders embrace change.
Leaders designated their greatest moments of achievement as occurring during moments of transition and challenge. Psychological studies indicate that this phenomenon occurs because these seasons of challenge increase motivation . “Necessity is the mother of invention.” While organizations tend to prefer stasis rather than change it is, in fact, change that precipitates organizational excellence as expressed in high-performance leadership. In any organization these times of challenge will inevitably come from time to time. But because times of change so often precipitate outstanding moments of leadership, the authors counter-intuitively suggest that leaders seek after and embrace change rather than avoid it.
Change is often called for in organizations by inconsistencies between what they claim to stand for and what they actually do. Peter Senge in his The Fifth Discipline calls this difference the distinction between “espoused theory” and “theory-in-use.” Porras and Collins in their classic work on organizational excellence Built to Last advise companies to correct misalignments with their company’s core values. They suggest that an organization’s membership is a rich resource for both identifying these misalignments and for suggesting strategies for correction. Similarly, Kouzes and Posner stress that the most effective and skillful leaders will let themselves be managed by their constituency when appropriate. A key talent of outstanding leaders is the ability to be managed up. Kouzes and Posner quote Irwin Federman, the former CEO of Monolithic Memories and venture capitalist: “Leaders listen, take advice, lose arguments, and follow” (p. 48). And there’s good reason to listen to an organization’s constituency. The authors write, “Studies of product and process innovations teach us that most ideas for improvement come from people other than leaders” (p. 54).
This is often difficult for leaders. They have achieved position and success often because they’ve known the right answers so many times. But promotion inevitably brings most leaders to the place where the level of complexity of the area for which they are responsible now requires them to rely on the skills and competencies of others. A new kind of skill is often required – what Peter Senge calls the ability to “balance advocacy with inquiry.” This is the ability to hold a position and even be able to argue for it, but – at the same time – hold complete certainty in abeyance as alternative positions are advocated. This humility enables a team synergy that allows the most effective solutions to organizational challenges to surface. And the demonstrated trust and respect for others that moves a leader to genuinely listening and carefully weigh his team’s arguments increases team cohesion and effectiveness.
Moreover, listening to others will inevitably lead to the type of change environment that is the seedbed for outstanding leadership.
Leaders have “Psychological Hardiness”
Yet change is stressful. Accordingly, a leader must possess or develop “psychological hardiness.” Psychologists Suzanne C. Kobasa and Salvatore R. Maddi studied individuals in business who although in the midst of highly stressful situations nevertheless experienced low degrees of illness. By studying executives at Illinois Bell during the deregulation of AT&T and the Baby Bells, Kobasa and Maddi were able to identify certain characteristics that healthy individuals shared in distinction from those who were unhealthy in stressful situations. They discovered that individuals with psychological hardiness
1 – believed that they had an influence on their environment and acted consistently with that belief;
2 – consistently considered how to change situations for advantage and never accepted events at face value;
3 – regarded change as part of the normal course of events;
4 – viewed change as a helpful path to positive development; and
5 - were committed to learning and personal transformation.
In contrast, individuals who did not thrive physically in stressful environments held very different attitudes. They
1 – were bored with life;
2 – found life to be meaningless;
3 – considered change to be threatening;
4 – believed themselves to be at the mercy of their circumstances;
5 – prepared for the worst; and
6 – considered the status quo to be normal and viewed change as unusual.
How do leaders practically “search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve?”
The authors suggest some ways in which this can be done:
1 – Treat every job as an adventure.
2 – Treat every new assignment as a start-over, even if it isn’t.
3 – Constantly question the status quo. The authors were inspired by Wal-Mart’s ETDT policy – “Eliminate the dumb things.” They encourage leaders to eliminate “every stupid rule and every needless routine within the next three months” (p. 55). Leaders should meet with their constituents and ask them what’s driving them crazy in the organization – what are the things that get in their way when they are trying to do a great job.
4 – Benchmark
5 – Make idea gathering a regular part of your routine.
6 – Find something that needs fixing. However, new leaders should be careful of landmines. They should first establish their competency and win the confidence of critical stakeholders affected by whatever process they wish to fix.
7 – Keep learning.
The second commitment of the practice of Challenging the Process is:
Experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes. Or
In Embracing Change, Leaders Take Risks
The difference between a leader and a bureaucrat is that a leader takes risk. Or, to adapt Peters and Waterman phrase in In Search of Excellence, leaders have “a bias for action.” Hollywood superagent Irving Lazar says, “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and there’s nothing doing, so I decide to make something happen by lunch” (p. 77)
When Leaders Take Risks, They Make Mistakes. Leaders then Learn from their Mistakes
Apple board chairman Mike Markkula says, “I believe the overall quality of work improves when you give people a chance to fail” (p. 68). Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was defeated by her arch-rival Chris Evert twenty-one out of the first twenty-four matches they played. Navratilova modified her game and then defeated Evert the next thirty-nine out of their next fifty-seven matches. Macy’s was founder R.H. Macy’s eighth retail venture and his first success. And it’s often repeated that before he became president, Abraham Lincoln failed twice as a businessman and lost six national and state elections. Dr. Seuss’s first book was sent back by no fewer than twenty-three publishers. As this reviewer tells his daughters, “You try and you fail; you try and you fail; you try and you fail and you try and you fail, and then you succeed!” Leaders rebound and keep moving. They make their failures the foundation of their successes as they embrace change.
What are some practical ways to experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes?
The authors suggest some action steps:
1 – Set up little experiments.
2 – Create an environment where it is safe for others to experiment and fail.
3 – Stop firehosing new ideas and prohibit others from doing so.
4 – Celebrate those who take risks.
5 – Debrief every failure as well as every success.
6 – Model risk taking.
7 – Encourage possibility thinking.
Inspire a Shared Vision
The second key practice of effective leaders is inspiring a shared vision.
The first commitment of this practice is to envision an uplifting and ennobling future.
Kouzes and Posner write, “As a rule of thumb, we believe that leaders should set for themselves the goal of developing their abilities to envision the future at least three to five years ahead” (p. 100). Furthermore, “the most important role of visions in organizational life is to give focus to human energy. Visions are like lenses that focus unrefracted rays of light. To enable everyone concerned with an enterprise to see more clearly what’s ahead of them, leaders must have and convey a focus” (p. 106).
How can one go about envisioning an uplifting and ennobling future?
1 – Consider your past first. “Leaders with the longest time horizons are those who understand their past” (p. 112). One way to do this is to use a technique developed by Herb Shepard and Jack Hawley. Draw a line that represents your professional life, or your life in your organization, with peaks representing the highs and valleys representing the lows. Write brief descriptions beside every peak and valley. Then answer these questions:
a. What patterns or themes do you see?
b. What strengths are revealed? How can you optimize those strengths?
c. What areas of development are suggested? How can you work on those?
d. What environment for success is suggested for the future?
2 – Establish your core values.
a. A good exercise for doing this comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You are going to a funeral and discover that you are the person who passed away! Four people are going to speak: an extended family member, a co-worker, someone from your religious or civic organization, and a friend. Write out what you would wish for them to say. Now plan your life!
b. Write a mission statement that summarize your values, your roles and your strengths.
3 – Consider how the implementation of your core values would impact your organization.
a. How would the organization’s procedures be changed?
1) What new procedures would be put into place?
2) What procedures would be done away with?
b. How would the organization’s culture be changed?
4 – Describe your organization as you would ideally conceive of it in two years.
Stimulate your vision by becoming a futurist by
a. Reading books by futurists.
b. Subscribing to magazines that will help you create a vision of the future
1) American Demographics
2) Utne Reader
3) Scientific American
5) New Perspectives Quarterly
6) Fast Company
7) The Economist
8) The Industry Standard
9) Other periodicals for your industry
10) Other periodicals that reflect your values
c. Getting futurist reports from organizations that typically provide these
1) Business Futures Network
2) Global Business Network
3) Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc.
4) SRI International Business Intelligence Center
5) The Futures Group
6) Institute for the Future
7) The Worlds Futures Society
5 – Set specific steps to get there.
The second commitment for the practice of inspiring a shared vision is
enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes and dreams.
There is compelling evidence that organizations focused on the same core values within a strong corporate culture significantly outperform organizations not so focused. The authors cite a four-year study of nine to ten companies in twenty different industries by management professors John Kotter and John Heskett. These companies:
1 – show revenues that grow over four times faster;
2 – create jobs with a rate seven times higher;
3 – increase the price of their stock twelve times as fast; and
4 – and – most significantly – show a profit performance 750 percent higher (p. 215).
Similarly, Porras and Collins also discovered that a strong corporate culture was one of the characteristics of the 18 companies CEOs identified as “highly visionary.”
According to the authors, the practice of inspiring a shared vision is “the least frequently applied of the five fundamental practices of exemplary leadership” (p. 20). Effective leaders, however, are adept at mining the convictions and values of their constituents. For many of their followers, their core values are made conscious for the first time enriching both their own individual lives and the life of the organization. Then these leaders skillfully encapsulate the shared core values of their followers by the use of powerful language, employing metaphors, figures of speech, and stories that attain the level of corporate mythology.
There are specific and practical steps that can be taken to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes and dreams.
1 – Assist your constituents to realize their own core values through exercises and questions.
Kouzes and Posner say, “Listening is one of the key characteristics of exemplary leaders” (p. 146).
Listening enables leaders to build their credibility with their followers. It also allows them to be able to better discern the core values of their constituents.
3 – Develop a vision statement that reflects the organization’s shared values, its unique capabilities, and the needs of those whom the organization serves.
4 – Communicate that vision with as many channels as possible.
a. Through stories,
g. web sites,
h. PowerPoint presentations,
k. separate business card-sized cards,
l. brief statements of mission (slogan, etc.) on business cards,
m. screensavers with the vision statement,
n. Computer desktop wallpaper with the vision statement,
5 – Communicate optimistically.
The authors encourage leaders to speak as if what they wish to accomplish organizationally has already been accomplished.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman, in his landmark work Emotional Intelligence, cites a number of studies that underline the degree to which an optimistic attitude enables personal effectiveness. Dr. C.R. Snyder of the University of Kansas evaluated the degree of hope in college freshman. He discovered that level of student’s hope was a better predictor of grades in these students’ first semester than their SAT scores (Emotional Intelligence, (hereafter EI) p. 86). University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Martin Seligman executed a similar study in which five hundred University of Pennsylvania freshman were studied as to their optimism. The degree to which they were optimistic was found to be a better predictor of grades than either their SAT scores or their grades in high school (EI, p. 88). In another study, Seligman discovered that insurance salesman who were evaluated as optimistic sold 37 percent more insurance in their first two years than other salesmen (EI, p. 89). And the effect of optimism on personal well-being can be dramatic. In one study, 122 men who had experienced one heart attack were evaluated as to their optimism. After eight years, 21 of the 25 most pessimistic had died, whereas only 6 of the 25 most optimistic had succumbed (EI, p. 177).
When a leader can inspire hope and unleash its power in his constituents, he strengths the organizations and give it a greater chance of fulfilling its goals.
6. Speak genuinely.
The power of these leaders’ ability to convey such shared beliefs is directly proportional to the depth of their own conviction. The shared core values of their constituents are amplified by the resonance of those convictions in their leader. In fact, “the greatest inhibitor to enlisting others in a common vision is a lack of personal conviction” (p. 139).
Enable Others to Act
The third critical practice of effective leaders is enabling others to act.
The first commitment of this practice is to foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.
The successful leader focuses on cooperative goals. The authors assert that “people who reciprocate are more likely to be successful than those who try to maximize individual advantage” (p. 156). Built to Last’s James C. Collins speaks about “Level 5 Leaders.” He contends that one of the characteristics of Level 5 Leaders is that they aren’t very well known. The reason is that they have little interest in thrusting themselves forward in the spotlight but are perfectly happy to have their successors become famous. When things go poorly, they look to themselves; when things are going well, they attribute their success to other factors. Collins says that the number one requirement of the Level 5 Leader is that they subjugate their own ego. They subordinate their own individual desires to the good of the organization.
Leaders that make a real difference in their organizations promote cooperative goals and build trust by interacting with their constituents frequently and regularly. There is no such thing as “hands-off” leadership; leaders cannot take their people to the next level with such an approach. Rather, people who anticipate interaction in the future are more likely to cooperate in the present. Trust is built because such regularized meetings engender positive feelings.
The level of complexity facing today’s organizations call for such frequent interaction. The book notes, “Empirical studies point out that as the complexity of the issues increases, greater face-to-face communication is required to integrate differences” (p. 159). Such real-time, personal interaction promote integrative solutions appropriate for complex problems and transcend the common business addiction to the single strategy remedy. Integrative solutions also defeat either-or thinking – the zero-sum gain approach – that so often characterizes business and personal conflict.
This cooperative managerial approach enables the superior solutions that tend to be generated by culturally diverse groups. The authors note that “homogeneous groups are likely to significantly outperform culturally diverse groups on measures of problem identification, quality of solutions, and overall performance in the initial weeks of a task..” [However] “after thirteen weeks of working together, diverse teams close the performance gap with teams of like individuals and begin to take the lead in the range of perspectives they examine and in the generation of multiple alternatives” (pp. 161,162, emphasis mine).
How do leaders create such an environment where diversity leads to synergistic and integrative solutions? They accomplish this by building trust. Kouzes and Posner say, “Remembering that trust is the key, leaders who build trusting relationships within their team are willing to consider alternative viewpoints and to make use of other people’s expertise and abilities. They feel comfortable with the groups and are willing to let others exercise influence over group decisions. In contrast, [mere] managers in a distrustful environment often take a self-protective posture” (p. 165). Those who are not Level 5 Leaders tend to impose their individualistic agenda on the group rather than guide the group in attaining goals through collaboration.
A collaborative environment leads to the greater satisfaction of individuals within an organization, and therefore enhances their performance. “Trust has been shown to be the most significant predictor of individuals’ satisfaction with their organization” (p. 165, emphasis mine). And it also leads to greater leader satisfaction. “Psychologists have found that people who are trusting are more likely to be happy and psychologically adjusted than are those who view the world with suspicion and disrespect” (p. 166). People have a tendency to trust people who trust them. But someone must begin this upward spiral of satisfaction and enhanced performance. “If leaders want the higher levels of performance that come with trust and collaboration, they must demonstrate their trust in others before asking for trust from others. Leaders go first, as the word implies (p. 167). The confident, effective leader does not always have to be right. “You must be able to listen, take advice, lose arguments, and follow, and you must be able to develop the trust and respect of others; otherwise, you can’t lead” (p. 337). As Senge asserts, the effective leader – indeed every person in an organization that wishes to make a difference – must be able to balance advocacy with inquiry, and be willing to accordingly change their own paradigms to be consistent with the valid perceptions of others.
Several practical steps can be suggested to implement the commitment of fostering collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.
1 – Always say we.
2 – Increase and regularize your one-on-one and team interactions and facilitate such interactions for others throughout the organization.
a. When possible, modify the interior design of your organization’s physical location to encourage interaction through
(1) common meeting spaces,
(2) officeless work areas,
(3) shared resources such as printers, refrigerators, coffee pots, and
(4) limited departmental space.
b. Plan for unstructured time for spontaneous interaction.
c. Plan times of one-on-one and group social interaction.
3 – When working in team or one-on-one, focus on areas of agreement rather than areas of disagreement. Avoid using the word “but.”
4 – Think in terms of “alternative currencies.”
5. Model asking questions when you don’t understand what someone is saying. Demonstrate to others the value of this practice.
6. When you disagree with another’s position, make sure that you first explore their presuppositions through asking clarification questions before you express your position. And, while exploring their reasons, be ready to change your mind.
7. Avoid talking negatively about third parties. This encourages distrust. Say, “We can trust them.”
The second commitment of the practice of enabling others to act is to
strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support.
Regarding this commitment, the authors write in a way consistent with Collins' view of the Level 5 Leader: “Leaders have a choice: they can use their power in service of others, or they can use it for purely selfish ends; they can give their own power away to others, or they can hold onto it for themselves. Credible leaders choose to give it away in service of others and for a purpose larger than themselves. They take the power that flows to them and connect it to others, becoming power generators from which their constituents draw energy” (p. 185). This kind of leader is contrasted with the egotistic manager driven by his or her own self-serving agenda. Characteristics of these kinds of leaders are instructive as cautionaries. They are:
1 – proprietary - “People who feel powerless, be they managers or individual contributors, tend to hoard whatever shreds of power they have.”
2 – dictatorial – “Powerless managers…tend to adopt petty and dictatorial styles.”
3 – political – “Powerlessness creates organizational systems in which political skills are essential and ‘covering yourself’ and ‘passing the buck’ are the preferred modes of handling inter-departmental differences”
4 – demotivaters – “The most insidious thing about external control is that it actually erodes the intrinsic motivation that a person might have for a task” (p. 181). Just as immature organizations require more hierarchy, so also highly structured authoritarian leadership inhibits the maturity of individuals in an organization. A balance must be sought as gauged by the maturity of individuals in the organization.
The book lists “Five Leadership Essentials for Sharing Power.”
1 – Enable people to lead themselves.
This is done through putting people in control of their own lives in the organization.
When leaders give away their power to others they increase their own power and the ability of others to contribute to the good of the organization. The authors note, “The more people believe that they can influence and control the organization, the greater organizational effectiveness and member satisfaction will be” (p. 186). The book cites a study of a nationwide insurance company’s branches where the degree to which employees felt that they were able to influence what happened in their branch was the number one factor differentiating low and high-performing branches. Kouzes and Posner assert: “People who feel capable of influencing their leaders are more strongly attached to those leaders and more committed to effectively carrying out their responsibilities. They own their jobs” (p. 187).
People are also enabled to lead themselves when they are believed in.
The authors write about a compelling example of this: “Brian Baker, a family-practice physician and colonel in the US Army,…took over as hospital commander of Raymond Bliss Army Community Hospital…. Upon his arrival at what he was told was the ‘most problematic hospital in the army,’ Baker found…an organization with low morale, a set of rigidly followed institutional rules, and a high degree of conflict between doctors and nurses. He also found a stunningly unfavorable accreditation report by the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospital Organizations (JCAHO). …within two years under Baker’s leadership, the hospital reduced its more than twenty Category One deficiencies (the most serious) to just two (one was a physical/structural problem related to the age of the building; the other was due to staffing shortages caused by Desert Storm and came ‘within inches’ of receiving an exemplary rating, the JCAHO’s highest score – all without a single change in personnel” (p. 191). Baker did this by doing listening to and mentoring his people. Also, according to the authors, “He hold a series of meetings in rapid succession designed to allow him to meet and communicate openly with all of his constituents. No supervisor was allowed at these meetings….[He] promised that he would no direct action as a result of these meetings, nor would he discuss what was said with anyone” (p. 192).
People are enabled to lead themselves when their leaders demonstrate sensitivity.
The most cited reason why executives fail to achieve higher levels of responsibility is “insensitivity to others” and the number one difference between good executives and those who don’t make it is the ability to view situations from others’ perspectives. Business leaders who don’t achieve are loners and prefer to work by themselves. They tend to be critical of those who work for them. They do not collaborate with others when approaching challenges, indeed they see it as a waste of time. They are uncomfortable with others and have poor interpersonal skills. They don’t trust others and they’re insensitive.
2. Providing choice.
The second leadership essential for sharing power is providing choice. Great leaders “provide greater decision-making authority and responsibility for their constituents” (p. 191). The authors quote Harvard Business School’s Leonard Schlesinger: “the supervisor behavior that most accounts for both job satisfaction and service capability is ‘latitude given to meet the customers needs.’ The second-ranking variable is having ‘authority to serve the customer’” (p. 193).
3. Developing competence.
The third leadership essential for sharing power is the habit of developing the competence of constituents. The authors suggest that one good way of accomplish this is thru the well-known Open Book Management method (also known as the Great Game of Business). In this method, an organization’s constituents have a real financial (or otherwise) stake in the company and are given access to key performance metrics.
4. Assigning critical tasks is the fourth leadership essential for sharing power.
5. Offering visible support.
Leaders publicly and verbally offer statements of support on behalf of their constituents.
Several steps can be taken to follow through on the commitment of strengthening people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support.
1 - Drive decision making down in the organization as much as possible. Give people as much as authority to make on the spot decisions as possible. Educate folk on the parameters of those decisions but also when exceptions might be called for.
2 - Accordingly, eliminate as many approval steps as possible.
3 - Eliminate rules and strict procedures that don’t directly reflect the core values of the organization. An example of an exception would be refunds with no questions asked in an organization with the core value of being pro-customer. Allow constituents procedural flexibility.
4 - Assign special projects.
5 – Don’t highly segment jobs but keep job descriptions broad enough to encourage constituent discretion.
6. Make sure every person in the organization gets training and education.
7 – Facilitate easy access to the core performance metrics of your organization, including the financials.
8 – Network your people with others who may be useful to them.
9 – Tell stories about others’ great accomplishments in your organization both publicly and privately. Make heroes. “Shine the spotlight on at least one person a day.”
10 – Send notes of appreciation.
11 – Post letters sent from those effected by your organization in a public place.
Model the Way
The fourth essential practice of effective leaders is modeling the way.
The first commitment of this practice is to set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values.
The authors assert, “Constituents expect leaders to show up, to pay attention, and to participate directly in the process of getting extraordinary things done” (p. 210). When leaders lead by example they make tangible the core values and vision of the organization. And the members of an organization watch the leaders to see if there is congruence between what the leaders say and what they do.
These leaders model desired behavior in a number of ways:
1 – They schedule time to involve themselves in core value demonstrating behaviors.
2 – They take advantage of teachable moments to verbally highlight in real time the application of a core value.
3 – They continuously collect stories that demonstrate core values for use later when they are given high profile opportunities to highlight core values.
4 – They ask questions that drive constituents thoughts back to core value reference points.
5 - They ensure that symbols are strategically placed that represent the organization’s core values.
6 – They select and track metrics that are directly tied to core values.
7 – They make it a point to praise core value connected activity by public praise, e-mails, and notes, no less than once a day!
There are a number of other practical steps that can be taken to implement the commitment of setting the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values.
1 – Take time every day, month, quarter and year to plan Quad II activities that reflect the organization’s core values.
2 – Do reading and reflection that speak to the organization’s core values.
3 – Solicit 360 degree feedback.
4 – Write a leadership credo. This is more focused than a mission statement but the same sort of exercises you use to develop a mission statement apply well here. e.g. Imagine that you are going away for six months and need to write a one page memo that details the core values and principles that you wish to be used to evaluate every decision that’s made while you are gone.
5 – Brainstorm new activities that you can do which would reflect the organization’s core values. Do this with no thought as to whether you’ll actually do any of these activities (to stimulate creativity). Then select the best ideas and execute.
6 – Engage in an activity audit. On a sheet of paper draw a line down the middle. On the left side of the sheet, list your organization’s core values. On the right side of the paper, list your actual activities for a day or a week. Examine the two lists to see if they are compatible. Ask Peter Senge’s question from The Fifth Discipline: Does your “espoused theory” (what you say you belief) vary from your “theory-in-use” (what your activities reflect that you really believe)? On which value do you spend the most time? On which value do you spend the least time? What values do you reflect that are inconsistent with the organization’s core values? What changes can you make in your schedule?
For the essential practice of modeling the way there is a second commitment: Achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment.
When Don Bennett – who was the first amputee to ever reach the summit of Mt, Ranier in Washington state – was asked how he did it, he responded, “One hop at a time” (p. 242). Effective leaders take huge tasks and break them down into smaller, more manageable pieces. While the dramatic accomplishment of Herculean tasks makes for better copy, most changes occur because of consistent effort being applied toward many minor changes over time, The authors reference an extensive study of five Du Pont Chemicals plants in which it was determined that two-thirds of production costs reduction during a period of thirty years were due to “minor technical changes” (such as when forklift trucks were introduced) rather than “major changes” (like the a new technology for chemical production). They draw a comparison with the 12-step community bromide of “one day at a time.” The thought of never taking a drink again for the rest of your life is daunting, but an alcoholic can keep from taking a drink today. Effective leaders unearth these small changes by experimenting continuously. They analyze items to their essence with a sense of urgency. They tend to not ask permission. They exemplify “a bias towards action.”
There are several practical ways in which effective leaders can achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment.
1 – Brainstorm as many action items as you can that – in the words of Porras and Collins – preserve the core values of your organization or stimulate its growth.
2 - Do some of those action items yourself now. Don’t staff it out; don’t put it off.
3 – Make a plan with lots of steps involving as many people as possible.
4 – Prototype.
5 – Make decisions and progress visible. Display the key metrics of success.
6 – Sell the benefits of worthy projects
7 – Solicit volunteers for worthy projects.
Encourage the Heart
The fifth practice of leaders that make a difference is encouraging the heart.
The first commitment of this practice is to recognize individual contributions to the success of every project.
Kouzes and Posner write, “when nonmanagers are polled regarding the skills their managers need in order to be more effective, at the top of the list is the ability to recognize and acknowledge the contribution of others” (p. 270).
Individuals are strengthened in their resolve and resultant effectiveness when their leaders tangibly demonstrate that they believe in them. One way that effective leaders demonstrate this belief is through high expectations. The Pygmalion effect kicks in: people tend to act consistently with the expectations put upon them – particularly when those expectations assume the best about those people. Moreover, the most effective leaders tend to sustain their belief in others – even when there are counterindications. Leaders give up on others with extreme reluctance because at some level they feel that they are giving up on their ability to get the very best out of others by doing so.
Leaders that have the greatest impact on their organizations connect performance with rewards. They utilize a wide variety of recognition instruments, whether, days off or money or vacations or trophies or clothing or public praise or cards or letters. Yet effective leaders don’t overwhelm intrinsic awards (job satisfaction, promotions) with extrinsic awards.
There are several practical steps to recognize individual contributions to the success of every project.
1 – Buy the book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson.
2 – Practice 1001 ways to reward your employees!
3 – Reward publicly.
4 – Design the reward and recognition system in collaboration with those who will be rewarded.
5 – Find people doing the right things and reward them on the spot.
The second commitment to the practice of encouraging the heart is to celebrate team accomplishments regularly.
The authors assert, “Effective leaders master these essentials of celebration.” The celebrations, of course, have to be centered on actions that have reflected the organization’s core values. Leaders get personally involved in these celebrations and ritualize them. These events become golden opportunities for individuals in organizations to enhance interpersonal relationships. Kouzes and Posner write, “Investigations from a wide variety of disciplines consistently demonstrate that social support – the quality of interpersonal relationships – serves to enhance productivity, psychological well-being, and physical health” (p. 302). And the authors cite the rather dramatic statistic that folk with very few close friends die two to three times more than those who have several close friends.
There are several steps that the effective leader can take to celebrate team accomplishments regularly.
1 – Schedule regular celebrations that are built on “organizational values or events of historical significance” to the organization (p. 307).
2 – Find your style of cheerleading and cheerlead!
3 – Strengthen your personal team. Identify the individuals with whom you have the strongest bonds and put meetings in your calendar to bolster these relationships. Regularize touchbases – whether through cards, letters, e-mails - but definitely including real time face time interactions– in your calendar.
Pulling It All Together
Effective leaders are transformational rather than transactional. They don’t maintain the status quo; they stimulate their followers to shift their paradigms. They realize that their greatest limitation is their own fear. Jim Whitaker – the first American to successfully conquer Mount Everest says, “You never conquer the mountain. You conquer yourself – your doubts and your fears” (p. 324). Emotionally connected to self-doubt is hubris – the over-affirmation of self, also often a response to self-doubt. This must also be guarded against.
Any leader can learn to be more effective. Kouzes and Posner suggest a number of ways this might be accomplished:
1 – Make a list of your development needs. Learn these through taking Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Practices Inventory and by soliciting 360 degree feedback.
2 – Seek out more responsibilities.
3 – Write a personal best-case – an incidence of when you felt that you really excelled as a leader. Analyze your performance.
a. Why were you so motivated?
b. How did you work with others?
c. How did you recognize others?
d. What would you do differently knowing what you know now?
4 – Continue to educate yourself.
a. read biographies of individuals you wish to emulate;
b. seek out classroom training and utilize the training as soon as you get out of the classes.
c. utilize e-learning resources.
d. Be sure you spend the equivalent of at least one day every two months on your personal development.
Leaders can learn to be more effective by challenging the process. Emerging leaders begin to learn to search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve. They experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes. Leaders partner with their constituents to create a shared vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes and dreams. Then they enable others to act on that shared dream by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. They strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support. Effective leaders model the way by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values. They accomplish this by small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment. Through this process they encourage the heart of their constituents recognizing individual contributions to the success of every project and being consistent to celebrate team accomplishments regularly.
Effective leaders are a joy to follow and benefit many – both within and without the organization.
Copyright © 2001 by Stephen Shields