One of the most interesting books on leadership that I have read recently is “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. The title for this article comes from that book. I suggest you read it and I have summarised their 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership and included some of my favourite quotes to whet your appetite.
Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership
1. Model the Way
The first practice for an exemplary leader is to look inward. It’s about being able to answer the question, “Who are you?” This involves discovering your personal values and beliefs and finding your voice. It’s also about recognising that leadership is a dialogue not a monologue. As a leader you speak for your team and organisation too, so you need to understand and appreciate the values of others and represent those shared values. Effective leaders then practice what they preach and align their actions with those shared values.
2. Inspire a Shared Vision
The future is uncertain and change can happen at any time. Exemplary leaders look forward, holding a vision of what that future can be if everyone works towards a common purpose. They are positive and passionate that people can make a difference. Inherent in this is that they must also get others to see those future possibilities. They must show others how their values and interest will also be served by the long-term vision: developing shared aspirations.
3. Challenge the process
“People do their best when there’s a chance to change the way things are. Maintaining the status quo simply breeds mediocrity”. Exemplary leaders look for good ideas everywhere – not just their own ideas. They listen, take advice and learn. They recognise that progress is typically made in small incremental steps. They look to experiment and test, recognising that this involves risk. Risk involves making mistakes and failures, which they accept and treat them as opportunities to learn and grow.
4. Enable others to Act
Leaders know that they cannot succeed on their own. They invest in fostering collaboration and building trustworthy relationships. “Leaders bring people together, creating an atmosphere where people understand that they have a shared fate and that they should treat others as they would like to be treated. They make sure that everyone wins”. Part of being a leader is to strengthen others by supporting their self-determination and developing their competence.
5. Encourage the Heart
Achieving extraordinary things in an organisation is hard work, so leaders need to encourage others to continue to push for success. Key to this is the principle of giving others “the heart” to continue by showing appreciation and recognition for their individual contribution. This doesn’t have to be big or costly – a simple smile, thank-you note or public praise will suffice. It is also important to make hard work fun and take time out to celebrate the milestones and victories as a community.
In the past I have experienced an organisation where the leaders did not practice these principles. It was not a pleasant environment to work in and, in my view, over time has diminished their success. Maybe this is why I have found this book and some quotes in particular so powerful and inspiring. Here are some of my favourites:
- Kouzes and Posner’s first law of leadership is about credibility. “If you don’t believe the messenger you won’t believe the message.”
- “The best way to prove that something is important is by doing it yourself.”
- “Recognition is the most powerful currency you have and it costs you nothing.”
- “Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. It is the quality of this relationship that matters most when engaging in getting extraordinary things done. A leader-constituent relationship based on fear and distrust will never produce anything of lasting value. A relationship characterised by mutual respect and confidence will overcome the greatest adversities and leave a legacy of significance.”
Check out the book:
The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organisations James M Kouzes & Barry Z Posner.