Sometimes it seems we’ve entered into a nationwide public critique of what is and is not good leadership. Whether it’s the senior partner’s latest edict, the qualifications of the practice group head, or the plays run by the kids’ football coach, we seem to be constantly assessing each other’s ability to lead. Well, maybe it’s time to struggle past all this opinion and bring a little science to the dialogue?
In their 2002 bestseller The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner examined the real-life practices of successful leaders at all levels and walks of life—not just CEOs or managing partners. Despite differences in individual stories, their personal-best leadership experiences revealed similar patterns of behavior. Today, we take a look at the five fundamental leadership practices identified in The Leadership Challenge—it’s a reminder that we are all given opportunities to lead. Perhaps today is the day that you step up!
Kouzes and Posner identified the five practices of successful leaders.
1. Challenge the process. Effective leaders ask hard questions, try things that haven’t been done and make a lot of mistakes. Thomas Edison said, “I failed my way to success.” It took over 5,000 experiments to develop the filament for the electric bulb, and he said that “Every one of these experiments taught me something.” Apple Computer’s famous Think Differently ad campaign is a perfect little meditation on the risk we take when we do things in a way they’ve never been done: People will say we are crazy. Steve Jobs, anyone?
2. Inspire a shared vision. It’s said that effective team leaders give the work of the team context. They paint a picture for the group of why they are doing what they are doing and what it will look like when it’s done. Think of Walt Disney inventing a reality no one had ever imagined and then enlisting scores of “Imagineers” in the work of making his vision for Disneyland real.
3. Enable others to act. Inevitably, leaders are depicted as heading the pack, shouting out the marching cadence and telling people what to do. Actually, those are “bosses” not leaders. The truth is, the most effective leaders are those who hire really bright people and then get out of their way. Stephen Covey describes a good leader as a helpmate, virtually running alongside her bicycle racing teammates, making certain they have enough water, energy bars and proper maps to go on. Those who see subordinates as people to “boss around” eventually find that few people want to work with them. It may be an odd example, but if you’re looking for instances where traditional restraints have been removed, we give you a real game-changer: Web 2.0.
4. Model the way. Effective leaders don’t tell … they show. They never ask people to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. Gandhi is a classic example (and what an example!) of someone who led best by quietly doing what he would not ask of others, and by doing so, moving mountains.
5. Encourage the heart. Finally, effective leaders recognize what is extraordinary and meaningful in the work. They are able to identify human—even spiritual—connections for the work and the people doing it. Some will describe this as “touchy-feely,” but those people are merely inexperienced in sharing emotional concerns. In fact, research by Kouzes and Posner shows that those who “encourage the heart” are more likely to produce extraordinary results. Musician and activist Bono was given the 2005 TED Prize and he accepted with this riveting talk, arguing that aid to Africa isn’t just another celebrity cause; it’s a global emergency. Fasten your seat belt, sit back and watch the video. This is what encouraging the heart can look like.