Just because it’s for leaders doesn’t mean that the strategy books for the very higher ups can’t be applied to the rest of us. Take the revised edition of The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. The book has been around for 20 years but has been updated with new research and case studies.
I’m mostly interested, though, in what the authors call the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.” A cursory glance told me that these practices, while created for people who want to become better leaders, can be useful for anyone who may not be ready to become a leader but considers him- or herself always in training.
Here they are:
1. Model the Way: We expect credibility from our leaders. Indeed, it’s not just what leaders say, but what they do that truly matters; it’s up to them to act in the way they want others to act. Leaders have to decide what really matters to them and then make sure that all their behavior is guided by those key principles. Only then can we really believe in and trust our leaders. But remember, as leaders they are also human and, hence, subject to making mistakes. The authors advise their readers to conduct a personal audit and ask questions like, “Am I spending enough time on the issues that really matter to me?” “What is first on my meeting agendas?” “How do I respond to critical situations?” and “Does my response reinforce how I want others to behave?”
2. Inspire a Shared Vision: Leaders envision the future and create a roadmap for getting there, but it’s not just about his or her vision. The successful leaders take the employees’ points of view into consideration, too. Avoiding lip service is a must here. The authors say that leaders must speak from the heart, express their emotions, exhibit a positive attitude and let people know with as much candor as possible what’s coming down the road. To do these things all of the time can be challenging, but effort goes a very long way here.
3. Challenge the Process: Leaders are pioneers, challenging the status quo and changing the business as usual environment. While many people step aside and get out of the way of those who aren’t happy with the way things are done others can’t stop themselves. And they’re willing to take the risks. You don’t have to take risks all of the time, but if you never take a chance you’ll never know.
4. Enable Others to Act: Wow, this is a hard one for a lot of people. You’ve heard it before: teamwork, etc. But teamwork at one company may not look the same as teamwork somewhere else, right? Here’s the thing: according to the authors, leaders can make it possible for others to do good work by fostering collaboration and building trust. That sounds easy. Wrong. To achieve this, leaders, the successful ones, must reveal who they really are, admit mistakes, and ask for feedback. That’s quite the trifecta, but it is possible.