Leadership is a term that we hear an awful lot about these days, particularly in the business world. The number of books, videos and blog posts on the subject can be a bit dizzying sometimes. Yet, even with everything that’s out there, it can still be a little bit difficult to find tips for effective leadership that really get to the core of what being a leader is all about.
Many people rise to what are referred to as “leadership positions” over the course of their careers. Nearly everyone has experienced the boss who became the boss just by sticking around long enough. But we don’t refer to someone as a leader just because other people have to follow his or her orders. Let’s not confuse authority with the leadership here! A true leader is a person in whom others see the qualities that they aspire to. People willingly join in on the leader’s journey because a mutual bond and trust have been cultivated. But what are these qualities that others aspire to, you ask? Excellent question. Let’s take a closer look.
Five Leadership Practices
Authors Brian Kouzes and Barry Posner assert that there is in fact a science to creating the abovementioned bond and trust. Their book The Leadership Challenge has some of the best advice for new leaders, and likely for those who have been around the block a couple of times as well. After conducting detailed research on the qualities of many leaders, over three decades, Kouzes and Posner identified 5 practices that you too can master to become a better leader. It should be emphasized that this word “practices” is key—ongoing, consistent effort is required to obtain these leadership traits.
The Five Leadership Practices
- Model the Way: This means knowing who you are as a person and letting it show. Your values and what you stand for are on full display. Then BE those values. By doing this, you will attract others who are already attuned to your way of doing things and naturally ready to share your vision.
- Inspire a Shared Vision: When Kouzes and Posner say inspire, they are talking about the etymological root of this word. Inspire means to breathe life into. We are here and by working together we will find the way to get to there. Give others a vision of the future. They will be lifted and motivated by your confidence in what you are determined to achieve.
- Challenge the Process: Leadership is hard work. Of course, it is! Embrace the challenge! Set yourself up to achieve small victories that keep pushing you toward that big vision. The grind no longer seems like the grind, it just feels like taking continual steps forward.
- Enable Action: You’ve surrounded yourself with the right people. Now it’s time to enable them to act. And when you trust them, guess what? Yep, you got it, they trust you right back! This is where the team starts to come together as something bigger than its individual members.
- Encourage the Heart: Have passion for what you do and show it. Maybe the most surprising leadership tips that emerge from all of this “hard data” that Kouzes and Posner have amassed is this: Only when you tap into the power of love will you tap into your power as a leader.
Often when discussing tips for effective leadership the spotlight ends up getting thrown exclusively on the leader. Meanwhile, the team members sort of get short shrift. Maybe that’s understandable enough. However, aren’t we really ignoring half the equation when we do this? When we go to the doctor, she doesn’t just examine our head and send us off with a clean bill of health. There are some other important parts down there in the body too … I’m almost positive of it.
Leadership philosopher Robert Greenleaf said this represents a flaw in the way that we think about leadership. In 1970, he wrote an essay in which he coined the term “servant leadership.” In it, he described the process of leading organizations by sharing power and putting the needs of others first. Helping people perform at as high of a level as possible should be the main objective of an effective leader.
It might be hard to imagine Napoleon or Don Corleone practicing this particular brand of leadership. But that is exactly Greenleaf’s point. Wielding power in this fashion—like the all-seeing eye of Sauron perched atop Mt. Doom— represents a bygone paradigm. Today’s businesses and economic realities require new ways of thinking. Kouzes and Posner’s data back this up. If today’s leaders are all about their own glory, they aren’t going to be leaders of very many people. On the other hand, those in the study that invested in the wellbeing of others led significantly more efficient organizations.
Luminaries such as Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard and Margaret Wheatley have all advocated servant leadership in the course of their teachings and careers. Covey, in particular, makes the point that if you dismiss servant leadership as wimpy “feel good” stuff, you are making a huge mistake. It takes far more strength and courage to put the good of the team first, trusting that they will have your back too.
Have a Point of View…
Here is one final tip for effective leadership from Mr. Posner on the subject. This gets back to some more traditional leadership advice. Posner surveyed a group of business professionals and asked a simple question: What personal values, traits and characteristics would someone have to have in order for you to follow them? There were hundreds of answers and they all varied to some degree. The next year, he changed things a little. He asked government employees the same question to see if they might have a different way of looking at things. In fact, over the next thirty years, he interviewed thousands of people from all walks of life asking them this same simple question.
What he found was that, in spite of all the differences in opinion, and regardless of race, sex, profession, ethnicity, age, etc., there were four simple traits that everyone agreed upon. In order for the people interviewed to follow someone, that person had to be these things: Honest, Competent, Forward-Looking and Inspiring. And by combining these four traits together, you get a single characteristic: Credibility. You cannot lead without credibility. However, not everyone who has credibility is necessarily a leader. The difference, Posner says? A leader is someone who also has a point of view.