“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more – you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
Please read the descriptions of “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” below.
If you have people in positions of authority in your organization and they are not consistently demonstrating these behaviors, they should be getting poor performance reviews and you should be putting them on an improvement plan or moving them out.
Done laughing? Unfortunately it’s easier to just look the other way and perpetuate the myth.
You want innovation, engagement, accountability? I contend that the slow death of real leadership is the root cause of most of the problems we experience in our work environments today.
For a multitude of reasons, we have collectively lost sight of what real leadership looks like. Instead we have defaulted to a norm-based evaluation process, i.e., compared to everyone else, this leader is OK. This would not be an issue if your leaders were all true leaders. But what I see across organization after organization is that the whole lot have marginal management skills and absolutely no leadership ability. It’s essentially the same as the social promotion problem we see in public schools. If we were to adopt a criterion-referenced evaluation system and measured leadership against a standard like that described below, we’d have no one left to run the place. We have somehow slipped to the point where we all hold our noses, lie to ourselves, and no one dares explode the myth. The emperor has the finest clothes in the land!
Suppose we evaluated all people-managers against these five competencies?
The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership
1. Model the Way – Clarify Values, Set the Example
Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. Because the prospect of complex change can overwhelm people and stifle action, they set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action; they put up signposts when people are unsure of where to go or how to get there; and they create opportunities for victory.
2. Inspire a Shared Vision – Envision the Future, Enlist Others
Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.
3. Challenge the Process – Search for Opportunities, Experiment and Take Risks
Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.
4. Enable Others to Act – Foster Collaboration, Strengthen Others
Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.
5. Encourage the Heart – Recognize Contributions, Celebrate the Values and Victories
Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.
These Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership above were codified by Kouzes & Posner in “The Leadership Challenge” first published in 1987 – what I consider to be the gold standard of leadership books (now in its 5th Edition). They are remarkably similar to the leadership traits that Simon Sinek describes in his latest book “Leaders Eat Last.” If you have not seen this TED video yet, please watch it.
Ask yourself this question when you do your next performance review of anyone in a leadership role; who would follow them if they left for another job? If the answer is “no one” then you better re-think how you define leadership and think twice about that “Meets/Exceeds Expectations” rating.
Show your senior leadership team the Simon Sinek video. Show them Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. Ask them to reflect and self-assess. Start the discussion. Light the fuse. That is the true leadership challenge.