From today onwards for seven weeks, we will be talking about leadership. For all who lead others or aspire to lead others, this short course could be a good guide. We have taken the concept from the best seller ‘The Leadership Challenge’ by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.
Jim and Barry have spent over 30 years gathering evidence on exactly what great leaders actually do. They’ve distilled that evidence into five clearly defined ‘Practices’ that anyone can follow to get breakthrough results and make an enormous contribution.
These are known as ‘The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership’.
What is leadership?
Leadership is not about position or title, power or authority, celebrity or wealth, family or genetics. It’s also not just something for a chosen few. Leadership is everyone’s business! Leadership is about relationships, personal credibility and what you do. It’s about an observable set of skills and abilities that are useful wherever you are. As a skill, leadership can be strengthened, honed and enhanced, given the motivation and desire, along with practice and feedback, role models and coaching.
If young executives find themselves in a challenging situation that requires setting a good example for others, looking ahead to the future, taking initiative to change the status quo, building teamwork and trust and encouraging others to succeed, then they are in a situation that requires leadership. What is required of them in this situation is that they step forward and become the best leaders they can be.
The first place to look for leadership is within oneself. This short course, extracting the main ideas from the book, will enable executives to take that look—to look at the skills they now have and to build upon their immense potential to make a real difference. Focusing on the practices that actual leaders employ, this course of study offers young leaders the opportunity to measure their current leadership strengths and weaknesses, to make a plan for improvement and to commit to growing as a leader.
What do we mean by challenges of leadership?
Being a leader is in itself a challenge. The challenges of leadership are really of three kinds: External - coming from people and situations, internal - stemming from within the leader himself and those arising from the nature of the leadership role.
It’s almost impossible to imagine a situation where a leader doesn’t have to cope with external challenges. In an organisation, such issues as lack of funding and other resources, opposition from forces in the community and interpersonal problems within the organisation often rear their heads. Social, economic and political forces in the larger world can affect the organisation as well.
To some extent, the measure of any leader is how well he can deal with the constant succession of crises and minor annoyances that threaten the mission of his group. If he is able to solve problems, take advantage of opportunities and resolve conflict with an air of calm and a minimum of fuss, most of the external issues are hardly noticeable to anyone else.
If the leader doesn’t handle external challenges well, the organisation probably won’t, either. We’ve all seen examples of this, in organisations where everyone, from the managing director to the junior executive, has a constantly worried look and news is passed in whispers. When people feel that leaders are stressed or unsure, they themselves become stressed or unsure as well and the emphasis of the group moves from its mission to the current worrisome situation. The work of the group suffers.
While leadership presents to each of us the opportunity to demonstrate the best of what we are, it also exposes our limitations. In many cases, good leaders have to overcome those limitations in order to transmit and follow their vision. Fear, lack of confidence, insecurity, impatience, intolerance - all can act as barriers to leadership. At the same time, acknowledging and overcoming them can turn a mediocre leader into a great one.
It’s often very difficult for people, especially those who see themselves as leaders, to admit that they might have personality traits or personal characteristics that interfere with their ability to reach their goals. Part of good leadership is learning to accept the reality of those traits and working to change them so they don’t get in the way.
Challenges arising from leadership itself
Real leadership makes great demands on people. As a leader, you are responsible for your group’s vision and mission, for upholding a standard, often for being the group’s representative to the rest of the world and its protector as well. These responsibilities might be shared, but in most organisations, one person takes the largest part of the burden.
In addition to its responsibilities, leadership brings such challenges as motivating people - often without seeming to do so - and keeping them from stagnating when they’re doing well. Leaders also have to motivate themselves and not just to seem, but actually to be, enthusiastic about what they’re doing. In other words, they have to be leaders all the time.
The most important personal quality people look for and admire in a leader is personal credibility. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message. Titles may be granted but leadership is earned.
Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership
For leaders and leadership-aspirants, the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model continues to prove its effectiveness as a clear, evidence-based path to achieving the extraordinary. It turns the abstract concept of leadership into easy-to-grasp practices and behaviours that can be taught and learned by anyone willing to step up and accept the challenge to lead.
As measured and validated by the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI)—one of the most widely used leadership assessment instruments in the world—ongoing studies consistently confirm that The Five Practices are positively related to both the effectiveness of leaders and the level of commitment, engagement and satisfaction of those that follow.
Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (peers, colleagues and customers) 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.
nInspire a shared vision
Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organisation 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.
Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organisation. 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.
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.
Accomplishing extraordinary things in organisations 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. (We will discuss each practice in detail from next week.)
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience, can be contacted at email@example.com)