In their book The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes & Posner state that there are five things that exemplary leaders practice on a regular basis.
Having studied and researched tens of thousands of leaders over the last 25+ years, they know what they’re talking about. So that you can benefit from their knowledge, I’ve summarized these Five Practices for you. If you’d like to read more about it, The Leadership Challenge is an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in improving their leadership whether for the benefit of themselves or for others.
Exemplary leaders challenge the process. They look for ways to grow, change and improve their organizations and themselves. They see the possibilities and are courageous enough to put themselves out there despite what “everyone else” might think. Exemplary leaders make mistakes just like the rest of us. They’re not perfect, however they are willing to make mistakes confidently and learn from the good as well as the bad.
Exemplary leaders inspire a shared vision. By definition, to be a leader you must have followers. Understanding what makes them tick, what their hopes and dreams are and what’s important to them will draw them closer to you. Being able to clearly communicate your vision to them in a way that’s meaningful to them will earn their commitment. It’s about getting everyone to see the same possibility, then instilling the desire to change that possibility into reality. Enthusiasm and confidence in both yourself and your team will have you moving toward your shared goal together.
Exemplary leaders enable others to act. They avoid alienating their teammates by micromanaging every aspect of an assignment. Instead, they understand that their project/crisis/challenge is a team effort. “When people have more discretion, more authority and more information, they’re much more likely to use their energies to produce extraordinary results” (The Leadership Challenge, p.12). Sharing the power and responsibility strengthens the team’s commitment to the goal while enabling future leaders to develop their own leadership skills.
Exemplary leaders model the way. Leaders aren’t allowed to have a ‘bad day.’ They are expected to be on their best behavior whether they are on or off the clock. They must be clear and firm about their beliefs and guiding principles and they’ll be expected to stand up for them. They do what they say they will do. Consistency in the way they act, live and respond creates credibility and builds confidence in those they lead. Excellence is part of their DNA.
Exemplary leaders encourage the heart. People are motivated by many things. Sometimes a financial incentive is just the thing, but other studies prove that’s not always the case. It’s important to know what makes your people tick. Often having a higher purpose for a business is what keeps people going. For example at TOMS Shoe Company (www.toms.com), a pair of shoes is donated to a needy child for every pair of shoes sold. Recognition for every contributor, not just “top performers” who are easily visible, is a simple, yet meaningful way to encourage the heart. The very best leaders love and value their constituents and treat them accordingly.
Leadership is not about control, but about building credibility and trust. It’s about taking people to a place where they wouldn’t have been able to go without you—and you without them and creating something excellent together.