Five Tools in Every Great Leader’s Tool Box

In The Leadership Challenge James Kouzes and Barry Posner feature five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.

1. Modeling the way

Your title is taken for granted, but the primary way you get the respect of others is through your behavior. 

2. Inspiring a shared vision

Effective leaders are able to form pictures of what the future holds and communicate that vision to others.

Charles Pfeffer in his article “Leadership, Vision and shared-mental modeling” at the website   Winters Group: Focal Points writes:

We have long understood the ability to describe an attractive future to be a core competency of leadership. A vision is a description of the future that is attractive because it expresses the possibility of realizing values that are important to people. A leader who can articulate such a vision creates the following of people who share a commitment to these values. 

It is useful to look at what leaders do when they articulate a vision. Fundamentally what they do is speak. This may seem obvious, but it also helps take the mystery out of leading. It is not just any old speaking that leaders do when they create vision. They speak new possibilities. They declare what they see to be possible. Think about the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” At the time, these words were not statements of fact, or even a general popular opinion. These words were an articulation of a possibility that did not yet exist, yet was extremely attractive. The more audacious the possibility, the greater the gap between the vision and the way it is today. 

Vision emerges as a collective commitment to a set of possibilities in the future, reflecting the shared values and mutual understanding of everyone. 

The challenge that leaders face is to speak visions in ways that engage people. At first, visions may sound impossible to people in the organization. You can look at this as a leader talking “pie in the sky” or as people being unable or unwilling to hear new possibilities. When Gandhi said, “the British will leave India,” it was an outrageous thing to say. Nonetheless, in 1947, the British did leave. 

Leaders recognize that it is their job to speak in a way that allows people to engage with the future they are describing. To engage people, leaders must take into account the assumptions that people hold about what is possible. We all have views about what can and cannot be done. A good leader will engage us to examine our assumptions and question them. Another term for our set of assumptions about how things work is “mental model”. 

Leaders who are concerned with activating people’s energy and engagement will be mindful not to force their vision on people. Instead they will engage people in dialogue, putting forward their own view of what is possible and listening respectfully to the views of others. When people share their mental models, they build mutual understanding that creates a greater sense of trust and a basis for alignment. Vision emerges as a collective commitment to a set of possibilities in the future, reflecting the shared values and mutual understanding of everyone” (2000)

3. Challenging the process

Kouzes and Posner say, “Leaders are pioneers—people who are willing to step out into the unknown.” Before taking the first step, effective leaders gather as much information as they can about the situation. Questioning and listening are their most powerful tools. 

4. Enabling others to act

When others trust your leadership and you allow them to make decisions and mistakes you are creating the type of environment where others feel free to act. Good team leaders must be willing to share or delegate authority to team members. 

5. Encouraging the heart

When you recognize and reward genuinely you are telling others that you appreciate their good work. 

“The climb to the top is arduous and long. People become exhausted, frustrated, and disenchanted. They’re often tempted to give up. Leaders encourage the heart of their constituents to carry on. Genuine acts of caring uplift the spirits and draw people forward. Encouragement can come from dramatic gestures or simple actions. When Cary Turner was head of Pier 1 Imports’ Stores division, he once showed up in a wedding gown to promote the bridal registry. On another occasion, he promised store employees he’d parasail over Puget Sound and the Seattle waterfront if they met their sales targets. They kept their commitment; he kept his. As mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani wore different hats (literally) to acknowledge various groups of rescue workers as he toured ground zero after the World Trade Center towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001. But it doesn’t take events or media coverage to let people know you appreciate their contributions. Terri Sarhatt, customer services manager at Applied Biosystems, looked after her employees so well that at least one reported that the time she spent with them was more valuable than the tangible rewards she was able to give out. 

It’s part of the leader’s job to show appreciation for people’s contributions and to create a culture of celebration. In the cases we collected, we saw thousands of examples of individual recognition and group celebration. We’ve heard and seen everything from handwritten thank-yous to marching bands and “This Is Your Life” ceremonies. 

Recognition and celebration aren’t about fun and games, though there is a lot of fun and there are a lot of games when people encourage the hearts of their constituents. Neither are they about pretentious ceremonies designed to create some phony sense of camaraderie. When people see a charlatan making noisy affectations, they turn away in disgust. Encouragement is curiously serious business. It’s how leaders visibly and behaviorally link rewards with performance. When striving to raise quality, recover from disaster, start up a new service, or make dramatic change of any kind, leaders make sure people see the benefit of behavior that’s aligned with cherished values. And leaders also know that celebrations and rituals, when done with authenticity and from the heart, build a strong sense of collective identity and community spirit that can carry a group through extraordinary tough times”

(  Kouzes and Posner, Pp. 19-20


Comments are closed.