Five Essential Practices of Leaders

Leading well requires intentional practices.
Leading well requires intentional practices.

One of the best books I’ve read on leadership is “The Leadership Challenge” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. The book, in its fifth edition and over twenty-five years old, outlines five vital practices for effective leadership. As I stumble my way into and through leadership, the five practices have helped my leadership development.

Practice One: Model the Way

Leaders set the climate of the organization. Leaders must clarify values by finding their voice and inspiring commitment to shared values giving people a reason to care. For leaders to be effective, they need to passionately model and pursue the vision of the organization. This practice can be phrased in different ways; walk the talk, buy what you sell, live what you preach, etc. Leaders can’t tell others to be vision focused if they are not. Your behavior, not your title, earns you respect.

Inspire a shared vision

Shared vision, more than anything, transforms organizational culture. Leaders cultivate shared values and vision by imagining future possibilities through reflecting on the past, attending to the present, and prospecting the future.

Shared vision creates ownership not only among leaders, but across the entire organization. The importance of ownership cannot be over stated because owners approach their work differently than non-owners. Owners care passionately having a “do what’s needed” attitude. If leaders do not inspire ownership, team members, whether employees or volunteers, develop a “do what’s asked” mentality limiting their full engagement and talents.

Inspire others by embracing your passion, aligning your dreams with the people’s, and animating the vision using stories and images. Such inspiration helps individuals give their best to the mission of the organization.

Challenge the Process

Leaders search for opportunities by seizing initiatives, exercising outsight (instead of simply looking “inside” leaders also look outside), and treating every job as an adventure. Experimentation and risk-taking move leaders and organizations out of their comfort zones closer to fulfilling their vision. Willingness to do what hasn’t been done before, start small, generate small wins, and learn from experience creates active learners who keep learning while moving forward.

Enable Others to Act

If a vision can be fulfilled without teams, the vision is simply too small. Teams are vital for any vision worth pursuing. Building strong teams, perhaps the the most difficult, but essential task of effective leadership, empowers organizations to realize seemingly impossible goals. While culture celebrates leaders who single handily transform organizations, those leaders usually have good and strong teams contributing to their success.

Teams are built by fostering collaboration around a common purpose in an environment of respect and trust. A climate of trust, created by sharing information and facilitating relationships, needs to be established if teams are going to be successful (See Five Dysfunctions of a TeamFive Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni).

High trust allows the enhancement of people’s sense of self-determination providing opportunities that get the best out of team members and releasing their full potential. Rather than focusing on the “right way” to solve problems, teams are given permission to find their own solutions, allowing for creativity and innovation. People are smart and will figure things out if given the chance. Accountability and expectations make sure teams stay on track and within any boundaries of the organization.

Encourage the Heart

I find this practice the hardest given my temperament, but many will find the practice easy. Leaders encouraging the heart through celebration and recognition. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation. Celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community. When hearts are encouraged, people not only respond with loyalty, but with their best work.

Summary

These five practices have transformed my view of leadership. I still struggle with a few of the practices, but I see how these practices enable organizations to effectively fulfill their mission. For more information about these practices, check out “The Leadership Challenge”.

Discussion

What practices do you find the easiest? What ones are the most difficult? Can you think of practices that can be added to the list?

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