I help a lot of people try to figure out better organizational and personal leadership strategies. One of the many things that I teach my students is that there is no difference between life and leadership and that if you can master one, you can probably master the other. Of course, I also teach them that every vision and goal needs a plan of action if you want that vision or goal to be realized.
So, how would one go about even starting such a plan for themselves? There is no end to the number of books, podcasts and so on… that attempt to help people figure out their leadership starting point. One of the many books that I often recommend for this is called The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. It was written by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner; the developers of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model.
I don’t teach this model myself because I consider this to be something that someone can do on their own time and because Kouzes and Posner have their own organization that teaches this. However, this model was something that I learned about during my leadership undergrad studies and I still have a copy of this book in my leadership library today. Mainly because I believe that it adds great value for those starting out and it can be an excellent way to get the leadership ball rolling.
I’m not going to spoil the book or the program here. Instead, what I want to do is to help provide some clarity on its implementation because I have been asked about the complexities of implementing this model in correlation with other leadership principles. There is validity to such questions. For instance, in my opinion, it seems that Kouzes and Posner’s theory sort of ignores leader/follower theory or even shared leadership ideas. But that doesn’t mean that the model can’t be tweaked to your specific leadership style or situation or that the theory isn’t valid. In fact, what I’m going to show you here today is exactly that – a tweak of what Kouzes and Posner have provided with my own leadership spin in regards to how it can be applied. I guess I just wanted to show you how easy it can be so that perhaps you can pull something solid from it as well.
The model approaches leadership from five basic positions: Challenging the Process, Inspiring a Shared Vision, Enabling Others to Act, Modeling the Way and Encouraging the Heart. In today’s exercise, I want you to review each process as described and then examine my simple suggestions and tweaks for consideration. Maybe even try a few of them out for yourself. If you do, I believe you will begin to see that leadership needle move and you will discover ways that you can make this model work for you both personally and professionally.
I want to emphasize this once again: what follows is tweaked quite a bit. Again, I’m just showing you how to use this for yourself – even if it doesn’t fit perfectly for you in its original presentation. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the book or even take their online courses for clarity and contrast. I know I really enjoyed it and I think you might too. With that being said… let’s begin:
Challenging the Process
Challenging the process is all about the quest for innovation. Think about the children that looked upon the gadgets on the show Star Trek. These kids grew up and they eventually challenged the process to make such gadgets a reality. When the achievements were finally made, they eventually challenged the process again to make them smaller and more efficient. For me, Challenging the Process is all about change, growth, and adaptability. The people within an organization must challenge the process (and this means any process or product) if they seek to get better and remain relevant in the market place. Amazon.com is a great example of this. Apple is another. These companies continue to question and figure out creative ways to answer the questions being asked.
Three specific activities that could be implemented to enhance your use of “Challenging the Process” in your own leadership journey could be as follows:
Ask: Exactly how could this process or product be improved upon? – NOTE: Do not ask “can this process or product be improved upon?” because we know that it can; everything can.
Attempt: Try to improve upon the process or product and experiment with different ways to go about doing it. Keep in mind that this step will likely include a bit of failure and such failures should NOT be frowned upon.
Learn: When failure occurs, use it as a learning scenario to build upon for the next experiment. Don’t punish mistakes – make them opportunities – and keep trying until you get something awesome.
Inspiring a Shared Vision
A leader must have a vision of where the group is going and provide a direction in which to take them. A goal is critical in this regard. If one is not realized, aimless wondering is sure to be the result. Still, having a vision or goal is not enough. A leader must be able to not only realize a vision, but they must effectively share the vision, and more or less “sell” that vision to the group, so as to inspire them to make the journey with the leader who seeks to take them there. This can be done by simply being genuine in regard to the goal and the mission itself. The point is that the group must know the journey is worthwhile.
Three specific activities that could be implemented to enhance your use of “Inspiring a Shared Vision” in your own leadership journey could be as follows:
Define: You need to not only determine what the ultimate goal or vision is, but you need to clearly define that goal so as to ensure that you can speak to it when either sharing it with others or when challenged by another.
Share: You need to share that vision with those you seek to lead and you need to share it in an effective manner that is easy to understand. Remember that brilliance is not found in those who use fancy words and jargon; it’s found in those who can share complex ideas in a simple way that followers can easily understand. This will more than likely need to include the defined aspects and reasons as laid out in the previous heading.
Forecast: You need to demonstrate or illustrate the rewards or benefits of seeking the vision. Planning on going to Disneyland isn’t any fun without the payoff of riding the rides. You need the followers to understand what the point of it all is. A follower must know what the result should look like. They must also know why they should choose you as their leader. You must forecast or estimate the result your group seeks.
Enabling Others to Act
Each follower is a vital piece of the overall puzzle. Each follower represents a piece of the power in which a leader has been given. A leader must help each follower be better. Their lives must be enriched in some way shape or form, depending of course on the values set of the leader and/or the follower. The great example of this can be summed up with the phrase: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. Enabling others to act has more to do with teaching the way, rather than just showing the way. I look at Enabling Others to Act as Empowering Others, Period.
Three specific activities that could be implemented to enhance your use of “Enabling Others to Act” in your own leadership journey could be as follows:
Be the Example: Leading out front is critical in many regards. Not so much that the leader is the one doing the work per se, but that the leader is not afraid of the task at hand. You need to be able to show or demonstrate the expectation and help train someone up, so you must be the example.
Teach: Often, simply telling someone you want something done is not enough. I teach a three-part communication model in my classes to help with this. The old saying that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself is not far from the truth. However, if you want something done right, you could probably get similar results by teaching someone how to do what you need to be done in the manner in which you need it to be completed while also helping them envision the end-result.
Refine: As mentioned earlier, people are going to make mistakes. This is not a bad thing. These mistakes need to be learning tools. When teaching someone how to do something, mistakes should be expected. These moments need to be utilized to help refine the instruction and improve upon the method or task.
Modeling the Way
A leader is an example. Do as I say – not as I do is not the best approach. The leader sets the tone for the group. This includes behaviors, policies, bureaucracies, leniencies, and so on. A leader must practice what they preach and not only hold their people accountable but hold themselves accountable to their people. A leader must set goals and chase them alongside their people. Modeling the way (to me) means perfecting the other aspects of this model while demonstrating how followers can become leaders themselves.
Three specific activities that could be implemented to enhance your use of “Modeling the Way” in your own leadership journey could be as follows:
Lead: You need to lead by example. You need to exemplify the expectation. You need to continually strive for excellence and you need to lift people up while duplicating yourself.
Follow: Don’t be afraid to learn something new from those you lead. Don’t be afraid to follow those you empower. You need to ensure that followers know that you are not perfect and that you make mistakes too. This is critical if you want to rebound from big mistakes. You also need to ensure a team atmosphere based on collaboration.
Get out of the way: Don’t micromanage. You need to allow those you lead the opportunity to do their job, make their own mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. If this is something that doesn’t work for you, then you should probably demote yourself to “manager”.
Encouraging the Heart
An accomplishment is the successful achievement of a given task; a task obviously big enough that it was important enough to set the priority. Sure, it can be an expected part of the job, or it could be an enormous goal set by the leader or organization. Regardless, this task would have more than likely not been accomplished without the team or the team member. This should be recognized by the leader(s). So what does this look like? Imagine an organization that not only recognized their workers for a job well done but also allowed followers to be able to share in the rewards. Imagine encouraging a culture where the team could celebrate the victory – EVERY victory.
There are actually numerous ways to go about this one but three specific activities that could be implemented to enhance your use of “Encouraging the Heart” in your own leadership journey could be as follows:
Look: You need to have the results personally reviewed by leadership along with a listing of responsible parties so that everyone can be recognized. This is called validation and it’s very important. Let your people know that their efforts are valued.
Recognize: You need to personally recognize those who were responsible for the completion of said task. This could be done with a simple “thank you”, email, phone call, speech, etc. It needs to be more personal in nature, so they know that you have seen their name attached to this project and that their victory is appreciated.
Vocalize: Don’t allow everything to be about you. The leader is NOT the hero! Allow your people to be heroes to the organization and allow their accomplishments to be publicized within the organization, not just within the unit or division. This could be done via conference, newsletters, etc. Showcase THEM. Everyone already knows that you’re the leader. As a leader, show off your people!
See? That wasn’t so bad. The only hang-up here is whether or not you are willing to give some of these a shot. In all my years of leadership education and training, I have found that behavioral changes are the biggest challenge for people. Just remember that it’s okay to change your behaviors to something better. It’s also okay to change your behaviors a little bit at a time. I know it can be hard at first, especially when those around don’t understand why we are making the change. But what’s the harm in at least trying it out?