Have You Mastered These Leadership Practices?

How do you know if you are a leader? If someone is following you, you are a leader! It may be an official part of your job, or it may be a volunteer endeavor, or maybe you’re a parent, with children following in your footsteps. In my study of leadership, I found some of the best information in the research conducted by James Kouzes and Barry Posner and documented in their book, The Leadership Challenge.

According to the authors, no matter what areas of life you lead in, there are five practices that strong and effective leaders consistently engage in.  And in order to incorporate these practices you’ll need to make some key commitments associated with each. Here are the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership:

1. Model the Way – Modeling the way is the most fundamental way in which leaders earn credibility and trust. You will never be an effective leader if you are unwilling or unable to walk your talk. If this first competency is not mastered, it ultimately will not matter how well you demonstrate the remaining four. In order to live by this principle, you must commit to clarifying your values and living by them. Set the example for your family and followers by living by what you believe.

Successful leaders have role models that they carefully study and learn from.  Who are some of the strong and effective leaders from either the past or present you want to emulate? It could be someone among religious leaders, politicians, business owners and executives. Or maybe your role model is a former coach, professor, supervisor, member of your church or even a family member. Choose your role models wisely, because, “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.” (Kouzes-Posner First Law of Leadership)

2. Inspire a Shared Vision – Enthusiastically and persuasively detail what the future can be. In order to do this, you need to commit to spending time envisioning the future by imagining new and exciting possibilities. Also, commit to enlisting others by appealing to shared aspirations, hopes and dreams. David McAllister-Wilson, the President of Wesley Theological Seminary, said, “Vision isn’t everything, but it’s the beginning of everything.”

Sometimes your vision comes through suffering and other personal experiences. To truly inspire a shared vision, we must be able to tell our personal stories with authenticity and conviction. It is through your story that others begin to believe that if they follow you they too can achieve their own hopes and dreams. Inspiring a shared vision is not a one-time event, but rather something strong and effective leaders do every day through their actions and words.

3. Challenge the Process – People do their best when there’s the chance to change the status quo. Commit to searching for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve and grow. Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.

Before you set out to challenge the process I want to challenge you to ask yourself three questions:

Do you know your why? Too many leaders seek to change and challenge for their own edification and reward.  Strong leaders lead with humility and serve for the well-being of others.

Are you willing to tolerate pain and suffering? Challenging the process can often involve pain and suffering in one form or another, e.g., rejection, ridicule, negative judgment and criticism.

Are you willing to take risks and suffer failure along with those you lead? The only true failure in life comes from not trying or taking risks. Mistakes and failure are two of the best teachers a leader can have if they are willing to learn from them.

4. Enable Others to Act – Leaders know that they can’t do it alone. Commit to fostering collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships and to strengthening others by increasing self-determination and developing competence. “A grand dream doesn’t become a significant reality through the actions of a single person. It requires a team effort.” (Kouzes-Posner)

Teamwork and collaboration can only exist in the context of trust. Trust is often the byproduct of vulnerability and transparency and these are two qualities are difficult for many of the leaders I work with. You cannot build trust if you are unwilling to be authentic, transparent and vulnerable because these are key ingredients to intimacy. (Think of the word intimacy as meaning “into me see”.)

5. Encourage the Heart – Expect the best and let people know you believe in them. Commit to recognizing contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence and celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community. “Recognition is the most powerful currency leaders have, and it costs nothing.” James Kouzes

As you genuinely live out these five practices, you will be amazed at the results. Leading others skillfully and compassionately will help develop future leaders who will follow your example!

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd


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