Leadership in Action

Submitted by guest blogger Marshall Brown:
     Because leadership is inextricably connected to who we are deep down, every leader has a different style. Some lead with their eccentric, charismatic selves on full, charming display. Other leaders bear no banners and sound no trumpets.

     Whatever their individual style, leaders that generate high performance in individuals and organizations do the same general kinds of things, according to James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, have spent more than 20 years researching leadership, including 70,000 surveys, 1,000 written case studies, and 100 in-depth interviews. Their research revealed the following five common practices of exemplary leaders of all varieties—whether entrepreneurs, community organizers, department heads or parents.

 1. Model the way. Leaders establish principles, create standards and set examples that establish the environment for the way work will be pursued. Like parents, leaders model the kind of behavior they want to see. For example, during one long, grueling day leading up to an important product launch, Elizabeth took her entire team to a drive-in movie in the afternoon to relax and clear their mind. By taking time to relax herself, she demonstrated great leadership, and in the process reminded her group that it is often the simple things that restore order and balance, and help generate clear-minded solutions.

 2. Inspire a shared vision. Leaders see beyond the horizon of “what is” to the shores of “what could be,” and they do so with the passionate belief that they can make a difference. Whether through magnetic attraction, exemplary modeling or quiet persuasion, they enlist others in those dreams—or inspire others to envision their own dreams. “Leadership is the art of mobilizing other people to want to struggle for shared aspirations,” Kouzes and Posner write.

 3. Challenge the process. Leaders are always on the lookout for innovation—not for innovation’s sake but to improve the status quo. They are not afraid of experiment and risk, and they consider mistakes and failures as learning opportunities. For example, the peer mediation group that Susan brought over from New Zealand did amazing work training high school students in the unique method, but fell flat at the junior high level. “We learned that junior high students need a different approach,” Susan says. No failure there, just learning.

 4. Enable others to act. Exemplary leaders foster collaboration and motivate extraordinary teams much the way parents do: they offer resources, establish necessary boundaries, knock down barriers and guide as needed—all in the name of creating opportunities for others to succeed. Part of the way they do so is by paying attention to the cornerstones of mutual respect, trust, human dignity and empowerment.

5. Encourage the heart. Leaders recognize the contributions and needs of the human heart. They celebrate accomplishments, give credit, say thank you, and keep hope and determination alive by making people feel like heroes. There are hundreds of ways to acknowledge how people have contributed to your group’s vision, mission, values and goals—the only limits being one’s creativity and sincerity.

Learn more about Marshall Brown’s executive and career coaching at his website!

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