Top five practices of exemplary leadership

“Describe a time when you were at your best as a leader.” That was the first assignment we received from Barry Possner, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, at a recent leadership workshop. It set the foundation for a rich conversation about how leadership is personal and reinforced the need to create a relationship if you want to entice others to want to follow you.The workshop took place in a large ball room with everyone sitting in small groups of about eight per table. Everyone wrote down a memory of their best moment as a leader. My first observation was that leaders tend to remember super high points, when teams accomplished great things or just the reverse, tough times where the leader had to help someone through a difficult situation.

After the initial conversation at the table, Barry asked each group to choose a scribe and write out the top five leadership principles that were evident in the leadership stories. After a scurry to get a marker and write out the themes on a flip chart, Possner then asked the room to comment on whether the words on the flip charts were similar or dissimilar?

As you would expect, they were very similar. The most common included: listening, honesty, vision, collaboration and recognizing others.

This is, in essence, the underlying research in Barry’s top selling book The Leadership Challenge. He and James Kouzes have been studying the traits of top leaders for over 25 years. The top five practices of exemplary leaders include:

1. Model the way

  • Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared ideals
  • Set the example by aligning actions with shared values

2. Inspire a shared vision

  • Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities
  • Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations

3. Challenge the process

  • Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve
  • Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience

4. Enable others to act

  • Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships
  • Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence

5. Encourage the heart

  • Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence
  • Celebrate the values and victories by creating spirit of community

What really hit me was how often Barry used the word love when talking about leadership. He continued to drive home that leadership is a relationship. It’s no surprise that just weeks earlier I heard Howard Shultz, Starbucks CEO, speak of love when describing leadership. Barry would say “YOU are the most important leader in your organization.” Think about how you are creating relationships with everyone you lead.

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