40 people – including me – who coach leaders and teams as I do, got to spend an evening with Jim Kouzes Tuesday night. It was food for the mind and food for the soul.
Kouzes, along with colleague Barry Posner, authored the award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, which has over 1.8 million copies in print. The duo has also been active in doing field-based research, utilizing a leadership inventory they developed, which now has a database of over 1M respondents.
Why is this important?
Their work has identified the key attributes that high effective leaders display / evidence as core to their leadership: people who lead effectively over a period of time display these quantifiable behaviors.
And Kouzes, by the way, believes “ Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It’s a set of skills and abilities learnable by anyone “ – and the only way to get better is to work at it and such methods as executive coaching, and consistent candid feedback from others.
Here’s what Jim offered – based on extensive field research to accompany a forthcoming update to The Leadership Challenge – in terms of the attributes that separate effective leaders from everyone else.
The big question if you are a leader – or aspiring leader – is how do you stack up?
The top 4 qualities that people identify in leaders they admire:
- Forward looking
Kouzes and Pozner’s research shows that that there are some basic findings – Kouzes calls them “truths” – about highly effective leaders and the attributes they evidence:
1. Credibility is the foundation of leadership: you either lead by example or you don’t lead at all.
2. Personal values drive commitment: the highest commitment levels comes from people who are clear about their personal values as well as clear about the values of the organization in which they work. Lowest level? Are clear about the organization’s values, but not so clear about their own personal values.
3. Vision trumps everything when it comers to leadership: alignment, the act of people linking or aligning their personal efforts with that of the organization, only happens when people can see themselves in the picture the leader promotes.
4. Challenge is the crucible of greatness: every great leader was able to reach that higher quality of leadership through a significant test or challenge. No one got great – to crib Kouzes line – by maintaining the status quo and not changing anything.
5. Leaders can’t do it alone: leaders can’t do it alone. The level of trust subordinates had in their leaders is determined the amount of leader influence subordinates accepted.
6. The best leaders are the best learners: the more engaged you are at learning to lead the more successful you are at leading. And you must practice by coaching and doing things such as consistently asking for feedback on how your behaviors as a leader affect others and course correcting as appropriate.
7. Caring is at the heart of leadership: The highest performing managers and leaders are the most open and caring. The best leaders display more affection toward others and want others to be more open with them.
Last word from Jim Kouzes: the balance between positive things you say about someone to “negative” to be optimally effective in driving better performance is something on the order of 3-7 (or average of around 5) positive comments to every one critical note.
More on Jim Kouzes and his extensive work and career can be found here.