Leaders face an overwhelming number of opportunities to improve, create change and make the world a better place. Certain principles endure decade after decade, despite changes in technology and the economy. Following these truths consistently simply requires your commitment to daily practice.
In reading The Truth about Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, I was struck by the importance of these ideas.
Note: you may be familiar with some or all of these truths if you have been a student of leadership. In that case, remember that an intellectual understanding is not enough.
Truth 1: Laying The Moral Foundation for Long Term Leadership
Have you ever noticed that some political leaders and others in the public eye refuse to acknowledge that they are role models? In July 2015, I found over 300 news articles with the phrase “I’m not a role model” – mainly covering athletes, actors and entertainers. It appears that many people seek the benefits of public attention without the burden of leadership.
Effective leaders with serious goals cannot make that choice. Instead, building a moral foundation requires us to act with honesty and integrity. Those are weighty concepts yet there are small ways to put these ideas into action. Use the following action tips:
- Clarity commitments before you agree. Misunderstandings and poor communication create many problems. Fortunately, you can overcome that problem by clarifying the basics – due dates and quality.
- Follow through on small promises. Success in any activity begins with small steps. To build your commitment to honesty, start by meeting deadlines with discipline (and proactively communicating when the situation changes).
Truth 2: Know Thyself By Reflecting On Your Values and Strengths
Working in your strengths and values are essential to effective leadership. This type of self-reflection activity is challenging for some leaders who are accustomed to focusing on other people. One way to determine your values is to look at how you allocate your time and money – what do you spend your resources on each week?
- Explore personality and behaviour assessments. Well-designed assessments give you a fresh perspective on your strengths, weaknesses and blindspots so that you can direct your energy more effectively.
- Resource: Why Knowing Yourself Is Essential To Leadership.
- Book: Read the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath and complete the related assessment.
For added insight, explore how your values align to your organisation’s values. For instance, there is great alignment between a personal value on lifelong learning and an organisation that values innovation. Remember that values are complex concepts that may be described with different words, so don’t be afraid to consult a dictionary or thesaurus for clarification.
Truth 3: Leaders Go First (Especially When There is Risk!)
Going first is scary and it is a key behaviour for leaders to practice. In fact, going first is a well-established practice for leaders. Robert Ayling, the CEO of British Airways, took a flight to boost public confidence in the year 2000 and show that the “Y2K” problem had been solved. In today’s organisation, going first usually means something quite different – risking the criticism and negative comments from other people.
Here are four ways that you can go first as a leader:
- Be the first in the meeting room. It’s frustrating to wait for the leader to arrive in the room and sends the message that lateness is acceptable.
- Learn new technology first in your team. This move can be particularly valuable if your team members are upset about an upgrade to an expense reimbursement system or other administrative resource
- Offer enthusiastic support for new projects. Changing the culture and behaviour in large organisations is challenging – as a leader, you can go first by supporting new projects in word and deed.
- Be an effective follower. Author and entrepreneur Michael Hyatt recently explained Why Learning to Lead Means Learning to Follow. It’s an important behaviour for leaders to model – whether your boss is the CEO, the board of directors or someone else.
How will you put these leadership truths into action in your organisation this week?
Creative Commons image courtesy Tim Dreyer.