And other lessons learned from over 30 years experience in industry.
Leadership is not a place—it’s a process. It involves skills and abilities that are useful whether you are a physician in clinical practice or a CEO in the executive suite, on Wall Street or on Main Street. Leadership is everyone’s business.
Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. Any discussion of leadership must consider the dynamics of this relationship.”
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership
What do you look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction you would willingly follow? We look for many special qualities in our leaders. Studies by Kouzes and Posner suggest that several qualities are important—but a few stand out. The most admired leaders are honest, competent, forward-looking, and inspiring. And their credibility is based on their trustworthiness, expertise, and enthusiasm (energy and drive).
When people perceive leaders to have high credibility, they are proud to tell others they are part for the organization. They talk up the organization with friends and associates. Their values are aligned with the organization’s values. And they feel a sense of ownership for the organization. When people perceive leaders to have low credibility, they display behaviors on the other end of the spectrum. How do you earn and sustain credibility over time?
2. Personal Values are the Source of Organizational Commitment
Leaders can’t do what they say, if they have nothing to say. The place where leaders must start earning and sustaining their credibility—and becoming a role model—is with finding their voice. They have to clarify their values and beliefs. They have to be clear about the core principles that guide them in their work and personal life. Only then can they choose the actions that are consistent with those principles. Clarity about our personal values directly affects the level of commitment we have toward our organization.
How do you clarify your guiding principles? How do you help others to do the same?
3. Challenge Provides the Opportunity for Greatness
When we think of exemplary leaders, we usually recall individuals who served during times of crisis, innovation, and change. The same is true when “ordinary” people describe their personal best leadership experiences. Leadership begins with a search for opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve.
When times are stable and secure, no one is severely tested. We don’t take the opportunity to reach deep inside and discover the true gifts buried within. But in times of hardship, we come face-to-face with who we really are—and what we’re capable of becoming. Only challenge produces the opportunity for greatness. And given the extraordinary challenges the world faces today, the potential for greatness is enormous. The essential question leaders must constantly ask themselves is: "What have you changed lately?"
4. Leaders Function in the Future Tense
Leaders take us to places we have never been before—or we think too difficult, if not impossible, to reach. They look a few degrees above the horizon, imagining the exciting possibilities that are ahead. Leaders light the fire of passion, breathing life into our hopes and dreams for the future.
While credibility is the foundation of leadership, being "forward-looking" is also essential to earning the respect of our constituents. The domain of leaders is the future, and the unique legacy of leaders is the creation of valued changes and innovations that survive over time. What is the future you envision? What is the future you desire?
5. The Legacy You Leave is the Life You Lead
Just what is credibility behaviorally? How do you know it when you see it?
One of the behaviors of a good leader is modeling the way. If leaders want productive people, they must set a good example, establish high standards, and then “walk the talk” (do what they say they’ll do). As role models, leaders send a variety of signals to indicate what is important to them: how they spend their time, who they spend it with, what’s on their agenda, the stories they tell, and who they reward. What kind of example are you setting for others to follow?
6. High Hope Leads to High Performance
People with high hope versus those with low hope have a greater number of goals across various arenas of life. They select more difficult goals. They see their goals in a more challenging and positive manner than people with low hope. They achieve higher levels of organizational success. And they report greater satisfaction with life. How do you sustain hope and encourage others to continue the quest?
For further reading on this topic, check out the following resources: The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, Leading Change by John Kotter, and High Flyers: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders by Morgan McCall.