The correlation between the performance of an organization and its leadership is obvious when you compare only a few companies. And if they are in the middle of a change initiative, leadership becomes an even more important factor. The companies that we’ve seen enjoying the highest returns are those with a leadership team that exhibits five important habits first defined by Posner and Kouzes in The Leadership Challenge, 1987:
- Model the way. Modeling means going first and living the behaviors you want others to adopt. This is called leading from the front. People believe not what their leaders say, but what they see leaders doing consistently. Leaders are early adopters of innovation and they can show others how that innovation can help make the organization better.
- Inspire a shared vision. Leaders are communicators who get staff to understand the need for, and importance of, the activities that allow the realization of a company’s strategic direction. It’s not fear or reward that motivates people – it’s ideas that capture their imagination, ideas they can believe in. Note that this is not just about having a vision, but communicating it effectively so that others can articulate the same vision and goals in their own words.
- Encourage. People act best of all when they are passionate about what they are doing. Leaders unleash their followers’ enthusiasm through their own stories and passions. Leaders motivate staff to excel at their activities and set priorities that work for the organization.
- Enable others to act. Encouragement alone is not enough. People must feel able to act, and only then can they effectively put their ideas into action. Leaders design an organization that supports their strategy, including the allocation of tasks to ensure coordination and effectiveness. Leaders help staff set priorities among those activities, or they provide clear direction on how to set those priorities.
- Challenge the process. Leaders are never comfortable with status quo. They seek opportunities for growth, are early adopters of innovation, and celebrate controlled failure in their team. Leaders know the only way you hit a home run is by picking up the bat.
If you have not developed these habits over your tenure as a leader, start today. Choose just one of the activities above and calendar it for two weeks. The results will be well worth the effort.