As a leader in business, have you ever had occasion to say, “That sounds good in theory.” Skepticism – even cynicism – underlies that statement. Roughly translated into a glorious jumble of mixed metaphors, what you really mean is, “I hear what you are saying and I think you are living in an ivory tower and wearing rose-colored glasses because when the rubber meets the road that isn’t going to fly.”
A lot of pop leadership development advice falls under the “sounds good in theory” category. Catchy phrases and cute alliteration abound, but there is no real substance to the advice. Consequently, there is no real improvement in leadership behaviors and no discernible value to the team, customer, and business.
In sharp contrast to the constant churn of pop leadership advice stands The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Originally published in 1987, The Leadership Challenge is now in its 7th edition. For 36 years it has remained a classic because it doesn’t just “sound good in theory” – it works in practice.
At the core of Kouzes and Posner’s best seller are what the authors term The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®:
- Model the Way
- Inspire a Shared Vision
- Challenge the Process
- Enable Others to Act
- Encourage the Heart
For each of these practices, they define two critical leadership behaviors. For example, in order to Model the Way, leaders need to Clarify Values by finding their own voice and affirming shared values, and Set the Example by living the shared values and teaching others to model the values. The simple yet elegant structure is pragmatic in its nature and proven in its results.
For nearly 20 years, we have coached leaders on the concepts presented in The Leadership Challenge. In that time, we have interacted with over 5000 leaders across multiple countries. We can verify from this extensive personal experience that successful leaders invariably demonstrate The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® … and that struggling leaders invariably do not.
Through a series of blog posts, we are going to probe The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® and share stories and observations of leaders we have known who have lived into or failed to live out these key practices. For instance, on the “great role model” side, we’ll tell you about the Chief Financial Officer who had an extraordinary vision for his department – a vision that became reality because he intentionally and creatively tied it into the goals, dreams, hopes, and challenges of his team. On the “horrible example” side, we’ll reveal what happened after a leader, when asked to define his five core values, replied, “Do you mean my core values at work or at home?” (Spoiler alert: you can’t have two different sets of core values!)
When the rubber meets the road, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® will help you accelerate your success as a leader, the success of your team, and the success of your business. Put simply: it works. It has worked for millions of leaders and it will work for you. As the authors affirm, “These practices are not the private purview of the people we studied. Nor do they belong to a few select shining stars. Leadership is not about personality. It’s about behavior. The Five Practices are available to anyone who accepts the leadership challenge – the challenge of taking people and organizations to places they have never been before. It is the challenge of moving beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary.”
It’s time to take up that challenge!