LEADERSHIP is a mindset—a way of approaching life. It is about how you behave and what you do. It can be taught and then tested and refined in practice.
We all have a responsibility to lead in the context we are in. James Kouzes and Barry Posner emphasize this point in Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership. The book is about what “individuals do to effect change and improvement.”
Most leaders do not have titles. And this book is written for them – those people who can and should lead “without the benefit of hierarchical position and rank.”
To help you develop confidence and grow as a leader, the authors present an operating system of leadership practices based on their time-tested Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. Together they define what leaders do.
Leadership is fundamentally about your relationships, your credibility, and what you do. Leadership has everything to do about how you behave.
The authors share the personal stories of ordinary people who stepped up and behaved as informal leaders. When you read these stories of people from all walks of life who lead at their personal best, they demonstrated a common set of behaviors and actions that the authors have grouped together in the Five Practices:
Model the Way
It’s your behavior that earns you respect. Everyday leaders said things like, “I had to be clear about my personal values and then make sure that I walked the talk.” Setting an example builds credibility—the bedrock of leadership.
Modeling the Way begins with knowing and being able to articulate your values. But good leadership goes beyond that. “Successfully leading others requires an understanding and affirmation of shared values—the principles that can galvanize and strengthen collective commitment.”
Inspire a Shared Vision
Leaders see what could be. It is their clear vision of that future that pulls them forward. “The more I imagined what was possible, the more clearly I could describe what the future might hold in store for all of us.” “We had to be aligned so that we could find a common purpose as a team going forward.”
To follow your vision, people must see how they can make it their own. You must understand the hopes and aspirations of those you are involved with.
You must breathe life into visions, not only by your own enthusiasm and expressiveness but by listening to and communicating the hopes and dreams of others so that they clearly understand how their values and interests will be served.
Challenge the Process
All of the everyday leadership examples involved some change from the status quo. “At their best, leaders are pioneers. They are willing to step out into the unknown and continuously search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve.” Look for opportunities to make a difference.
Be willing to experiment and learn from your mistakes and setbacks. Identify and remove self-imposed constraints and organizational conventions that block innovation and creativity.
Enable Others to Act
It’s not leadership if you do it alone. Leadership isn’t leadership in a vacuum. Enabling others to act involves building relationships and trust. Trust is built by trusting others. Giving people a choice builds competence and confidence.
You strengthen others when you make it possible for them to exercise choice and discretion, when you develop in others the competence and confidence to act and excel, and when you foster the accountability that compels action.
Encourage the Heart
Expect the best in others and show you care. Recognize others. The everyday leaders in these examples indicated that “they had to Encourage the Heart of those with whom they were working to carry on, especially when they might have been tempted to give up.”
By paying attention, offering encouragement, personalizing appreciation, and maintaining a positive outlook, leaders stimulate, rekindle, and concentrate people’s energies and drive. Encouragement is more personal and positive than other forms of feedback, and it strengthens trust within relationships.
The behaviors associated with the Five Practices are not gender, race, or context-specific. Anyone can put these practices into action in their lives and lead with their best selves. Leadership begins by working on you. Start by believing that you can make a difference right where you are and by practicing these behaviors deliberately in your context. It will change you, and you can then make a difference in other people’s lives.