What makes an effective leader? Is it just all about having the right personality traits and characteristics? Are people just simply born leaders or not? Or is leadership something that can be learned and improved through observation, preparation, and repetition? Are there common things that leaders do consistently that make others want to follow them? In this article, we will explore these questions and discuss five practices that effective leaders use on a regular basis.
James Kouzes and Barry Posner are two other well-known researchers who have done a tremendous amount of work in leadership. Their findings can be found here on the Leadership Challenge.
They identified five practices that should be a part of every leader’s skill set.
Let us take a quick look at these five practices.
Leaders venture out. Leaders do not sit idly waiting for fate to smile upon them. They look for and accept challenges. Leaders are trailblazers that are willing to venture into the unknown. They are willing to take risks, innovate, and experiment to find new and better ways.
But leaders need not always be the creators or originators of new or different products, services, or processes. These innovations tend to come from customers, vendors, people in the labs, and people on the front lines. The leader’s contribution is in recognizing promising ideas, supporting innovation, and challenging the system to get new processes adopted. They know that they are taking a risk, but they proceed anyway. They learn from their failures and successes.
Leaders have an absolute and total personal belief in their dreams, but in some ways, leaders live their lives backward. They can see pictures in their mind’s eye even before the end is in sight.
Yet if a vision is only seen by the leader, it cannot create an organized movement or a meaningful change in a company. A person who does not have followers is not a leader, and people do not follow until they can accept a vision as their own. Leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue.
Leadership is a team effort. Leaders know that nobody does their best if they feel weak, incompetent, or alienated; they know that those who are expected to produce results must feel a sense of ownership.
Effective leaders enable others to act not by hoarding the power they have, but by giving it away. When people have discretion, authority, and information, they are likely to use these resources and their energies to produce extraordinary results. At the heart of effective leadership lies a relationship built upon trust and confidence. Without trust and confidence, people do not take risks. Without risks, there is no change. Without change, organizations die.
Leaders go first. Never ask your team to do something you are not willing to do. Effective leaders lead by example and build commitment through simple daily acts that create progress and momentum.
Leaders stand up for their beliefs, so you’d better have some beliefs to stand up for. Your deeds are far more important than your words. Leaders need operational plans. They must steer projects along a purposeful course, measure performance, give feedback, meet budgets and schedules, and take corrective action.
Of all the leadership practices, encouraging the heart is the hardest to plan. Why? For one thing, you do not know in advance what people will do that merits recognition. For another, you want your recognition and celebrations to be spontaneous, genuine, and heartfelt. Too much planning can make recognition feel routine or forced.
On a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is poor and 10 is excellent), how would you rate your willingness and ability in each of these five leadership practices? If scoring lower than a 10, what can you do differently to become more effective? Review the suggestions below for some ideas and activities that you might consider for helping you improve and grow your leadership skills in the five practices.
Let us look at some activities that you can implement right away to put the five practices into effect in meaningful ways. What practice #s does each activity fall into?
|Communicate often. Make sure communication runs both ways.|
|Be aware of the changing environment.|
|Make sure everyone understands the end results & their role & and how they will benefit.|
|Plot a procedure. Break it down into its parts.|
|Ask for help from others.|
|Constantly evaluate current products and procedures.|
|Reserve judgment until you have the facts & but be willing to come to decisions.|
|Give employees projects for which they can take responsibility.|
|Lead and direct the process but make it an “us” collaboration.|
|Measure your deliverables.|
|Create a collaborative basic plan for growth.|
|Demonstrate integrity in your own actions.|
|Recognize individuals the way they want to be recognized.|
|Trust and supply visible evidence that you do.|
|Celebrate success together.|
|Make sure others see what is in it for them; how they will benefit.|
|Help others understand why they must innovate and be competitive, viable, and marketable.|
|Share how you see the business/organization in 10 years.|
|Benchmark and find out how “X” is doing it.|
|Explore risks. Be willing to take small risks to innovate.|
|Do a SWOT analysis.|
|Provide people with both opportunities and resources.|
|Develop effective strategies for resolving conflict.|
|Really delegate. Live with mistakes and learn from them.|
|Be visible and accessible.|
|Set reasonable short-term goals.|
|Demonstrate random acts of kindness.|
|Celebrate and post external accomplishments.|
|Recognize strengths and recognize victories over challenges.|
|Find ways to recognize teams: verbally, in writing, and with tokens of appreciation.|
At its core, leadership means setting goals, lighting a path, and persuading others to follow. But the responsibility entails much more. Leaders must get their message out in a way that inspires, make the most of their limited time, and build roads to precious resources. They must negotiate alliances, improve their colleagues, and align the ambitions of the many with the needs of the organization.
Organizations need effective leaders to accomplish the company’s mission which is essential for business success at all levels of the organization. The five practices highlighted in this article along with the ideas supplied should help you hone your leadership skills so you can successfully lead others to get extraordinary things done within the organization.