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Experiment & take risks: learning from mistakes & successes/envision the future: imagining ideal scenarios/etc
"...This reissued and revised 'classic' is grounded in extensive research..." (Human Resources, January 2003)
"...this book is an easy read...well produced and despite the research clear of management jargon?well written..." (AccountingWEB.UK, 7 January 2003)
Coordinator of the Guiding Team
If citizens are to take responsibility for governing, says Sunne McPeak, they must first be empowered. As president and CEO of the Bay Area Economic Forum and a former member of the Contra Costa County (California) Board of Supervisors, McPeak takes great pride in the large number of her constituents who continue their participation in local government activities long after their direct involvement with her. McPeak knows that when coalitions of highly diverse interests (such as growers and environmentalists in the Coalition to Stop the Peripheral Canal, which she co-chaired) come together, it's impossible for them to reach consensus and forge commitment unless they're provided with the skills and knowledge needed to make good judgments. For McPeak, keeping people informed, developing personal relationships among the participants, involving people in important decisions, and acknowledging and giving credit for people's contributions are essential to any process for reinventing government.
We find that, like McPeak, exemplary leaders make other people feel strong. They enable others to take ownership of and responsibility for their group's success. Long before empowerment was written into the popular vocabulary, credible leaders knew that only when their constituents felt strong, capable, and efficacious could they ever hope to get extraordinary things done. Constituents who feel weak, incompetent, and insignificant consistently underperform, they want to flee the organization, and they're ripe for disenchantment, even revolution.
People who feel powerless, be they managers or individual contributors, tend to hoard whatever shreds of power they have. Powerless managers, for example, tend to adopt petty and dictatorial styles. Powerlessness creates organizational systems in which political skills are essential and "covering yourself " and "passing the buck" are the preferred modes of handling interdepartmental differences.
When constituents have very little power, those in positions of authority can easily get people to follow orders. Under such circumstances, authority figures often attribute other people's behavior, no matter how good it is, to their own orders rather than to constituents' abilities and motivations. Stanford University researcher Jeffrey Pfeffer has found that "if behavior occurs in the presence of a great deal of external pressureeither positive in the form of monetary inducements or negative in the form of threats and sanctions-people are likely to conclude that the external forces both caused the behavior and were, in fact, necessary to produce it."
The most insidious thing about external control is that it actually erodes the intrinsic motivation that a person might have for a task. In other words, even the constituents begin to assume that only outside forces will compel them to do anything. And yet intrinsic motivation is esential to getting extraordinary things done. When people do things because they're told to, not because they want to, they don't perform at their best. Thus reliance on external power and control-whether by the authorities or the members-over time diminishes the capacity of individuals and organizations to excel.
This phenomenon was cleverly documented in one experiment involving small workgroups. Employees in some workgroups were allowed to influence decisions about their work (were made powerful, in other words), while those in other workgroups were not (were made powerless). The managers of the powerless groups routinely complained that their employees weren't motivated to work hard. These managers saw their workers as unsuitable for promotion and downplayed their skills and talents, and they evaluated the work output of their employees less favorably than did the managers of powerful workgroups. In fact, the actual output of both groups was roughly equivalent; it was the lack of employee opportunity to exercise influence that caused the managers to see their groups as poor performers.
The opportunity to create a climate where people are involved and important is at the heart of strengthening others. To create this climate, leaders use power in service of others, not in service of their own private interests.
Record the actions or conditions that contributed to your feelings of powerfulness.
Representative statements that we've received in response to this task in our workshops are shown in the list that follows. See how these compare to your own experiences:
II. Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership.
III. Find Your Voice.
IV. Set the Example.
V. Envision the Future.
VI. Enlist Others.
VII. Search for Opportunities.
VIII. Experiment and Take Risks.
IX. Foster Collaboration.
X. Strengthen Others.
XI. Recognize Contributions.
XII. Celebrate the Values and Victories.
XIII. Leadership is Everyone's Business.
Take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Think of a few well-known historical figures you consider exemplary leaders. Think about the men and women who you believe have led organizations, communities, states, nations, or the world to greatness. Write their names in the left-hand column. In the right-hand column opposite each name, record the events, circumstances, or historical contexts with which you identify each of these individuals.
Now review the list. Cover the names, and look only at the right-hand column listing the events, circumstances, or contexts. Is there any pattern in these leadership situations? What do they have in common?
We predict that your list will consist of leaders you identify with the creation of new institutions, the resolution of serious crises, the winning of wars, the organization of revolutionary movements, protests for improving social conditions, political change, innovation, or some other social transformation.
The following are a few examples of the historical leaders people have mentioned when we've asked this question. See if you don't agree with the observation.
Historical Leaders: Situation or Context
When times are stable and secure, we’re not severely tested. We may perform well, we may get promoted, we may even achieve fame and fortune. But certainty and routine breed complacency. In times of calm, we don’t take the opportunity to burrow inside and discover the true gifts buried down deep. In contrast, personal, business, and social hardships have a way of making us 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 daunting challenges we face today, the potential for greatness is monumental.
You may also notice something else about this list. The leaders we admire are also the ones who have the courage of their convictions. Not only do they have a clear set of principles and a vision which guides them, they also stand up for those beliefs during times of intense challenge and radical change. Of course, that's one of the reasons we admire them, but it's also a highly significant leadership lesson. It's only when are beliefs are tested in the trials of adversity that we know whether a leader has the "right stuff."
Skeptics might say that this is true only for those few great leaders who've made their mark on history, and it can't be true for those less famous. Absolutely not so. When my coauthor, Barry Posner, and I analyzed the initial set of personal-best cases in our leadership research, we discovered exactly the same thing. The challenges faced by the leaders we studied may have been less grand, but even so the situations they chose to discuss were about major change that had a significant impact on their organizations. This remains true today: regardless of function, field, economic sector, organizational level, or national boundary, the leaders in our study talk about times when they lead adventures into new territory. They tell us how they turned around losing operations, started up new plants, installed untested procedures, or greatly improved the results of poorly performing units. And these weren’t 10, 25, or even 50 percent improvements in products and processes; in many cases, the magnitude of changes was in the hundreds of percent. The personal-best leadership cases were about firsts, about radical departures from the past, about doing things that had never been done before, about going to places not yet discovered.
What’s significant about the emphasis on innovation in our leadership cases is that we don’t ask people to tell us about change; we ask them to tell us about personal-best leadership experiences. They can discuss any leadership experience they choose: past or present, unofficial or official; in any functional area; in any community, voluntary, religious, health care, educational, public-sector, or private-sector organization. Our respondents elected to talk about times of change, not time of stability and the status quo. Their stories underscore the fact that leadership demands changing the business-as-usual environment.
Whether we're reflecting on historical leaders or reviewing personal best leadership experiences, the study of leadership is the study of how men and women guide us through adversity, uncertainty, hardship, disruption, transformation, transition, recovery, new beginnings, and other significant challenges. It's also the study of how men and women, in times of constancy and complacency, actively seek to disturb the status quo and awaken to new possibilities.
In recent years the phrase "change leadership" has been popping up more and more frequently, perhaps in recognition of the role leaders play in turbulent times. While we understand the currency of the phrase, we think "change leadership" is redundant. Based on our evidence, change is what leadership is all about. What else would you call it -- "keep-things-the-same leadership"? There's just leadership, and then there's something else.
You need only look in the dictionary to understand the meaning. The word lead, at its root, means “go, travel, guide.” Leadership has about it a kinesthetic feel, a real sense of movement. Leadership is about going places, about travel and adventure, about stepping out into unknown territory. Leaders are pioneers. They begin the quest for a new order. They venture into unexplored territory and guide us to new and unfamiliar destinations. Leaders “go first.” They actively search for opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve.
Stuff happens in organizations and in our lives. Sometimes we choose it; sometimes it chooses us. It's unavoidable. People who become leaders don’t always seek the challenges they face. Challenges also seek leaders. Opportunities to challenge the process and introduce change open the door to doing one’s best. Challenge is the motivating environment for excellence. Challenging opportunities often bring forth skills and abilities that people don’t know they have. Given opportunity and support, ordinary men and women can get extraordinary things done in organizations. It's not so important whether you find the challenges or they find you. What is important are the choices you make when stuff happens. The question is, When opportunity knocks are you prepared to answer the door? James M. Kouzes
Posted April 14, 2005
This book is sorely needed in todays business community. True leadership is rarely taught in todays schools or mentored on the job in todays offices, but it needs to be the cornerstone of every business and family. Much needless suffering is caused by people in leadership positions who don't have a clue how to lead others.
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Posted January 18, 2008
The principles in this book apply to virtually any life situation. The model the authors provide is simple enough for students to understand & profound enough to make a differenceWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 19, 2005
The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner remains one of the best leadership books in circulation today. The one thing that I love about all of Kouzes and Posner's books is that the principles that they espouse can be broken down into a number of practices and are thus made easier to remember. For instance, in this book, the Leadership Challenge I remember the five practices of leadership through the Acronym MICEE as in (1) Model the Way (2) Inspire a Shared Vision (3) Challenge the Process (4) Enable others to act and (5) Encourage the heart. These are practical principles that all leaders can live by. If you don't have it, get it, you won't regret it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.