Abraham Lincoln once characterized the leader’s lonely job this way: “If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.” Leadership is often treated as a mystical, inexplicable quality, like charisma or spirituality. But, what if leadership was actually a set of behaviors and attitudes that you can study and master?
The First Leadership Commitment
Seek challenging opportunities to grow, change, innovate and improve. This means treating every job like an adventure rather than a task. Think from the ground up; approach every assignment like a turnaround project. Constantly question the status quo, and never accept the answer, “Because that’s how we’ve always done it.” Don’t try to think up all the solutions – send your people out to shop for ideas. Make it everyone’s job to find better ways to operate. Add adventure to everyone’s work. Learn new skills to stimulate your creativity.
Inspire a Shared Vision
Leaders believe they can make extraordinary things happen. They can envision a bright future and can convince colleagues to support their visions. Leaders develop clear visions of where they want to go, and then construct events and systems to get there, because vision is the force that invents the future. While visions alone are insufficient – since leaders need constituents – people decide to follow leaders whose visions they share.
If you understand people, you can convince them to believe in your vision by breathing life into their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Leadership, in this sense, is a dialogue rather than a monologue. Once you understand your constituents, you can breathe life into their hopes and dreams and paint a picture of a brighter future for them, a future in which they have a prominent role. To have your vision accepted, you must communicate it enthusiastically. When leaders identify the innovations that give them the most pride, they name projects that they were the most enthusiastic about before the outcome could be known. Of course, challenging the status quo and being a visionary carries risk, so your risk tolerance matters.
The Second Leadership Commitment
Experiment, take risks and learn from your mistakes. A leader-visionary can test ideas by setting up small experiments, making it safe for others to try new ideas, too. Some of your bright ideas won’t work, but that’s fine as long as you learn from your mistakes. Most people, when confronted with change, immediately douse any enthusiasm for it. Don’t discard an idea that initially sounds strange. Instead, insist that your organization honor its risk takers. Study your failures as carefully as your successes, and encourage people to think of solutions, not obstacles.
The Third Leadership Commitment
envision a future that is more uplifting and ennobling. You can think about your past in specific ways to determine where you want to be in the future. Be specific; determine exactly what you want. Write a vision statement and dare to act on your intuition. Test your assumptions; become a futurist. Craft a vision that improves your co-workers’ lives and prepares your company’s future.
Enable Others to Act
Effective leaders, no matter how skilled or smart, know that even their best ideas will fall on barren soil without other people’s assistance. Effective leadership is always a team effort – a leader without a team is no leader. Exemplary leaders inspire a sense of organizational teamwork far beyond an inner cadre. People respond to leaders who enable them to act. Leaders understand that people cannot do their best work if they feel weak, insignificant or alienated from the process. Give them the sense of ownership they need.
“Love – of their products, their services, their constituents, their clients and customers, and their work – may be the best-kept leadership secret of all.”
The Fourth Leadership Commitment
Appeal to others people’s values, dreams and hopes to share your common vision. Learn the interests of the people you lead, and then present them with a vision that makes the intangible tangible. To do this effectively, you first must listen passionately to your people.
The Fifth Leadership Commitment
Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. Think in terms of mutual goals, because no one ever accomplishes anything significant alone. Instead of saying, “Here’s what I want to do,” say, “Here’s what we need to do.” Encourage people to collaborate and exchange ideas.
“Flesh-and-blood leaders know that the more they control others, the less likely it is that people will excel. They also know that the more they control, the less they’ll be trusted. Leaders don’t command and control, they serve and support.”
Set an Example
It’s not enough to talk the talk – your followers will watch to see if you walk the walk as well. True respect is not earned with a title. Many leaders explain that they would never ask someone to do something they are not willing to do first. Leaders are leaders because they are willing to go first. Leaders are expected to set an example and stand up for their beliefs. Correspondingly, leaders need detailed operational plans. You can succeed as a leader by steering projects along a carefully planned course, measuring performance and providing feedback. If you know what the steps toward success are, you’ll have a better chance of arriving there.
The Sixth Leadership Commitment
Strengthen others, give away power, assign critical tasks and offer support. If you want your people to empower those who report to them, you’ll have to do the same thing. At Ritz-Carlton Hotels, associates who work the registration desk have the authority to sign off on as much as $2,000 without management approval. You should increase signature authority at all levels, reduce unneeded steps and procedures, and generally support the exercise of independent judgment. One of the great leadership skills is to make other people heroes.
The Seventh Leadership Commitment
Make your behavior consistent with shared values. Write your own leadership credo – what are the principles, beliefs and values that will guide your leadership style? Begin by knowing yourself, your strengths and the things that matter to you. Share your personal values. Take an action audit, evaluating what you do to ensure that your behavior is consistent with the beliefs you espouse.
“Leadership is certainly not conveyed in a gene, and it’s most definitely not a secret code that can’t be understood by ordinary people.”
The Eighth Leadership Commitment
Achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment. Progress is always incremental. To build your organization’s confidence and enthusiasm, recognize each small step along the way.
Encourage the Heart
People often get frustrated and exhausted during the climb toward excellence. Because this is an arduous process, naturally people may be tempted to give up along the way. It’s your job as leader to restore the heart of your organization and encourage your constituents to carry onward. Leaders rally the troops.
“Leadership is a reciprocal process between those who choose to lead and those who choose to follow.”
Sometimes you can achieve this through dramatic gestures: an all-hands meeting, a special theme or program, or effective use of symbolism. At other times, however, a simple action is enough to invest your organization with a new spirit. One plant manager used to dress up as a clown and give balloons to the employees.
Make no mistake though: encouraging the heart of your firm to help people persevere through difficult times is very serious business. The best-kept leadership secret may be love: love of product, love of service, love of customers and love of employees.
The Ninth Leadership Commitment
Recognize individual contributions that lead to the success of each project. Recognize people with rewards that have personal meaning to them. Creative awards encourage creative thinking.
“If there’s a clear and distinguishing feature about the process of leading, it’s in the distinction between mobilizing others to do and mobilizing others to want to do.”
The Tenth Leadership Commitment
Celebrate team achievements, not just individual ones. After all, you want your staffers to think as a team, so you must recognize and reward team accomplishments. Be a cheerleader, but in a way that feels comfortable to you. Celebrations help to acknowledge small wins on the larger road to victory.
If you’d like to dive deeper into the Leadership Challenge. I recommend you read the full book from Barry Z. Posner and James M. Kouzes.