by V. S. Ravi Elangkoh

“Leadership is not about personality; it’s about behaviour“.
                                                                                         ~ Kouzes and Posner

The Leadership ChallengeLeadership gurus and authors of bestsellers such as The Leadership Challenge, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, have developed a survey known as The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) to find out the exemplary characteristics that people desired their leaders to have. The LPI asked respondents to select the following from a list containing the common characteristics of leaders: the seven top leadership characteristics that they looked for, admired and would willingly follow.

After conducting the survey on 75,000 people during a span of over 20 years, Kouzes and Posner derived the following list of leadership characteristics, in order of preference:

  1. Values - definition with magnifying glass

  2. Forward-looking
  3. Competent
  4. Inspiring
  5. Intelligent
  6. Fair-minded
  7. Broad-minded
  8. Supportive
  9. Straightforward
  10. Dependable
  11. Cooperative
  12. Determined
  13. Imaginative
  14. Ambitious
  15. Courageous
  16. Caring
  17. Mature
  18. Loyal
  19. Self-controlled
  20. Independent

The list above is not meant to be a checklist per se. But it gives us insight into the kind of leaders we would like to have, the kind of leaders we ourselves ought to be, and the kind of leaders we aspire to develop from among our people.

Do you have what it takes to be an exemplary leader? Are you ready to be one?

Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership…preceded by Credibility

For those who are willing and ready to accept the leadership challenge to be exemplary leaders, Kouzes and Posner prescribe five practices. With credibility as the essential basis of leadership (without credibility, nothing is believable!), the five practices are as follows:

o   Model the Way
o   Inspire a Shared Vision
o   Challenge the Process
o   Enable Others to Act
o   Encourage the Heart.

The leader’s credibility arises from his or her integrity. It is an important foundation of leadership, not just because leadership gurus say so, but it is also evident from extensive on-the-ground research – notice how “Honesty” topped Kouzes’ and Posner’s list of desirable leadership characteristics mentioned earlier. Honesty is closely related to one’s integrity and credibility.

To illustrate how the five practices may be incorporated into our leadership journey, Kouzes and Posner also outline two commitments that come with each practice, resulting in a total of ten commitments.

The 10 Commitments of Exemplary Leadership

While the 10 commandments are associated with a heavenly origin, the 10 commitments of exemplary leadership have more earthly implications. Consciously put the following commitments into practice and notice the impact it brings.

Practice 1: Model the way

Commitment 1
Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared ideals.

Commitment 2
Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.

Exemplary leadership demands that you become a role model yourself. People are constantly observing how you behave or act. To be able to withstand the merciless scrutiny of others without stumbling – especially that of your detractors who wish to see you fail – is no mean feat.

That’s why Commitment 1 is necessary – you need to be very certain of your own values first before you are strong enough to progress to Commitment 2 where you have to walk the talk and persevere despite pressures or temptations to compromise on your values. A well-known example in history is Mahatma Gandhi who has become the epitome of long-suffering yet effective leadership, and to whom the following quote is attributed: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

You cannot expect others to be what you yourself are not willing to be. But once you win over your people with your clear stance of exemplary shared values, you will gain their loyal support and cooperation because as Kouzes and Posner wisely observed, “People follow the person, first, then the plan.”

Practice 2: Inspire a shared vision

Commitment 3
Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities.

Commitment 4
Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.

It’s great that you have a vision, but do others see it the way you do? Can they feel the excitement and rewarding outcomes? Exemplary leaders know how to communicate their vision so effectively that their people are able to take the vision as their own.

At the same time, enlisting your people also means that you give them the necessary space and resources to realize the exciting shared vision ahead, instead of stifling them with unnecessary work stress such as office politics, internal bickering and lack of management support.

Look at Google, Apple and Zappos: successful companies know how to inspire their people intrinsically, instead of merely sending a memo to compel employees to adopt the company’s vision. And by inspiring your people, I don’t mean organizing a one-off feel-good company trip or quarterly “rah-rah” sessions. You have to be sincere and consistent EVERY day in the way you inspire your staff.

(To be continued in Part 2)