by V. S. Ravi Elangkoh

To recap, Part 1 of this three-part series covered the first four out of ten commitments of exemplary leadership as espoused by renowned leadership researchers James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in their bestselling book, The Leadership Challenge, as follows:

Vision - many hands pointing to one visionPractice 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.

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

[Note: If you have missed or would like to re-read Part 1, please click here.]

Let us continue with another two commitments of exemplary leadership in this installment, which come under the third leadership practice, “Challenge the Process”.

Practice 3: Challenge the process

Commitment 5
Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve.

Commitment 6
Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.

Exemplary leaders are curious about how things could be done better and differently. However, challenging the status quo is often frowned upon by authorities especially in Asian cultures where they fear or perceive it to be an act of insubordination, which may negatively affect staff morale and disrupt company productivity. Worse still, the so-called insubordination could lead to public displays of dissatisfaction that not only stall their daily operations but also erode profitability and irreversibly tarnish their corporate image.

On the other hand, corporations should realize that suppressing rebellion or insubordination might be applicable in exceptional cases such as battle zones, but are counterproductive in competitive corporate environments. Embrace thinking out of the box and celebrate diversity. When employees challenge the current process, consider it an opportunity to innovate and leap forward or upward. And don’t just wait for a crisis to happen before you are compelled to adopt an innovative mindset; practise innovativeness even in times of non-crisis.

Furthermore, innovation doesn’t have to be something mind-boggling in order to qualify as innovation. It can be a small simple change that leads to a discernible change for the better. The rewards don’t have to be instant and abundant.

If you look around, you find that even the humble cendol seller under the tree by the roadside has innovated. From merely selling the dessert alone, he has diversified or teamed up with the rojak seller to offer more variety to customers. In addition, enterprising restaurateurs have reinvented the humble cendol to be served in up-market eateries and five-star hotels by creatively enhancing the delicacy with non-traditional ingredients.

Therefore, be patient and continually experiment and refine your innovation. Reap the small harvests along the way as you work towards larger goals and outcomes. Never let the current small gains dissuade you from reaching the big gains later on.

(Note: Cendol is a Malaysian dessert made up of shaved ice in coconut milk, palm sugar and green jelly-like strips of flour whose green colour and light flavour comes from fragrant screw-pine leaves locally known as pandan leaves. Rojak is a type of salad made primarily from raw local fruits topped with dark sauce and chopped nuts.)

[Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatyin-Angsulee ]

(To be concluded in Part 3)