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February - 2011 - issue > People Manager

Practices of Exemplary Leaders!

C. Mahalingam
Friday, February 4, 2011
C. Mahalingam
We discussed the leadership fundamentals in the December 2010 issue. This may well be called as the leadership code. Without these, leaders do not make the grade. However, becoming an exemplary leader takes much more than meeting the fundamentals. In this issue, we shall see some of the practices of exemplary leaders. I will borrow extensively for this discussion from one of the best works of our times titled, “The Leadership Challenge” by Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner. Kouzes is the Chairman Emeritus of the Tom Peters Company. Posner is the professor of leadership at the Santa Clara University. Their work in this area is considered as seminal by both the academia and the practitioners alike.
Personal best experiences of leaders follow common patterns of action. These patterns of action have less to do with personality, but more in the nature of practices that these leaders practice every day. In the words of Kouzes & Posner, “it is about the practices leaders use to transform values into actions, vision into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity and risks into rewards.” It is about leadership that creates a climate in which people turn challenging opportunities into remarkable success. Let me describe these five exemplary practices below:

Model the Way: Exemplary leaders understand that their behavior, not their title wins them commitment. Therefore, they effectively model the behavior they expect from their people. This is not about eloquent speeches, but daily actions. Modeling the way is characterized by simple things – relentless efforts, competence and attention to detail. Being clear about comprehending fully the values, beliefs and assumptions that drive you. The first law of leadership that the authors pronounce is: If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message!” Values constitute our personal bottom-line. As such, they set the parameters for the hundreds of actions we make every day. Values are also empowering. We will be much more in control of our lives when we are clear about our personal leaders. Ask any leader you know. You will get an instant affirmation of this reality!
Inspire a Shared Vision: No matter what you call – purpose, mission, legacy, dream, goal, calling or personal agenda – vision has the same intent: leaders want to do something significant, to accomplish something that no one else has yet achieved. This is not to imply that leaders chase the impossible, however. It is about helping the teams find meaning and purpose. Leaders understand that external motivation is more likely to create conditions of compliance or defiance; only self-motivation produces far superior results. By offering an exciting vision, a leader is giving life and work a sense of meaning and purpose. A challenge for leadership today is maintaining a vision, since there are a plenty of distractions all over and all the time. Leaders articulate a vision and anchor it strongly by mastering two essentials: (a) discovering the theme and (b) imagining the possibilities

Challenge the Process: Leadership experiences are voyages of discovery and adventures of a life time. They search for opportunities to change, grow, innovate and improve and that is what we call as challenging the process. They do not believe in status-quo. When in doubt, they move and act. In doing so, leaders want their people to speak up, to offer suggestions for improvement, and to be straightforward about their constructive criticism. Leaders create a can-do attitude by providing opportunities for people to gain mastery on a task one step at a time. Leaders set the bar higher. As Peter Drucker observed, “the distance between the leaders and the led is constant”. Profound in these words is the wisdom that when leaders set stretch goals and deliver, their teams stretch too. Leadership and challenge are inextricably linked. Leadership and principles are inextricably linked as well. The implication is very clear. The leaders people admire are ones who have the courage of their convictions.

Enable Others to Act: Leadership is not a solo act; it is a team effort. Turbulence in the marketplace requires more collaboration and not less. Leaders recognize that collaboration is social imperative. To foster collaboration, leaders create a climate of trust, facilitate positive interdependence and support face-to-face interactions. Psychologists have also found that people who are trusting are more likely to be happy and psychologically adjusted than those who view the world with suspicion and disrespect. Knowing that trust is key, exemplary leaders makes sure that they consider alternative viewpoints and make use of other people’s expertise and abilities. Leaders recognize the power of reciprocity in every day working. It demonstrates both a willingness to be cooperative and an unwillingness to be taken advantage of.

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