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Friday, February 5, 2010

8 ways to know if you are setting an example

Application of sound leadership principles and tools isn't haphazard according to James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of best seller, The Leadership Challenge. While serendipity may play a role, true leaders are continually seeking ways to learn and to establish themselves as credible leaders. They consciously establish the practice of modeling to ensure they are setting an example that others can follow(232).

What is key about setting the example is to behave in ways that are consistent with shared values. The very values that the organization, team or partnership defined collaboratively. The same values that every new employee is being orientated to when they come on the job. A common pitfall for leaders is that they operate under at Do as I Say, not as I do motive. This can be a dangerous road to plow and can often divert the leader into unwanted territory.

In what I consider to be one of the greatest books on leadership that every manager or aspiring leader should read, The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, define 8 elements to behaving in ways consistent with your values. These may be obvious to some and to others there may be a new learning opportunity. All in all, check your own leadership style against this list and give yourself a grade.

  1. Take a look in the mirror. Become more self-aware of your personal values. Not until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do, why you want to do it, you cannot succeed but in the most superficial sense of the word. And there is no way we can truly know ourselves if we don't take quiet time for reflection.

  2. Write your leadership credo. It's time to define and clarify the principles by which you'll guide others to places they've never been before by translating your personal values and believe into a one-page leadership credo(233). After you have your credo to a place you wish to share it, first ask for feedback with those around you. Be open to receiving it and ensure that what you have written is clear so that others can support it.

  3. Write a personal tribute and a tribute to your organization. This is all about writing down what the ideal image of yourself or of your team/organization. How do you want others to see you. What words or phrases do you most want others to say about you? How would you like to be remembered? The greater the clarity of, belief in, and passion for our personal standards of excellence, the greater the probability we'll act in concert with them.

  4. Open a dialogue about personal and shared values. We know that shared values make a difference and that leaders represent groups. Leaders do do what we say we will do. So it's essential that you have a dialogue about your beliefs and those of your team. Model for the team that they too write their own credo so that collectively everyone can learn from the other what they value and stand for. Celebrate the similarities and the differences. It is a bonding experience that unites your team, they feel heard and acknowledged and that has power(235). This moves people from what we say we do to what we do!

  5. Audit your actions. Practice what you preach and check your day-to-day activities against the published shared values. Ask, how do they align? And seek feedback periodically from others on how they see you doing with modeling your shared values. Remember, when we ask for feedback, we must remain open minded to receiving it or don't bother asking at all(236).

  6. Trade places. Some of the greatest leaders have swapped places for a day or afternoon with another on their team. It is perhaps the best way to get to know the view from their chair. The corresponding benefit, others get to know the view from your chair too. Another way for management to show the trust they hold for their employees, at your next management retreat, don't leave the token manager behind, walk away and leave the operation in control of frontline staff. It makes a public statement that we trust you and builds confidence up and down in the org chart.

  7. Be dramatic. It pays to consciously stage dramatic events to make a point or to hit home a fundamental value(238). And during times of change, this is of particular importance. This may be a high ropes course to build trust and teach teams about taking risks with one another. What ever you choose, design them to draw attention to critical values and priorities, even if you have to go out of your way to get the point across.

  8. Tell Stories about teachable moments. Be constantly on the lookout for for teachable moments - those precious time when people's consciousness can be elevated(239). Often these occur at the peaks and valleys of the organizational experience. They are those moments to illustrate an important virtue can be old over and over again.

Coaching Questions:
* What three tips of the 8 will I implement immediately?
* Have I defined my core values?
* How will "auditing my actions" support my growth and that of my team?

Kouzes, James and Posner, Barry. "The Leadership Challenge." (San Francisco: Josey-Bass - 2nd ed.)

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