leadership principles

What Guides Your Leadership?

Ask I spoke in depth with an officer at Marathon Oil about one of my clients, our discussion naturally shifted to his leadership philosophy and how it comes into play with his direct reports. I want to share the five principles from a leadership model pinned to the wall in his office. They’re simple, powerful, and struck a chord with me.

1. People want to do a good job and want to win.

This principle may sound really basic, but it may not be something you think about day-to-day, especially in fast-paced, stressful situations. So, the next time you find frustration creeping up on you, stop and take a deep breath. Whether you believe it or not, consider for a moment that the person you are frustrated with actually wants to do a good job. If you adopted that perspective, how might it change how you think about their behavior and how you approach the situation?

2. People want and deserve to know where they stand with their supervisor.

I have to say that I can appreciate the difficulty most people have giving honest, constructive feedback—especially after leading Performance Management & Career Planning at Deloitte. A lot of managers and leaders dread the process and have concerns about whether the employee can handle the feedback: Will the employee have an emotional outburst? What might go wrong?

But, as a leader, what if you viewed feedback as something people want and deserve to have? It might shift your mindset from worrying about your discomfort to providing something of value and service to your employee.

3. Winners produce better bottom line results.

Research demonstrates time and again that “winners” (high performers who are engaged) contribute tremendously to the organizations in which they work. They creatively look for better ways to do get the job done and often elevate the performance of their entire team. So, as a leader, ask yourself, “What 1-2 things do I need to do to create more winners?”

4. Managers have more impact on performance than they realize.

Most people don’t leave jobs or companies; they leave their managers. I can’t tell you how often I see high performers leave organizations to work for a leader or manager they truly believe in—someone who has demonstrated that they care by supporting the employee’s career goals and personally investing in their success.

Leaders with true followers typically instill in their employees a genuine desire to go above and beyond. At the end of the day, this translates into a level of commitment, loyalty, and performance that is hard to replicate.

5. A manager’s job is to produce winners.

Ultimately, management and leadership are all about setting your employees up for success. Great managers and leaders build a strong commitment to their organizations by investing in getting to know their employees, demonstrating that they care about their aspirations, and helping them build their capabilities. Remember that this doesn’t have to be time consuming, but it does require consistent focus.

I hope this list has stimulated some ideas for you. Before you immerse yourself into the next thing on your to do list, take a few minutes to think about what principles guide your leadership and one action you will take to reinforce just one of those principles this week. Who knows, you may end up with a list that you decide to pin up on your office wall too!

Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders

I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Jim Kouzes, the co-author of The Leadership Challenge. For those of you who have not heard of this book, you should take a look. Based on over 30 years of research, he and Barry Posner identified five common practices of leaders who make extraordinary things happen.

Before we review the five practices, let’s first define leadership. Kouzes & Posner define a leader as someone whose direction you would willingly follow. In other words, you can’t be a leader without followers. To further define leadership the authors asked, “What do you look for and admire in a leader?” Here are the top four attributes and the percentage of respondents who mentioned them:

  • Honest (85%)

  • Forward looking (70%)

  • Inspiring (69%)

  • Competent (64%)

Over the 30 years that they have asked this question, the authors have consistently gotten the same top four responses in the same order. When you look at these four items collectively, they underscore the importance of credibility when it comes to leadership.

So, now let’s take a look at the Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders.

1. Model the way.

This practice is about establishing principles and standards for how people should be treated, and how goals should be pursued. As a leader, you must first clarify what you believe in and what you’re willing to take a stand for before you can articulate it to others. Then you need to align your actions with what you believe in (i.e., do what you say you will do).

2. Inspire a shared vision.

Through their research, Kouzes & Posner note that what distinguishes leaders from colleagues is their ability to be forward looking. Leaders can envision the future and create a compelling image of what the organization can become—and they truly believe that they can make a difference.

Contrary to what you may think, a leader does not have to originate the vision of the future. In fact, leaders may develop their vision by carefully tuning into what they hear from others. No matter where the vision comes from, the leader must be able to help others see it, engage them in it, and help them understand how they fit into it.

3. Challenge the process.

As you might expect, leadership is not about maintaining the status quo. Leaders Challenge the Process by experimenting, taking risks, and accepting disappointments as valuable learning opportunities. On a weekly basis, you can keep this exemplary practice at the forefront by asking, “What have I done this week to improve so that I’m more effective than I was last week?”

4. Enable others to act.

At the core of Enabling Others to Act is mutual respect and trust. Leaders understand that this can sustain extraordinary efforts, so they strive to create a trusting environment and take time to develop others.

In the workshop, Jim Kouzes challenged each of us to ask ourselves before every interaction with every person in our organizations, “What can I do in this interaction to make sure this person feels more capable as a result of what I say and do?” I would challenge you to do the same.

5. Encourage the heart.

The last practice is Encourage the Heart. Research shows that the highest performing leaders are more open and caring, express more affection, demonstrate more passion, and are more positive, grateful and encouraging than lower performers. Knowing that achieving extraordinary results takes hard work, strong leaders understand the power of recognizing and celebrating how others are making a difference.

Now that you’ve read about each exemplary practice, identify which ones you already do well and choose one practice to emphasize further. Remember that these practices don’t have to be time consuming—it’s all about taking small steps that lead you to big results. So, I urge you to choose a small step to implement from this list below or identify one of your own:

  • Think about when you performed at your best as a leader. What did you do in that situation that you can leverage today (you may have used several Exemplary Practices)?

  • Take 5 minutes to talk to your team about exciting possibilities you see for the future (Inspire a Shared Vision)

  • Ask, “What have I done this week to improve, so that I’m more effective than last week?” (Challenge the Process)

  • Ask, “What can I do during this interaction to make sure this person feels more capable as a result of what I say and do?” (Enable Others to Act)

  • Ask, “What can I do this week to encourage my team, so that they perform at a higher level?” (Encourage the Heart)