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National Leader of the Month for November/December 2008

Jim Kouzes

Jim Kouzes

LeaderNetwork.org has provided two mediums for you to explore the insights of National Leader of the Month Jim Kouzes: read them below and listen to excerpts from a conversation on leadership between Brian McCormick and Jim Kouzes. To listen to the podcast, copy and paste the following RSS link into your preferred podcast software: http://www.leadernetwork.org/leadership_podcast.rss. In order to begin playing the audio in a separate window, click on the first icon Jim Kouzes audio for part I of the podcast, or click on the second icon Jim Kouzes audio for part II of the podcast.

Honoring Jim Kouzes

Jim Kouzes has achieved a balanced and informed view of life and leadership due to his life experiences (such as his service to the Peace Corps), the mentorship of others (such as his father), and his own efforts to maximize his time and talents. For his activities and accomplishments, Jim Kouzes has earned well-deserved commendation. As an author, he has positively influenced the leadership of millions of people throughout the world. As a researcher, he has contributed to the body of leadership knowledge. As one who has actively practiced leadership in the business world, he has successfully managed an organization. For all his prowess in the field of leadership, Jim Kouzes is the National Leader of the Month for November/December 2008.

For this feature, Jim Kouzes draws from his vast reservoir of leadership insights to address the questions posed to him. As the feature begins, Jim shares a story that still shapes his perspective to this day.

Jim Kouzes' Story

Jim offers this story in his own words:

A seminal and transformative experience took place when Fred Margolis asked, ďJim, whatís the best way to learn something?Ē Having a background in experiential training, I thought rather confidently that the answer was that the best way to learn something is to experience it yourself. [Having heard my response], Fred looked at me and very quickly responded, ďNo, the best way to learn something is to teach it to somebody else.Ē

That was one of those revelations that you receive and immediately have a realization that you have just heard something extremely profound. What I learned from Fred that evening really continues to benefit me to this day. The first lesson in that story is obvious: The best way to learn something is to teach it to somebody else. When we take the role of teacher, we have to study and prepare ourselves more because we know we are expected to know it better than the student.

The second lesson--though a little less obvious--is that the legacies we pass on to others are in the stories that we tell...You may have experienced something in your own life, but until you can teach what you know to somebody else, you really donít know it. [Often], it is difficult for people to move from knowing something intellectually (or even knowing it from their own experience) to being able to help others discover the same lessons they have learned.

That is the formative story in my life and continues to inform me.

About Jim Kouzes

Author and Lecturer

Bio: Deanís Executive Professor of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University; author of The Leadership Challenge (with Barry Posner), which has sold more than 1.5 million copies; author of numerous other books, including A Leader's Legacy, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, and Encouraging the Heart; his work with Barry Posner has prompted more than 350 doctoral dissertations and academic research projects; his corporate clients include many Fortune 500 companies; served 2 years in the Peace Corps; formerly served as the CEO and chairman of the Tom Peters Company

Favorite quotes: ďPity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.Ē -John Gardner

I just love that quote because it communicates to all of us that none of us really benefit from people who are always giving us positive feedback. We all know that not everything we do is perfect, and we all need to get some genuine feedback about how we are performing. On the other hand, we donít like people who are always harping and critical and never have anything good to say about us because we tune them out. One of the things I say to leaders in my speeches--and I remind myself about this daily--is that what we need are more loving critics. [Those are] people who care about us and how we do in the world but are also willing to give us honest, straightforward, unvarnished feedback about how we are truly performing and impacting other people.

Favorite book: Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. It is a little book that I tend to read and reread at least once a year. I find the book to be wonderfully insightful and always get something new out of it. Itís a book that I think everyone will savor and find themselves coming back to time and time again. Parker Palmer is an educator and has written books on leadership, but [most of his books are] primarily aimed more at a population of educators. I find [Parker Palmer] to be someone whose works I would recommend to most every leader I work with. He asks that we listen quietly to what calls us in our life, and his eloquent writing really carries you to that place where you can reflect. I think it is in sharp contrast to some of the really loud and noisy books that shout in your ears about what you have to do to succeed. Anyone will appreciate the almost mystical quality of his writing.

Books recommended for aspiring leaders: People seem to find our book, The Leadership Challenge, to be one that is of great benefit. Itís one of the best-selling books on leadership on the market. If people would want to start with a primer on leadership that is particularly relevant to the times in which we live in,...they would find it a useful way to get started.

Dream: [Twenty-five years ago, when asked what my vision was], I said, ďTo liberate the leader in everyone.Ē I found that [phrase to be] the most encapsulating expression of my and my co-authorís vision for why we do this work. I believe that leadership is everyoneís business: It is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. If we are going to write and speak about leadership, [we can not solely] write to the CEOs of the best and largest companies in the world or speak only to politicians or military leaders about what leadership is and how they can learn to develop [leadership] skills. Rather, we need to speak to everyone: from boy scouts and girl scouts and young people in high school and college [to] people around the world.

Barry Posner is Dean at Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business. He has been Jim's co-author and researcher and shares the following thoughts about Jim Kouzes: "Jim is one of those people who really walk the talk. He takes care to make sure that people are involved, understand what the big picture is, and feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. He's absolutely first-rate at Encouraging the Heart and because of this, which comes so naturally, people are attracted like a magnet to him and the projects he is involved with. As a leadership educator he truly believes that his calling is to liberate the leader within each person. And, did I also mention he has a great sense of humor; loves to laugh, including at himself, and remembers jokes and funny stories that touch each of us."

Steve Coats is a managing general partner at International Leadership Associates. When asked to comment on Jim's leadership, this is what he shares: "Twenty years ago, I was cutting my teeth on The Leadership Challenge Workshop for the first time, co-facilitating with Jim. Around the middle of the program, Jim had to unexpectedly leave. As he announced his departure to the group, he told them something else. He stated that their experience would be no different, because he was leaving them in very capable hands Ė my hands. He went on to tell them that knowledge of the material was in my head, but more importantly the true spirit of leadership Ė and The Leadership Challenge Ė was in my heart. His words assured them they were in store for a wonderful experience. His gracious remarks left me feeling boldly enabled and greatly encouraged. He was a living example of the practices we were teaching. I will always remember that moment of genuine leadership. And yes, the session turned out terrific, and two decades later, I am still devoted to helping people around the world become more effective and inspiring leaders through his work."

Jim Kouzes and Leadership

Advice for aspiring leaders: From our research over the past 25 years, [we have learned] some sustainable leadership lessons that have stood the test of time.

The first of those lessons would be that leadership is everyoneís business: It is not the private reserve of just a few people. Itís not about position and itís not about authority; it is about influence. Those who are the most influential day-to-day people in our lives are those leaders who are closest to us. If we were to study leadership and ask people who their role models for leadership are, you will find that over 40% will nominate somebody who is a family member: father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or grandparent. According to the data we gathered, that is followed by 26% who will name a teacher or a coach from school. Eleven percent will say someone in the community: a church leader or civil leader. [That is] followed by a business leader, then a political leader, then a professional athlete, then an entertainer and so on. What we learn from this list is that the leaders who get the most mentions are those who know us well and who we know well.

Right now, we are fixated on the presidential election, and hopefully everybody will go out and exercise their right to vote. But when it comes to my day-to-day behavior, the President of the United States has about zero influence on what I do. [The President] obviously has a lot of influence over global economic policy and whether or not we go to war, and that is going to ultimately influence my behavior. However, over my lifetime, the people who are going to be most influential in our lives are those leaders who are closest to us...Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a coach, a business leader, or a politician, you are the most important leader to those who are closest to you. We all have the potential for leading someone. That raises the question: Are we not obligated then to be the best leaders we can be?

The second lesson is that credibility is the foundation of leadership. When we first started our research, we found that personal credibility was the most important attribute of a leader: It was far more important than anything else. Being believed is the first criteria for any leader to have any kind of influence. If people donít believe in the messenger, they wonít believe the message. Again, we can see that in this political season. It becomes quite evident that if you donít believe in the person delivering the message, you are not going to believe the message.

The third lesson is that personal values drive commitment. Behaviorally, most people tell us that [having credibility] is to do what you say youíll do, practice what you preach, put your money where your mouth is, walk the talk, and follow through on the promises that you make. [Credibility] implies two things. First of all you have to know what you believe in order to be able to do what you say, and then you have to follow through. You have to connect your voice and your touch. [That is] walking your talk. What we find from our research is that people who are the clearest about what they value and believe in are the most committed individuals. Those leaders who clarify their beliefs and hold to them, stick to them and have behavioral integrity. [Those who] walk the talk will have far more influence than those who are unclear about their values and beliefs.

The fourth lesson I pass on is that looking forward is a prerequisite. Of people in our surveys, over 71% of people--and 88% at the most senior levels--say that they want a leader who is forward looking. As leaders, we have to look across the horizon of time and have a positive, optimistic vision of the future. [In our research, we] find this "forward-looking" quality is the thing that shows the most difference between an individual contributor and a leader. We ask people to select the qualities they most look for and admire in a leader who they would willingly follow. Then, we ask people to select the qualities they most look for in someone that they would like to work with. "Forward looking" is a differentiating factor because [it is often mentioned as a quality that people want in a leader but not nearly as often cited as something people want in a co-worker]. Yet, "forward looking" is also the practice at which leaders are the least skilled. As much talk as there is about vision, the ability to look forward still shows the biggest gap between what people expect of leaders and what leaders do and deliver. Itís the one area where leaders have to do the most work.

The fifth lesson is that leadership is a relationship. While leadership is personal in the sense that we need to know what we stand for and believe in, leadership is also a relationship between those. It is the quality of the relationship that determines whether people will continue to follow someone over the long term....Don Bennett, the first amputee to climb Mt. Rainier, told us that the most important lesson he learned in the historic climb was "You can't do it alone." No leader ever got anything extraordinary done by himself or herself. Leadership is a team sport, not a solo act. Leadership is not about the leader, it is about the constituents and their hopes, dreams, needs and aspirations.

A sixth lesson from our research over the past twenty-five years is that leadership is in the moment. Credibility is not just about the eloquence of your words, it is also about whether or not you do what you say. Constituents measure a leader's credibility not just at the end of their tenures. They measure it daily. It is the quality of the relationship that determines whether people will continue to follow someone over the long term....It is what I do now, and in the next moment, and in the next moment that will, on a day-to-day basis, determine whether people will want to follow me. Itís about execution, itís about implementation, and itís about following through. Itís not always the big things: It is also the little things like listening better, being more positive, and saying thank you.

If I were to add one additional lesson, I would say that leadership takes practice, and practice takes time. You cannot become an expert leader overnight or next year. In the long term, it takes about 10 years and 10,000 hours in order to become the best you can be. That means practicing deliberately on a daily basis.

Patience and deliberation do not really work well in our quick-fix society. We want to be able to achieve our goals in one week only (investing only 10 minutes a day). ...Talent is highly overrated. The whole notion that we can do a search, select the most talented people, and then expect those "talented" to save us from ourselves is a myth. Selecting people based on only relevant experience, IQ, or the belief that they possess some "natural gifts" is not guaranteed to get the results we are seeking. Developing expertise is not about talent at all: Itís about deliberately practicing on a regular basis so that when we are faced with that tough call, we know what to do...For example, when we have to do a performance appraisal, while the assessment may be once a year, the actual one-on-one meeting should not be the first time we encounter that situation. We need to regularly practice it, through role-plays and case studies, for example, so that we know how to handle difficult, emotional situations that have tension present. As leaders, we need to begin to understand that the better learners make the better leaders.

When you were talking about your fourth lesson for aspiring leaders, looking forward, you mentioned that as the skill area in which we are least qualified. Why is that? First of all, looking forward requires thinking long term, and that is not something...that we do a lot of [in our quick-fix culture. With our emphasis on] instant gratification, our attention shifts to the nearer-term pressure of the moment...We have to start lifting our eyes to the horizon and looking out beyond the short term...The people in the most senior levels in organizations today should be thinking 25 years out. In the largest organizations, if you are in the middle ranks, you should be thinking 5 to 10 years out. Thatís a long time for most people--and longer often than they think they are going to be in a company, so [they often ask themselves]: Why should I start looking that far out?

The other thing is itís not just the leaderís vision. Leaders often think that they can climb to the top of the mountain, meditate for a long time and get inspired. Then, they can come down and declare to the masses: "This is where we are headed." Thatís not how visions are formed. Visions come from listening and paying particular attention to the human condition: what is it that people desire, hope for, dream for, and aspire to? Those people that we call visionaries are really just the best listeners; they pay more attention to what peopleís hopes, dreams, aspirations, and needs are. [They even anticipate] people's unarticulated needs and are able to come up with ideas about how to be responsive.

[Even more important than visioning is the leader's ability] to communicate to others in such a way that the others can see themselves in the pictures. If I am not speaking the language that others understand, [I will not be effective as a leader. I must "reach" people in a way] that they can say, ďOh yeah I can see myself there. That is where I want to go. I couldnít quite express it that way myself, but thatís the direction Iíd like to see us going in.Ē When leaders can articulate the vision in a way that other people can see themselves as being a part of it, they are much more likely to enlist others. [This final element--engaging people's enthusiasm for the goals of the group--probably] best explains why leaders are ineffective. Itís not so much that leaders canít envision things long term; itís not so much that they donít understand what people want. It is that they are not able to express themselves in a way that gets other people excited and energized.

What does good leadership look like to you? We have asked people to tell us about a time when they did their best as a leader, and we have collected case after case after case [with people's responses]. Then, we have analyzed the cases and created an instrument called the Leadership Practices Inventory.

[Through that process], we uncovered five leadership practices. The first practice is this: You have to model the way. You have to set an example with your behavior based on a clear set of values. [The second practice is] to inspire a shared vision. You need to envision the long-term future that you and others aspire to, and then you have to be able to enlist others in it. You have to communicate [the vision] in such a way that others will say, ďI want to be part of it.Ē

[The third practice is] challenge the process. Challenge really is the opportunity for greatness. Leaders search for opportunities to change and grow, innovate and improve, and then they experiment and take risks. When you try to do something new and different, itís not always going to work out; itís risky and so you have to be willing to learn from your mistakes. The fourth practice is enabling others to act. As leaders, we have to foster collaboration, team work, and trust, and we also have to strengthen individuals so that they feel capable and confident that they can perform. The fifth practice is to encourage the heart. We recognize individuals for their contributions to our success, and we celebrate our values and our victories as a community. [To recap], the five practices are model, inspire, challenge, enable and encourage.

What are the traits that are most important for a leader? Our research identifies four traits: honesty, the ability to look forward, competence, and the ability to inspire. [When linked to the] five practices [described in the previous question], the four traits add up to credibility. Weíve done this [research] for almost 25 years around the world, and honesty, the ability to look forward, competence, and the ability to inspire are [the only characteristics] named by more than 50% of the people using our survey tool. [Since these consistent feedback responses have] persisted for nearly 25 years now, we conclude that there are these four universal, portable leadership characteristics.

How does one go about encouraging leadership? Of the practices that I mentioned previously--the one that has the most impact on performance--is ďmodeling the way.Ē That is followed by ďenabling others to act.Ē We have to be able to set a good example for others in order to be exemplary. One person once told us, "You either lead by example or you donít lead at all." The best way leaders can encourage good leadership is to set a good example. The leaders need to set an example of exemplary leadership and also send the message that exemplary leadership is valued and can be learned. People need to offer developmental opportunities for people to learn to lead, and they need to tell stories about exemplary leaders throughout their organization.

How do people end up stifling leadership? One thing that is most stifling is to send the message that leadership is born rather than made. [Companion to that thought process is the attitude that] somehow we are just going to select the best leaders and import them if necessary rather than grow them internally. [A similar mistake] comes in waiting until people are managers before they receive leadership development. Thatís like putting a golf club in my hand today and telling me to hit the ball if Iíve never played golf before, or it is like putting a baseball bat in my hand and telling me to hit a home run if Iíve never played baseball before. Why would one be successful when youíve never had any opportunities prior to that? We probably do more to stifle leadership and not encourage the development of great leaders by not offering opportunities earlier on in peopleís lives and careers. We also do that by focusing just on those at the top and not those at all levels in the organization.

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