In any manager’s career, the transition to leader can be tricky. How do you lift yourself up from the operational to the strategic? What are the secrets to providing visionary leadership? How can you inspire and lead change in your organisation? One practical answer is Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Practices. This article explains the model and how it can help you transform your own impact as a leader.
Managers at all levels are now expected to be able to step up to be leaders in a range of circumstances. It’s not simply something expected of CEOs or the most senior managers.
There are a host of definitions of management and leadership – and certainly too many to mention in this article. At =mc we often use two of the simplest definitions offered by management guru Peter Drucker:
Drucker also speaks about managers doing things right, and leaders doing the right thing.
At =mc we’ve translated Drucker’s ideas onto some key activities shared by managers and leaders, such as planning, resources, and people management.
|Planning||Sequence and task||Overview and result|
|Thinking||Assess risk and be rational||Challenge and be intuitive|
|People||Supervise and support||Motivate and encourage|
|Change||Maintain status quo||Actively promote change|
|Resources||Allocate and monitor||Identify and seek out|
|Focus||Detail conscious||Big picture|
The implication of the pathmaker/pathfollower distinction is that as managers we have to be concerned with organising stable systems, ensuring quality, and identifying and implementing best practice. Whereas as leaders we need to be concerned about creativity and innovation, making positive changes and seeking to challenge and push boundaries.
And with the ‘do the right thing’ distinction we can see the importance of choice and vision. At the same time once a choice is made it’s essential that ‘things are done well’ – that is, the choice is executed well, and that others are engaged in delivery.
However, even this approach doesn’t necessary help us to indentify what exactly we have to do. And that’s where Leadership Practices comes in.
If you think there are a lot of definitions of leadership then you might be very concerned by the number of models there are to explain what leaders actually do.
However, there is a practical model that works effectively within a range of public bodies and charities we’ve worked with. The model is Leadership Practices, developed by two researchers, Kouzes and Posner, from original work by Tom Peters.
Kouzes and Posner’s research was carried out over an initial five year period with over 1,000 high performing leaders – and importantly with their ‘followers’ too – establishing what made them successful.
Combining the two perspectives, the research project involved asking leaders and followers questions around:
The research team’s analysis of the data revealed a pattern of agreement between leaders and those being led about the behaviours that underpinned action when people were accomplishing extraordinary things in organisations. These were then codified as the five practices of leadership. The specific practices needed and their characteristics can vary according to the challenges you face, but at some point you’ll have to access them all.
When working at their best, leaders and followers said leaders challenged, inspired, enabled, modelled and encouraged. And they did this through committing themselves to particular sets of behaviour and values. In the 20 years since the model was first developed, Kouzes and Posner have clearly established that these behaviours were an observable and learnable set of practices. They developed training that ensured anyone prepared to spend time developing the practices could become excellent at them. =mc has built on this training and we now use the model extensively in our in-house and open work.
Kouzes and Posner also developed a 360º Inventory to help establish individuals’:
Note that Kouzes and Posner call them practices – that is, these qualities only manifest themselves when people actually do them.
Here in more detail are the five practices and their implications for leaders.
Kouzes and Posner’s research found that leaders thrive on and learn from adversity and difficult situations. They are risk takers who regard failure – where not caused by poor performance – as a useful chance to learn and innovate. They are also early adopters. They seek out things that appear to work and then insist that they are improved. They challenge 24/7.
This practice suggests that we shouldn’t be content to do ‘business as usual’. As a leader you need to:
Consider what part of your organisation’s work you need to challenge – even those parts that seem to work. Do you drive ideas you want to implement and allow others to share theirs? Are you prepared to take risks and allow others to do so?
Kouzes and Posner found in their research that people are motivated most not by fear or reward, but by ideas that capture their imagination. This is not so much about having a vision, but communicating it effectively so that others take it on board. Great leaders are future-orientated and seek to energise others by passion, enthusiasm and emotion. They want to bring people on board with this sense of shared purpose.
It’s easy to concentrate too much on crafting the perfect words for a vision and mission, and not spend enough time on communicating it. Can you repeat your organisation’s mission? How hard do you try to share it with others?
Leaders don’t seek to achieve it all themselves – they achieve results through others. But they do this not by simply repeating the vision mantra – encouragement and exhortation isn’t enough. People must feel able to act and then must be supported to put their ideas into action. Collaboration and relationship-based work is central to success.
As a leader you will need to:
Who in your team or organisation needs help and encouragement to act? What would help them to act? Do you have a systematic process for developing people and helping them grow in confidence and competence?
Modelling means being prepared to go first, living the behaviours you want others to adopt before asking them to adopt them. People will believe not what they hear leaders say, but what they see their leaders consistently do. Great leaders should, demonstrate the desired approach, and specifically:
Do you tighten your own budget belt before asking others to cut back on expenditure? If you’re in fundraising, do you donate to your own cause as an example of modelling the way?
Finally Kouzes and Posner established that people act best of all when they are passionate about what they’re doing. Leaders unleash the enthusiasm of their followers with stories and passions of their own. They enjoy celebrating successes – even small ones. They tackle difficult projects recognising others’ contributions. They:
Have a think about your last staff newsletter or conference – did it meet this encouragement criterion? Was it exciting – or dull and safe? What could you do to encourage the heart at an organisational level?
By identifying your strengths and weaknesses across the five leadership practices, it’s possible to spot a relatively small number of areas you need to work on. Through awareness, coaching, practice and feedback, you can quickly make the transition from effective manager to outstanding leader.
Kouzes and Posner also developed a 360° assessment questionnaire – the Leadership Practices Inventory. This tool scores leadership behaviour against the five practices. This powerful tool forms an important part of =mc’s Strategic Leadership and Transformational Leadership programmes.
If you’ve found this article helpful and you would like more information, please call +44 (0)20 7978 1516 and speak to one of our senior learning and development consultants or contact us online.