Archive for May 2014

What Do You Think . . . has been a meaningful example of authentic leadership in your life?

We have all had a variety of leaders influence us through their leadership roles in our lives.  If you are at all like me, some of those leaders have been positive examples and others have been negative examples.  In your own personal experiences, what has been a positive and meaningful example of authentic leadership that has impacted your leadership development?  Please share in the comment box below.

What is Authentic Leadership?

Authentic Leadership is a recent model of leadership, according to research studies, and can be defined as leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and values. (Northouse, 2013)  It seems to involve a life-long process of development, both in internal growth and in external relationships.

According to Northouse’s Leadership: Theory and Practice, there are two basic prescriptive (or practical) models and one general descriptive (or theoretical) model:

1)      Robert Terry’s action-centered model focuses on “doing the right thing.” It incorporates an “authentic action wheel” with six spokes – meaning, mission, power, structure, resources, and existence – and a two-step process of action; step one is diagnosing the problem, and step two is determining the response to the problem.

2)      Bill George’s developmental model focuses on the development of authentic leadership qualities over a lifetime.  This model presents the learning and development of five necessary characteristics:  purpose, which comes from passion; values, which produce behaviors; relationships, which build connection; self-discipline, which causes consistency; and heart, which shows compassion.

3)      The theoretical model of Authentic Leadership is best expressed by Walumbwa, and by Luthans and Avolio.  In this model, three antecedent factors are identified:  the positive psychological capacities of confidence, hope, optimism, and resilience; moral reasoning (which leads to ethical decision-making); and critical life events that shape and change leaders.  These are followed by four components of Authentic Leadership:  self-awareness, internalized moral perspective, balanced processing, and relational transparency.

This model of leadership reflects someone with integrity and strong values, whose actions and behavior consistently represent those values.  This consistency between “walk and talk” results in a leader who is considered to be “real.”  Therefore, when I look at the definition and descriptions, it appears to me that Authentic Leadership should be an expectation of practice.  In other words, it makes sense that a good leader would be genuine, trustworthy, and consistent, and so it should be something that we would expect from any good leader.  I personally find it a little amusing that being genuine and trustworthy needs to be explicitly expressed as characteristics of a particular leadership style, because I find it hard to believe that anyone wants a leader who is artificial or deceitful.  Be who you really are, be transparent and genuine, be trustworthy; these are attributes which inspire trust, thereby increasing your effectiveness as a leader.  So, regardless of your leadership style, I am of the opinion that Authentic Leadership ought to be integrated into every leader’s practice.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.



Quotable (Kouzes & Posner)

“Leaders demonstrate their intense commitment to the values they espouse by setting an example: this is how they earn and sustain credibility over time.  Setting an example is essentially doing what you say you will do. Leaders are measured by the consistency of deeds with words.”  (Kouzes & Posner, 2002, p. 93)

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The leadership challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Be Consistent

“Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.”  I heard my father say this many times when I was growing up, in his effort to teach the importance of being genuine.  The lesson reinforced to me on numerous occasions was that my words – what I say – and my actions – what I do – need to match.  In fact, the reality is that people will judge me more by my actions than by my words.

As I grew into an adult, I eventually realized that I had unconsciously taken on many of my father’s characteristics that I had learned by watching his “walk.” Interestingly, I think the same thing is true in organizations: people within the organization, over time, take on many of the characteristics of the leader.  I’m reminded of the classic parenting line, “Do as I say and not as I do,” which we all know is not what really happens; we tend to do what we see.  That same conclusion was reached by Albert Bandura in his studies on behavior modification and observational learning, most notably in his classic “Bobo doll” study (1969, 1986, 2003).

One of the primary applications of this truth is the importance of consistency in leadership.  In essence, do what you say you will do. I found strong affirmation of this in a recent study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, which was undertaken to identify “what separates the competent from the exceptional individual performers” using over 50,000 360-degree evaluations on 4150+ individual contributors over a five-year time period. Stated in an article in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, they said, “Walk the Talk. It’s easy for some people to casually agree to do something and then let it slip their minds.  Most people would say that this is mere forgetfulness.  We disagree.  We believe it is dishonest behavior.  If you commit to doing something, barring some event truly beyond your control, you should follow through.  The best individual contributors are careful not to say one thing and do another.  They are excellent role models for others.  This is the competency for which the collective group of 4,158 individuals we studied received the highest scores.  That means, essentially, that following through on commitments is table stakes.  But exceptional individual contributors go far beyond the others in their scrupulous practice of always doing what they say they will do.” (Zenger & Folkman, 2014)

Consistency in what you do is one of the most important factors in your credibility as a leader.  It gives you trust, makes you believable.  John Kotter made the same connection between consistency and credibility when he said, “Another big challenge in leadership efforts is credibility – getting people to believe the message.  Many things contribute to credibility: the track record of the person delivering the message, the content of the message itself, the communicator’s reputation for integrity and trustworthiness, and the consistency between words and deeds.” (HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, 2011, p. 48)  I had the opportunity to live this out in one organization that had an absence of trust between leadership and employees when I arrived.  In my first year, I became very intentional about communicating publicly what I would be doing (both minor and major things), and then making sure that people saw that I did those things.  I wanted them to know that I would do what I said I would do, so that they could trust me.  My efforts were affirmed when, during an evaluation process at the end of the first year, the consensus of the employees indicated that “trust of leadership” was one of the most positive aspects of the year.

I want to go one layer deeper in this principle.  The consistency of doing what you say you will do is critical to effective leadership, but it will really only work well if it is genuine, and it is only genuine if it is who you are.  In other words, it’s not simply about your actions matching your words, but your life matching your values.  Jim Collins calls this “consistency of action – consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.”  (Collins & Hansen, 2011, p. 21) Consistency begins with what you say, is demonstrated by what you do, but is validated in who you are.  It is actually at this deeper level that you will find the strength and courage to resist the pressure to compromise in ways that make you inconsistent, especially when circumstances are difficult.

Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (2003). On the Psychosocial Impact and Mechanisms of Spiritual Modeling. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(3), 167.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice:  Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. (2011). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2014, April 11, 2014). The Behaviors that Define A-Players.


What Do You Think . . . makes consistency difficult?

Consistency – walking the talk – is essential to effective leadership, but sometimes it seems that circumstances make it extremely difficult to maintain.  At times, characteristics like pragmatism, justification of means based on the desired outcome, or self-preservation can hinder consistency between values and actions.  In your own experience, why do you think that consistency is sometimes so difficult to maintain?  Please share in the comment box below.

Delegate Like Moses

I am not a micro-manager, nor do I try to do everything.  I have learned (sometimes in humiliating fashion) that there are many who have far more knowledge and much greater ability than I do.  And so I have also learned the value of asking questions and letting other people do what they do well (as I shared in a recent post).  At times, though, that has not prevented me from trying to control, manage, or do everything, usually because of the mistaken assumption that only I can do what needs to be done in the way that it needs to be done.  The result, typically, is that I become exhausted or overwhelmed, others are deprived of the opportunity to grow and excel, and there are things that get missed, all because I did not delegate.

Exodus 18:13-27 provides a fantastic example of the lesson of delegation.  Moses, the leader of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, was hard at work doing what leaders often do:  managing conflict.  His father-in-law came to visit, and observed Moses’ leadership activity, and this is what he saw: 1) Moses was the primary decision-maker, and 2) it was consuming him (v. 13).  In fact, it is worth noting that he was so committed to the task of ministry that he was unable to tend to his family (verse 2 says that Moses had sent his wife and children to stay with her parents during this time).  When his father-in-law observed this, he decided to step in, paint a picture of what was happening, and provide some counsel to teach Moses the value of delegating.

A verse-by-verse analysis of the passage provides a wealth of information that helps us understand this principle of delegation.  First we see the problem with Moses’ failure to delegate (vv. 14-16), and the resulting impact (vv. 17-18). Moses’ method of leadership revealed: 1) Micro-management – he was trying to do it all, by himself; 2) Over-commitment – it was consuming his entire day, to the neglect of other needs; 3) Self-importance – he believed he was the only one who could do it; and 4) Spiritual justification – he justified his behavior as an important task for God.  The effect of this method included: 1) Collateral damage – it impacted the people around him who were trying to help; 2) Burn out – he was literally wearing himself (and others) out; 3) Over-burdened – he was carrying too much weight and responsibility, which would make him ineffective; and 4) Isolation – he was trying to do all this by himself, which left him alone.

Then we see the proposed solution (vv. 19-22) and the expected benefit (vv. 22-23) of changing his method.  A change in leadership style, specifically by learning to delegate, would involve six components: 1) Advocating – establishing himself as the representative of the people; 2) Communicating – expressing expectations and instructions; 3) Selecting – choosing additional leadership, people who are capable, have integrity, and fear God; 4) Delegating – assigning tasks and responsibility; 5) Empowering – providing the authority to serve and lead in the assigned roles; and 6) Regulating – establishing the hierarchy, division of responsibilities, and process of managing and supervising.  The result of this type of delegation would make the work of ministry much easier.  Because the load would be shared, it would produce these benefits for both Moses and the people: 1) It would be God’s work, not Moses’ work; 2) As a result, the direction would be more clear; 3) The burden would be bearable; and 4) The customers would be satisfied.

Moses did listen to his father-in-law (demonstrating a teachable spirit) and incorporated these suggestions in his leadership practice.  This passage in Exodus concludes with a description of how he did this, by selecting competent leaders and giving them their responsibilities. They fulfilled their responsibilities well, while Moses continued to manage the most difficult issues and conflicts.  This is a powerful lesson and example for us as leaders.  All too often, under the guise of “serving God,” we do too much and do it by ourselves, believing that this behavior is a mark of spirituality and a servant heart.  In reality, it makes us ineffective for God, and most of the time, it damages relationships (particularly those closest to us – our families).  Learning to delegate is a valuable principle and practice of leadership, demonstrated by Moses.  Let’s follow that example.