Tag Archive for Kouzes and Posner

Lead with Integrity

In the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart plays the role of George Bailey, son of the founder of the Bailey Building and Loan Association. George’s life is marked with a number of moments of self-sacrifice and responsibility, but it is the contrast between his character and that of Mr. Potter, local businessman and bank owner who serves as the chief competitor to the Building and Loan, that provides a striking picture of integrity.

At some point in the story, George’s Uncle Billy takes a deposit from the Building and Loan to Mr. Potter’s bank, but in a moment of emotional response to Mr. Potter, he unwittingly misplaces the deposit in the banker’s folded newspaper. This is where the contrast in integrity becomes so apparent. When Mr. Potter realizes that Uncle Billy has “lost” the deposit, he seizes the opportunity to force the Building and Loan into bankruptcy and scandal. His lack of integrity is on display when he covers up the fact that he has the lost money, and tries to deceive George into selling out. George, on the other hand, refuses to compromise, resulting in a night of despair and potentially tragic choices, but culminating in the love and support of his family and friends.

Since the 1980’s, James Kouzes and Barry Posner have conducted extensive, global research on organizational leadership that has revealed the significant importance of integrity in leaders. The results of their research, presented in the book The Leadership Challenge (2002), have identified five practice of exemplary leadership, those behaviors that were consistently present among successful and influential leaders: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. But they also identified those things that followers most expected from their leaders. Having surveyed over 75,000 people around the world, they have discovered that one characteristic is expected more than any other: honesty. Their results have revealed that in almost every survey they have conducted, “honesty has been selected more often than any other leadership characteristic; overall, it emerges as the single most important ingredient in the leader-constituent relationship” (p. 27). They go on to say, “When people talk to us about the qualities they admire in leaders, they often use ‘integrity’ and ‘character’ as synonymous with honesty. No matter what the setting, everyone wants to be fully confident in their leaders, and to be fully confident they have to believe that their leaders are people of strong character and solid integrity . . . nearly 90 percent of constituents want their leaders to be honest above all else” (p. 27). The clear implication is that integrity matters. People will not follow a leader they do not trust, and their level of trust is directly connected to the leader’s integrity.

Why is there such a strong connection between integrity and effective leadership? To begin with, integrity is an attribute of someone’s character that is directly connected to consistency. In other words, when your beliefs and actions are not consistent with each other, you are viewed as hypocritical, but when your walk matches your talk (the essence of consistency in character), you are viewed as having integrity. People will then believe what you say because they believe who you are. This leads to credibility, or the confidence that you can be believed because of the integrity that you have demonstrated. Credibility, in turn, is followed by trust, and people will follow someone they trust.

Therefore the lesson is that integrity is crucial for effective leadership. And it must be something that is demonstrated over time in all circumstances. It cannot be a characteristic that you demonstrate in some circumstances, but not in others, picking and choosing when you think it will benefit you to act honest, like a jacket that you put on or take off to fit the mood or the environment. People will very quickly identify that behavior as disingenuous and dishonest. Rather it must be part of who you are all the time. For integrity to be believed, it must be genuine.

When I was young, I once heard integrity defined as the characteristic of choosing to do what is right even when no one is looking. That idea must be true of your actions in all circumstances; whether it is public or not, whether it is easy or not, whether it personally benefits you or not, you need demonstrate integrity. Do it in the big things, but also do it in the little things, in your daily choices of what you do, or what you say, or what you allow. If people know that you have integrity, they will trust you enough to follow you. So regardless of what type of leader you are, what your circumstances are, or what the environment is in which you lead, integrity must be a genuine and integral part of who you are, how you live your life, and how you lead. To be an effective leader, you must lead with integrity.

 

Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

Be Authentic

I have worked with teenagers for years, and one of their defining characteristics is a common dislike for hypocrisy. That is not to say that they don’t also demonstrate hypocrisy and wear masks themselves, but as a whole, they don’t like it when adults say one thing and do another. They use the term “hypocrite” to describe this behavior, but there are other words that also apply: credible, genuine, real, or authentic. This belief or feeling, though, is not just true for teenagers; everyone dislikes hypocrisy and wants to see authenticity. This is a foundational principle that emerged in Kouzes & Posner’s leadership research, published in The Leadership Challenge, revealing that, “more than anything, people want leaders who are credible. Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (p. 32). This led to their statement of “The First Law of Leadership: if you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message” (p. 33).

According to Peter Northouse, in Leadership: Theory and Practice, authentic leadership is leadership that is transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to people’s needs and values (p. 282), and is developmental (a life-long process), intrapersonal (within), and interpersonal (relationship). In other words, authenticity is all about being genuine, real, and trustworthy, both with yourself and with others, and about showing genuine care for the best interest of others. Being authentic means being genuine, consistently matching your walk with your talk, and it is absolutely critical to effective leadership.

The most important component of authenticity is honesty. It is honesty that makes someone believable and trustworthy, because it becomes the visible evidence of integrity. According to Kouzes and Posner: “Regardless of what leaders say about their own integrity, people wait to be shown; they observe the behavior. Consistency between word and deed is how people judge someone to be honest” (p. 28). You know this to be true. You can think of examples in your own experience of people who were dishonest and lacked integrity, and you know what you thought about those people and how it affected your level of trust. I don’t think anyone would question the significance of honesty. I think we also know that the “proof is in the pudding” – we decide someone’s honesty based on the actions that we see.

So besides the characteristic of honesty, what does authenticity look like? First, what it does not look like is imitation. To be authentic, you must be you, not someone else, and sometimes that is much more difficult than we realize. It’s fairly easy for us to try to take on attributes and characteristics of people we look up to, and it’s also appealing to try to imitate others who we want to be like. But the truth is, “no one can be authentic by trying to imitate someone else. You can learn from others’ experiences, but there is no way you can be successful when you are trying to be like them. People trust you when you are genuine and authentic, not a replica of someone else” (George, et. al., Discovering your authentic leadership, p. 163). Keep in mind, it is true that there are some things we do because we have been exposed to an influential person in our lives; for example, I can point out a number of my own behaviors that reflect my father’s influence, and I can also describe important ways in which my wife has shaped who I am. However, being affected by their influence does not mean that I am being them. Rather, everything I have learned has had to be applied in a way that matches my own personality and characteristics. I still have to be me.

Then, authenticity means that people can trust you to “DWYSYWD: Do What You Say You Will Do. DWYSYWD has two essential elements: say and do. To be credible in action, leaders must be clear about their beliefs; they must know what they stand for. That’s the ‘say’ part. Then they must put what they say into practice: they must act on their beliefs and’“do'” (Kouzes and Posner, p. 38). This characteristic will most clearly be revealed when the pressure is on and the challenge is great. Without question, “the values that form the basis for authentic leadership are derived from your beliefs and convictions, but you will not know what your true values are until they are tested under pressure” (George, et. al., pp. 169-170). When the heat is turned up, the fire will usually reveal your true colors, and that’s when people can see if your authenticity is real.

The conclusion, then, is that a leader must be authentic in order to be effective. People must be able to tell that you are genuine, that you are who you say you are because you do what you say you will do. Whether you realize it or not, you are being watched by your people, your family, your customers, and your community, so that they can determine if you are believable and therefore trustworthy. And if they don’t trust you, they won’t follow you. That’s why I believe that authenticity needs to be at the top of the list for every leader.

George, B., Sims, P., McLean, A. N., and Mayer, D., “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011). Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge (3rd Ed.). Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th Ed.). Sage Publications: Los Angeles, CA.

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 Relational

I believe that effective leadership, leadership that results in personal and organizational change, happens best within the context of relationship.  In any situation or environment, there are leaders and followers; while those players can change, both – whether they be individuals or groups – are necessary.  You cannot eliminate or ignore the fundamental fact that there is a relationship that exists between leaders and subordinates, therefore the effective leader will intentionally build and nurture relationships that benefit the leader, the followers, and the organization.

During my first year as the head of a school, initially I kept getting annoyed with the fact that necessary tasks were constantly interrupted by people and their needs.  In the course of that year, as I developed in my leadership, I realized that I needed to allow time for people.  At first, I thought I could simply do this by budgeting a certain amount of time for tasks and the rest of my time for people.  I quickly learned that I couldn’t really budget specific time for people; rather, I needed to make people and relationships the priority.  Over the next few years, my own research validated for me the important of relationship in leadership development, affirming the “value of relationship for effective leadership and its importance to leadership development . . . [and affirming] its importance for components such as building trust, communicating effectively, resolving conflict, impacting perceptions, and effecting change.”  (McMaster, 2013, p. 78)

Current leadership views have also drawn the same conclusion, evident in a number of leadership theorists who have highlighted or indicated the importance of relationship as a characteristic of effective leadership. For example, Margaret Wheatley (1999) includes as one of her leadership principles the focus on building and nurturing relationships that benefit the culture. Michael Fullan (2001) includes relationships as one of the five factors that leaders must manage in order to lead through change, and specifically says, “It is time . . . to alter our perspective to pay as much attention to how we treat people – co-workers, subordinates, customers – as we now typically pay attention to structures, strategies, and statistics. . . . there is a new style of leadership in successful companies – one that focuses on people and relationships as essential to getting sustained results.” (p. 53)  Kouzes’ and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge (2002) described “five practices of exemplary leadership” and their application to leading through change, including the practices of  “model the way”, “enable others to act,”  and “encourage the heart,” all of which are instrumental in relationship building.  And the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory of leadership, as explained by Graen and Uhl-Bien, “makes the leader-member relationship the pivotal concept in the leadership process.” (Northouse, 2013, p. 182)

Even beyond these few examples, as modern leadership theories and concepts have shifted in emphasis from transactional style (leadership is based on an exchange process between the leader and follower) to transformational style (leadership appeals to the moral fiber of the followers to enlist their support and involvement for their own benefit), the relationship between leaders and followers has become a focal point.  I have learned this lesson clearly over the time of my leadership in the last few years, and I have now come to truly understand the importance of developing relationships with those whom I am directly leading or trying to impact.  In my leadership roles, I have focused on building a culture of relationship between myself and my subordinates and superiors in order to facilitate an environment of greatest impact.  Relationship has become pivotal to my practice of leadership.

When people believe that they matter, and the leader builds a culture of relationship, the organization will benefit.  It makes sense.

 

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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

McMaster, J. S. (2013). The Influence of Christian Education on Leadership Development. The Journal of Applied Chrisitan Leadership, 7(1), 17.

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

Wheatley, M. J. (1999). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.