Seven Enduring Truths About Leadership During Crisis

I listened to a pretty good webcast today sponsored by and Pfeiffer called Evidence-Based Leadership: Seven Enduring Truths About Leadership During Crisis. The speaker was Jim Kouzes, author of The Leadership Challenge.

Here’s the set-up:
In these uncertain times when the foundations of our global economic system are being challenged, we need to look beyond the pessimistic predictions, the fads, and the simplistic solutions to what’s proven and what’s real. It’s critically important to remind ourselves of what the evidence tells about how leaders get extraordinary things done. We also need to understand the vital role credible leaders play in restoring confidence and in revitalizing organizations. In this webinar Jim will discuss seven of the most enduring and sustainable lessons he and Barry Posner have learned from their recent analyses of global data from 950,000 respondents to their Leadership Practices Inventory—the world’s bestselling leadership assessment instrument—and from their work on the 4th edition of The Leadership Challenge.

I took notes as fast as I could, and then downloaded the slides. Here’s a summary:

1. In these challenging and difficult times, we are likely to see some of the best leadership we’ve seen in the last two decades. The greatest leaders throughout history are remembered for how they dealt with change and adversity. When successful leaders were asked about their greatest leadership accomplishments, it was when they had to deal with adversity. So when it comes to leadership and leadership development, we ought to be excited and optimistic in the face of all this adversity. Challenge is the greatest opportunity for greatness!

2. Thousands of young people and working professionals, in two separate surveys, were asked who the most important role models for leadership were. In both categories, most people chose family members, teachers, coaches, and community and business leaders. Very few choose politicians, entertainers, and athletes, the ones who seem to dominate our headlines. So the most important leader role models are YOU, not “them”. The leaders who have the most influence are the ones who are closest to us.

3. The one attribute that is the foundation of all leadership —something that has remained the same for that last 25 years and is not likely to change for the next 25 years – is credibility. That is, doing what you say you’re going to do, walking the talk, keeping commitments, honesty, and trustworthiness. These are the qualities that are consistently selected the most when people are asked what they look for and admire in a leader.

4. Being forward looking was the #1 quality selected as being important for the executive level. It was also selected as the one quality that most differentiated leaders from team members. Over the years, leaders that have taken the LPI have scored the lowest in “inspiring a shared vision”, their version of being forward looking. It’s the most difficult aspect of leadership to learn and put into practice. So if you’re an executive or aspiring leader, this needs to be the focus for your development – start learning how to look ahead, to be forward looking.

5. The leadership quality that has the biggest impact on people’s performance? Modeling the way – setting a good example; being a role model for the kind of values and behaviors we expect in others. You can’t change people’s behaviors by telling them – you have to show them.

6. Personal values drive commitment. I didn’t get the specifics of the research, but Kouzes and company did research that correlates the importance of clarifying personal values vs. organizational values and which has the greater impact on employee commitment.
We often put a lot of effort into defining organizational values, yet according to this study, this has little impact on employee commitment. Yet helping leaders and employees get clarity on their own values – even if unclear on organizational values – had the greatest impact on commitment.

7. Kouzes said at the beginning of the webinar that he would give us the secret to success in life. He left us with this. U.S. Army Major General John H. Stanford was asked about how one becomes a leader.
“When anyone asks me that question, I tell them I have the secret to success in life. The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to really ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have greater desire to get things done than other people. A person who is not in love doesn’t really feel the kind of excitement that helps him to get ahead and lead others and to achieve. I don’t know any other fire, any other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive a feeling than love is.”

So the secret to leadership? Love ‘em and lead ‘em!

Any surprises or reactions? You can download the webcast archive here if you’re an member.