Getting to the heart of leadership
Kouzes, James M
WE’VE ALL BEEN OPERATING UNDER MYTHS ABOUT leadership and management. First, there’s this belief that individualistic achievement will get us the best results. “If you want something done right,” we’re told, “do it yourself.” And now we’re buying the new elixir of the “free-agent nation” as the cure-all for our careers. We seem content to believe that we don’t need other people to perform at our best.
The fact is, we don’t get extraordinary things done by working alone– with no support, encouragement, expressions of confidence, and help from others. We don’t make the best decisions, get the best grades, run faster, achieve the highest levels of sales, invent breakthrough products, or live longer that way.
We’ve also operated under the myth that leaders ought to be cool, aloof, and analytical; they ought to separate emotion from work. We’re told that real leaders don’t need love, affection, and friendship: “I don’t care if people like me. I just want them to respect me.” Nonsense.
One of the most uplifting interviews my colleague, Barry Posner, and I have conducted was with Tony Codianni, director of the training and dealer development group for Toshiba America Information Systems based in Irvine, California. According to Codianni, “Encouraging the heart is the most important leadership practice because it’s the most personal.” Codianni believes leadership is all about human relations, if you’re going to lead people, you have to care about them.
The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a nonprofit educational institution located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has taken a look at the process of executive selection, and its results support Codianni’s observation. In examining the critical variables for success for the top three jobs in large organizations, it found that the number-one success factor is “relationships with subordinates.”
And in an even more startling study, CCL found that one, and only one, factor significantly differentiated the top quartile of managers from the bottom in surveyed organizations: expressed affection. Contrary to the popular myth of the cold-hearted boss who cares very little about people’s feelings, the highest-performing managers show more warmth and fondness toward others. They get closer to people, and they’re significantly more open to sharing thoughts and feelings than their lower-performing counterparts.
The best leaders know that it’s not how well they control others but how well they liberate them that makes the difference. Respect, recognition, encouragement, trust-these are the watchwords of the most extraordinary among us.
You may think this really doesn’t matter to that young crop of new employees-and our future leaders. “After all,” you say, “they’re only interested in themselves, and they’re ready to jump ship at the first opportunity to join a start-up that’s offering stock options and getting ready to go public.” Wrong again.
Public Allies, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., which works with a diverse network of promising young leaders, recently conducted a national poll of 18- to 30-year-olds and asked them what leadership meant. The most essential leadership quality to this group? “Being able to see a situation from someone else’s point of view.” Number two on their list? “Getting along well with other people.” Third was, “Having a high degree of personal integrity.”
At the heart of effective leadership is genuine caring. When people work with leaders who care about them and encourage their hearts, they feel better about themselves and perform at significantly higher levels. Authentic, credible leaders set people’s spirits free, inspiring others to become more than they ever thought possible. And that, indeed, may be our ultimate mission as leaders.
James M. Kouzes, chairman emeritus of the Tom Peters Company in Palo Alto, California, is the dean’s professor of leadership in the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University and also the author of several books, his most recent, along with co-author Barry Posner, Encouraging the Heart (Jossey-Bass, 1999) and The Leadership Challenge Planner (Jossey-Bass, 1999). Kouzes may be reached by voice mail at 877-866-9691, extension 239, or email@example.com.
Copyright Association for Quality and Participation Sep/Oct 1999
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