What Makes a Great Leader?

Here at Firm Foundations, we work with leaders every day, from program managers to CEOs. We have found that, while personal characteristics like confidence, commitment and intuition are present to some degree, they don’t really define a great leader.

Leadership isn’t about a plan, position or personality. It’s about behavior…or rather a set of observable behaviors.

Leadership is only as strong as the behaviors a leader has perfected, and leaders perfect their behaviors through practice.

When we work with leaders, we use various tools couped with coaching to help them remove impediments, ask the right questions and learn the behaviors that will put them on the path to excellence.

One of the most effective of these tools is the Leadership Practices Inventory (San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 4th ed. 2013) developed by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Kouzes and Posner have been researching leadership and studying leaders for more than three decades. They are the authors of more than a dozen books about leadership, including the best-selling classic The Leadership Challenge.

The Leadership Practices Inventory is based on the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® that Kouzes and Posner developed and expressed in The Leadership Challenge.

In this and subsequent blog posts, we’ll talk about the Five Practices and how understanding and performing them makes good leaders into great ones. The Five Practices include:

Practice #1. Model the Way

First and foremost, great leaders are role models who demonstrate their expectations of team members by personal example. Great leaders do what they say they will do. They live their values.

Practice #2. Inspire a Shared Vision

People in an organization cannot live up to expectations and perform optimally unless they know where they’re going. Great leaders show them the way by sharing a clear vision for the organization and showing how everyone’s activities propel the organization toward the best possible future. If the leader is completely committed to the vision and is successful in sharing it through words and actions, team members will understand that their roles have purpose and meaning that transcend the tasks they perform.

Practice #3. Challenge the Process

Great leaders welcome challenges that spur them to greater achievements and encourage others to do the same. They are risk takers who do not shy away from experimentation. They challenge others to think outside the box, while at the same time setting realistic, measurable goals.

Practice #4. Enable Others to Act

Great leaders listen. They support team members, encourage them to learn new skills and develop their talents, and create an environment where they feel comfortable about making decisions in their work and know that their ideas are respected.

Practice #5. Encourage the Heart

Exceptional leaders let their team members know they are appreciated. They build trust and confidence by rewarding people for doing their jobs well and celebrating their accomplishments.

To learn more about Kouzes and Posner and their work, visit www.leadershipchallenge.com.