ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - October 2000


Issue Highlight — In Praise of C-SPAN
- Peter Block explains how supporting and viewing more media like C-SPAN, free of interpretation and corporate meddling, could provide an answer to the commercialized, unintellectual broadcasting that captures most of our attention.

Love 'Em And Lead 'Em
Liberating the Leader in Everyone—for a Healthier World

  Jim Kouzes' research over the years has taught him a few things. First and foremost is the idea that leadership is everyone's business. And despite dramatic changes in speed and connectivity over the past years, Kouzes believes, and his research shows, that what it takes to be an exemplary leader remains the same: Challenge the process, inspire a vision, model the way, encourage the heart and enable others to act. This is the key to unleashing the leadership potential within everyone to build stronger organizations, communities and a healthier world.

  Kouzes is a preeminent researcher, award-winning writer and highly sought-after teacher in the field of leadership. Kouzes' research with Barry Posner began in 1983 and led them to create a leadership model that has been embraced by over 1 million people around the world. Kouzes is chairman emeritus of tompeters!company and co-author with Posner of several best-selling books on leadership, including "The Leadership Challenge."

  In a recent interview with AQP's Executive Director Kevin McManus, Kouzes offers insight into what leadership really means, the power of an inspiring vision and answers the age-old question of whether good leaders are born or made.

Kouzes: Our data suggests that it's about where it was when we started 20 years ago. That can be taken as good news or bad news. We take it as good news in some respects because we also know that people are much more sophisticated about leadership. Part of this is due to the fact that the information is so readily available. It's so easy to gather data about someone on a topic that more and more people are aware of. Also, more and more people have been trained in leadership and we are experiencing a significant increase in that demand. There's another potential explanation. Tiger Woods was recently interviewed in Time magazine where he talked about the experience of changing his swing. He said something to the effect that the score isn't necessarily the best measure of being a better golfer. While we may not have seen scores change all that much, it is true that people are better leaders because they're more knowledgeable about the topic. People are trying more and practicing more and experimenting more. We probably see more examples of really great leadership than we may have in the past.

NFC: What, in your mind, has changed in regard to effective leadership practices over the last 10 years?

Kouzes: That question is something Barry Posner and I discussed just a month ago as part of our work on the third edition of "The Leadership Challenge." What Barry and I have said in a number of pieces recently is that the five fundamental practices of exemplary leadership have not changed per our research for the entire time that we've been conducting it. Neither has what followers or constituents expect from their leaders. So the critical question about what's changed is really about the context of leadership. We all know that speed has increased significantly. I'm not sure that the magnitude of the change that we're experiencing is any greater than my grandmother experienced in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a young girl when she was growing up and experienced two World Wars, and went from no electricity to electricity to telephones and to computers. But the speed with which we seem to be operating is one of the more significant things. The other clearly important revolution is that we're all so well connected, at least in the industrialized world.

NFC: Because of the increased use of e-mail and intranets in organizations, we tend to spend less time interacting face-to-face, and instead spend more time working with each other "screen-to-screen." What are your thoughts on the impact that this shift could have on leadership?

Kouzes: The five practices of exemplary leadership as we've outlined (challenge the process, inspire a vision, model the way, encourage the heart and enable others to act) are predicated on a lot of face-to-face interaction. It's our belief that leadership is a relationship, the foundation of relationships is trust, and trust is not built virtually. Trust cannot be built virtually.

NFC: Why do you say that?

Kouzes: The Internet is not designed as a medium to promote trust building. It can sustain it once some initial trust is built, but we are still able to use false names, we can't be seen, there are a lot of questions about security, or some people don't want you to know who they are. Consequently, there are a lot of barriers to building trust. Once trust is built, however, effective communication can occur. I'll give you an example. I have a friend I've known since 1960; he lives in Finland. Otto and I used to communicate by letter and we'd send each other letters occasionally-maybe just three times a year. Now I can send Otto e-mail on a daily basis if I feel like it. My trust and my relationship with him, however, were built 40 years ago when he lived in my house for one year as a foreign exchange student. I wouldn't be communicating with Otto in the same way now as if someone else sent me an e-mail and asked me a question. I may not distrust that person, but the willingness to work with that person on an ongoing basis will only happen when I know that person on a face-to-face basis first.

NFC: Dr. Stephen Covey states that trust is a function of both character and competence. Would you say your definition of trust is very similar to that?

Kouzes: Actually, the word I prefer to use is credibility, which consists of three components. From our research, there are four qualities that people look for in a leader. The first of those is honesty, the second is competence and the third is inspiring. The fourth quality people look for in a leader is being forward-looking. Three of those four characteristics comprise credibility. Honesty is very similar to what researchers who study credibility call "source credibility"-the believability of the source of the information. Their term is trustworthiness as compared to honesty. The second is "expertise"-our word is competence; and the third is "dynamism"-our word is inspiring. So of the four things people look for and admire in a leader, three of them add up to credibility. We often say credibility is the salvation of leadership.

NFC: From your perspective, how is credibility different from competence?

Kouzes: The word credit comes from the word credo, which means "I believe." The way I like to define credibility is by looking at different degrees of it. I might trust someone to house sit for me-water my plants, feed my animals, give them their medication, make sure that the lights are on or off. But it's unlikely I would trust that same person to do open heart surgery. What differentiates leaders from other credible people is still being forward-looking. Somewhere between 75 and 95 percent of people are looking for that in a leader. And it is something that any leader has to pay attention to in the long run if they are going to be viewed as a leader. None of that has changed.

NFC: Having used your concepts to train other leaders, I find it interesting to observe how they are manifested in the political arena. What leadership observations have you made during this election year?

Kouzes: For one, it was interesting to observe how Al Gore was able to pull even with Bush on the whole issue of trust, which some people refer to as character. Trust was no longer an advantage to Bush. Bush then changed his tactics to deal with the whole issue of substance, content and strategy by issuing a specific proposal for policies, which in some respects falls under the area of being forward-looking as a leader. What is it that I promise you will happen in my administration four years from now or eight years from now? It is the 'forward-looking' characteristic that differentiates leaders from other credible people. Once the credibility playing field was leveled, they had to build on that foundation. People are going to start making their choices based less on character, trustworthiness or honesty issues, as all of those tend to get lumped together.

NFC: Would you say that on the average, even with downsizing, that there are more leaders, either formal or informal, in organizations now than there were 10 years ago?

Kouzes: Leadership is now being seen more and more as everyone's business. In the current issue of Fast Company magazine, Robert Rice has a cover story and he says what I've been saying for a long time: Leadership is everyone's business. One of the most difficult things for senior level people to accept is that anyone can lead. There are leaders of both genders at every level in every community, in every country and in every type of organization. Just because someone doesn't have a title doesn't mean they can't be a leader, or that they are not a leader now. It's the organizations that have difficulty in recognizing that leadership can come from anywhere. We are seeing more and more organizations promote that, and yet when people talk about leadership, they often still refer to top management and still look at it hierarchically. So while there are more leaders, including those emerging in every field at very young ages, it is still difficult to overcome the myth of leadership as being something associated with a level or title.

NFC: What are your thoughts on the age-old question concerning whether good leaders or managers are "born or made"?

Kouzes: I've never been asked if managers are born or made, but I've been asked if leaders are born or made. To answer this question, I tell the story of a time when I was observing 6-year-olds play soccer and I thought back to when I was that age 49 years ago. I never played soccer when I was 6-I didn't play soccer until I was a senior in college. In thinking about this, I began to ask myself and have others ask themselves, "Why is it that I never learned to play soccer at 6?" Then I asked them, "Did any of you ever think that maybe when I was 6 or you were 6, we just didn't have the genes for soccer, but now these 6-year-olds do?" People would say, "No, we hadn't thought that." Did somehow the gene for soccer magically migrate to this country and end up in our genes? From an evolutionary standpoint, this is virtually impossible. But we ask that question about leadership. Why do we ask that about one set of skills and not another? We ask it because we have built up all kinds of myths about leadership, and it's to the advantage of some to maintain those myths.

NFC: The tag line for our conference next spring, which you will be speaking at, refers to developing the leadership potential in everyone. What do you think a leader's primary roles or activities are in terms of helping others progress toward their potential?

Kouzes: First of all, we need to have a fundamental belief that leadership is everyone's business. In research conducted with 18- to 32-year-olds on leadership role models, they were asked, from whom they learned leadership or whom they look to when they need role models. They say their family members first at about 40 percent, teacher or coach second at 26 percent, and community leaders third at 11 percent. Business leaders only gather 7 percent of 18- to 32-year-old votes, followed by entertainers, professional athletes and political leaders. When we see this, we ought to recognize that the powerful role models in our lives are family members, teachers and community leaders. In other words, the people closest to us. The major way we can teach leadership to other people at any age is to model the appropriate behavior. Even within large corporations when you ask about where their leadership role models come from, a 40-year-old will say family members, followed by manager. So we are all powerful influences on others when we act as good role models.

NFC: What are some of the ways in which a person can improve their leadership skills?

Kouzes: Observation is a major way-giving people the opportunity to observe good leadership or giving people the opportunity to hang out with leaders. Another simple exercise involves giving someone an assignment to lead a meeting. I was talking to a colleague of mine who is 50-years-old. He's a lifetime blue-collar worker, and he has been successful in what he does. He recently became the chair of his Homeowners Association and realized that he never really had been in a leadership role before. He told me about how people would look to him and expect him to move the agenda along, and that was something new to him. Well, instead of waiting until one is 50, why not give people the opportunity to chair a meeting at age 25, 20, or earlier than that.

NFC: Leadership involves using skills that you have to practice in order to get better. What are some "training exercises" that one can do to improve their leadership skills?

Kouzes: There are many. Let's take "challenge the process" as an example. If I were going to recommend one thing to do as practice for challenging the process, I might suggest that they begin or end a meeting with the question, "What in the past week have you done to improve so that you're better this week than last?" It'll take a while, maybe three or four meetings, for people to really think you're serious, but after a while people will start coming to meetings with an answer to that question.

  Another thing you could do to practice "challenging the process" is to go shopping for ideas. New ideas are more likely to come from outside the organization than from inside the organization. The most innovative companies are importers of ideas. That we know from research. So if that's true, actively go shopping for ideas from other places, from other industries, and import them. The quality movement was not started in the United States, even though two American men wrote the seminal texts on it and were the leading thinkers. It started in Japan and we imported it. We can do the same with many other kinds of new technology.

NFC: What about "inspiring a vision?" How can that leadership skill be practiced?

Kouzes: I would recommend that the first thing people do is listen to and watch Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech. If you want to know the power that lies in articulating an ideal image of the future for the common good, listen to that speech. It's still, 29 or 30 years later, considered by historians the most influential single speech in the last 100 years.

NFC: After watching Dr. King's speech practices, I am still left with the question, "What does this look like for me in everyday life?"

Kouzes: You have to ask yourself exactly that question. There are three or four fundamental questions to ask oneself, as far as developing the ability to inspire vision. The first is, "How much time do you spend on external issues?" The second is, "What percentage of your time do you spend thinking 5-10 years ahead?" and finally, "What percentage of your time do you spend trying to get a common view of the future instead of your own idiosyncratic view?" Every leader needs to think through those three questions because research shows that only 2.5 percent of a senior executive's time was being spent on looking out, thinking ahead, 5-10 years and then creating a common view. This percentage is very low if forward-looking is what differentiates leadership from other credible people.

  So how can I then increase the amount of time I spend thinking outside my own organization? There's an actual word in the dictionary called outsight. In order to improve our ability to inspire a shared vision, we have to have greater outsight, not just greater insight. A lot of people think about vision as something where you meditate. You think you have this flash of insight, but it's really a flash of outsight-you see more things. There's a lot of data to indicate that executives who have more outside contacts and look at things other than the day-to-day operations are more forward-looking.

NFC: How do you get executives to see the value of looking less at the day-to-day operations and more at the "bigger picture?"

Kouzes: I use another analogy in the work I do. If you're driving fast, and you hit a fog bank, what do you do? You're going to slow down and be more cautious. When you can't see very far ahead, you go slower. The organizations that will be successful will figure out not only how to drive fast but how to clear away the fog so they can see farther ahead. And it's not all that difficult. There are labs where they're doing research that's going to take 3-5 years to bring any radically new technology to market, and 20 years before it'll be used by everyone. The Internet has been around for a long time; it's only been in the last five years that it has really begun to have an impact on business and society. This isn't something magical-it's being aware of what's going on right now and then projecting out. People were enslaved not long before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his speech. He just delivered something very powerful that people could get attracted to and he was a role model of the kind of behavior he expected of others-he went to jail, he marched, he did all of those things.

NFC: It is one thing to be able to effectively state your vision. How do you get people to buy into it and live it?

Kouzes: A key thing leaders need to do is get other people to have dialogue about it. It's not about giving your mission statement. It's really about having a dialogue with everyone else about the future, presenting your excitement and enthusiasm, and encouraging everyone else to do the same. Inspiring a vision is the lowest scoring practice out of the five. It has been throughout our years of research, and it still is. It's the most difficult practice for people to learn to do well. The practices people don't do as well involve more emotion. If there's one major "ah-ha" for us over time it's that things that require more emotion are more difficult to do.

NFC: That can be particularly challenging at work, where we tend to have a predominance of negative emotion at times.

Kouzes: We're running so fast and everything is so brief and abbreviated that the richness of conversation that is required to get people on board is difficult to do at times. I have a simpler thing that I recommend people do. At the end of every interaction you have with someone else, whether that interaction lasts a few seconds, a few minutes, or a few hours, ask yourself this question: "Is this other person more capable or less capable as a result of this interaction?" Every interaction is important and that's true in all our lives. We're not perfect and we can't always do this, but the more we can catch ourselves and ask ourselves this question the better.

NFC: A common complaint leveled at leaders is that they don't practice what they preach. How can we know when we are getting better at executing another of your practices, modeling the way?

Kouzes: Around modeling I think there are two key elements and two things to do. We know that credibility is the foundation of leadership. When we ask people to tell us what credibility is behaviorally, their main responses are: "Do what you say you will do" and "Actions speak louder than words." It's two parts. It's the words-what you say you believe in and value-and it's also how well we model the behaviors that accompany these words. If I say I believe in quality, I believe in participation, I believe in innovation and I believe in people feeling strong, then how do I model those behaviors? Each of us should periodically get our list of personal beliefs out and review it. If we don't have such a list, we should create one that states those things in which we believe and we believe strongly. We should be able to articulate those quite easily to other people. The second piece of that is to do an inventory of how we spend our time, an audit of our actions against our words. Time usage is the clearest measure behaviorally anyone has of what they value.

NFC: You referenced a lot of different research and data in this interview. When someone reads this article and says, "Hey, I'd like to look at that in more detail," where do you suggest they go to get the information?

Kouzes: The second edition of "The Leadership Challenge" has a lot of the updated credibility data. The best placeto go to get a full look at everything is Around November 1 there should also be a leadership-learning site.

October 2000 News for A Change Homepage


 In This Issue...
Love 'Em and Lead 'Em
Getting The Moose On The Table
Is Zen Your Cup Of Tea?
A Mariner's Tale

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Heard on the Street

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