Becoming a Better Leader

So you want to be a better leader? The good news is that research shows leadership is an art that can be practiced and perfected. Whether we want to lead our families, our work places, our communities, or our nation, we can all improve our leadership skills.

James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, bestselling authors of over a dozen books and workbooks on leadership, introduced five sets of skills and abilities that help leaders function at their personal best.

Here are my thoughts on their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership with a couple of thought provoking questions added on. 

1. Model the Way: Being a leader is more than being given a title. It is the leader’s behavior that wins the respect of the team. To be a great leader, establish personal standards of excellence in how you lead, how you treat your team members, and how you achieve your own goals. The best leaders are those that align their actions and behaviors with the shared values of the organization. People wont trust or follow a selfish leader. 

  • What beliefs and values guide my actions as a leader?  
  • How do I best set an example for my team?

2. Inspire a Shared Vision: If you are going to be an effective leader, it is important to win the hearts and minds of those that matter most, those on your team. Great leaders focus on the concept of shared aspirations by members of the group. Work with your team to establish a compelling vision for the future and help others visualize the future in terms of desired outcomes and team accomplishments. Make sure that you regularly discuss the organizational vision to the group and explain how the team’s effort brings everyone closer to the goal. A great leader makes sure that every decision and action is supported by the mission, vision, and values of the team.

  • How do I articulate a compelling vision of the future when things are so unpredictable?
  • How do I improve my ability to get people excited?

3. Challenge the Process: Team members need a leader who is constantly seeking improvement or betterment of the organization. Teams with goals of maintaining the status quo usually do not require strong leadership. Growth and change, however, require exceptional leadership skills. A good leader seeks out opportunities for achievement and looks to challenge the status quo. An effective leader should embrace change, identify ways to strengthen the team, and become a lifelong learner. Search for opportunities for improvement and be assertive in seeking innovative methods of achieving team goals. A leader cannot be afraid of the future. A leader needs to be a calculated risk taker. Mistakes will happen but learn from and improve with each incremental initiative.

  • How do I feel about change?
  • How do I create an environment that promotes innovation and risk?

4. Enable Others to Act: Trust is leadership currency. Great leaders recognize the power of positive relationships and encourage collaboration among the team. Building trust in relationships is one of the most important tasks for a leader. Great leaders seek to strengthen others in their groups by challenging them toward self-determination and greater competence. Make sure to include and involve those on your team in the decision-making and the implementation process. Give them permission to ask questions, provide input, and develop mutual respect for each other. Give your team the freedom and authority to act without micromanaging their every task.

  • How do I share power and information and still maintain accountability?
  • How do I develop trust among the team?

5. Encourage the Heart: Everyone wants to be an important part of something important. Expressing genuine appreciation for the contributions of members of the group is an important leadership practice. A leader establishes community through the creation of a celebratory atmosphere within the group. Make sure you regularly celebrate culture, teamwork, values, and victories with your team. Recognize and reward the commitment and contribution of those on the team who make it all possible.

  • How do I build a cohesive and spirited team?
  • How do I put more joy and celebration into our efforts?

Everyday is an opportunity for growth. With these simple suggestions, we should all be able to become better leaders.

Brent Daub

Senior Partner @ Gilson Daub, Inc.