The Leadership Challenge

I've been thinking about leadership in the last week, pondering deeply about what the average Joe citizen can do to affect positive change.  Do we have to leave everything up to the policy makers and the power brokers, or can we exert influence as regular people?

These ponderances have led me back to the leadership principles contained in Kouzes and Posner's seminal book The Leadership Challenge.  The bible of the Leadership Wood Buffalo program, this book is a great resource when needing to reflect on our personal leadership challenges and opportunities.  It also provides an excellent check point to test whether we are on track, on mission, or just completely derailed and careening toward disaster.

I discovered quite recently that The Leadership Challenge can be downloaded as an app.  It contains helpful thought starters about each of the principles and I can carry it with me wherever I go.


As leaders we have to be examples for others to follow.  Is my behaviour, my response to challenges, conflict or controversy, something I would want my sons to emulate?  I hope so.  But if I have any doubt, I'd best review what I've been doing and make some adjustments - our bodies are incredibly astute in letting us know what is right or wrong.


This is a great one.  If others can see that flag you've planted high up on that mountain, it's going to make all the difference in the world in terms of being able to work with them to get there.  If the flag is unclear, or covered in mist, then everyone will be heading toward different summits.  That's incredibly perilous.


Yes, there are time when you have to shake things up, ask whether systems or processes are working anymore, or if something needs to change.  Too often we do things because that's the way things have always been done.  It shouldn't surprise us then when we get the same results.  A great exercise is to put everything we have learned about a particular project, process or challenge into a parking lot and force ourselves to approach it with fresh eyes, creating a new set of ideas.  Never feel paralyzed by the status quo, especially if things are no longer working.  This leadership principle is about having the courage to ask the questions that need asking and being willing to take the actions required to inspire a positive shift.


John C. Maxwell says "never put off to tomorrow what you can get others to do today".  I love this quote about effective delegating, as it challenges us to let go, empower others, and trust that the stuff is going to get done.  For me, this leadership principle is the most difficult.  But this is where the true power is, in creating movements, changing systems, and ultimately, making the world a better place.


When was the last time you went out of your way to give authentic praise to an employee or colleague?  Do you make an effort to catch people or organizations doing something right?  If you don't, you should.  In the last year, I've made a real effort with this principle of sending handwritten notes of encouragement, praise and thanks to people in my world who richly deserve recognition.  We could be in the most intense, contentious, inflammatory situation, but if we take an appreciative approach, it has the potential to change the tenor of things immediately.

Leadership is a highly rewarding pathway, but sometimes the trail gets washed out, hard to follow, and frightening.  Returning to the core principles in The Leadership Challenge is a great tool to get us back on track, focused and re-inspired.


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