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What Do People Expect of Leaders?

October 22nd, 2012

In a recent communications workshop I was facilitating, I heard two statements over and over again. They weren’t always stated exactly the same, but the intent was always the same. The first statement was about communications. Whenever I asked the workshop participants to identify the issue or issues involved in the situation we would be discussing, I heard many times that the problem was the inability to effectively communicate. And closely related to this sentiment was the second statement about the problem being a lack of leadership. It was very apparent that the participants had opinions and concerns about their supervisors’ leadership and communications abilities.

While I am of the opinion that the two issues, the inability to effectively communicate and the lack of leadership, are closely related, I was intrigued by the lack of leadership ability. I began to wonder how the group participants would identify “good” or effective leadership. From the discussion, I was able to conclude that the participants expect leaders to be able to communicate a clear direction for where the organization is headed and how their individual responsibilities or positions fit into that direction. There was also an expectation that leaders were present when needed, but not overwhelming (controlling) or micro-managing. With a clear understanding of where the organization is headed and how they could help the organization get there with their skills, they wanted the leadership to get out of the way and let them use their strengths to achieve success; or even to fail.

As I reflected on this workshop and the two comments, especially the leadership comment, I realized how often I hear these kinds of statements when working with individuals. It seems to me that the failure to communicate effectively and the failure to lead effectively are major issues within organizations today. Perhaps the success of the organization being relevant to its customer or client base is dependent upon these two issues?

If the literature is any indication of the relevance of these statements to organizational success, I am not the only one thinking about these issues. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books and articles written about the communication and leadership skills of people wanting to be effective organizational leaders today.

One such resource that I find very useful in my work is The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. These authors have studied leadership extensively and been able to articulate well what it takes to be an effective leader and communicate effectively to those being lead. Their five practices of effective leadership (model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart) appear to be very close to the leadership expectations I heard from the workshop participants.

The Leadership Challenge also identifies ten commitments of effective leaders. These commitments, listed below, really identify behaviors that when practiced demonstrate the leaders’ true understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader. Those commitments include;

  1. 1. Clarifying values by finding your voice and affirming shared ideals
  2. 2. Setting examples by aligning actions with shared values
  3. 3. Envisioning the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities
  4. 4. Enlisting others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations
  5. 5. Searching for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward
  6. 6. Experimenting and taking risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience
  7. 7. Fostering collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships
  8. 8. Strengthening others by increasing self-determination and developing competence
  9. 9. Recognizing contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence

10. Celebrating the values and victories by creating a spirit of community

As I study these practices and commitments I realize the significance of the relationship that leadership requires and with relationships come expectations. So, if I want to be an effective leader I better understand the expectations of those I will be leading and demonstrate actions that indicate that understanding. Until the next time, work at improving your leadership skills by practicing the commitments and becoming a better communicator.

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