Leadership is an Affair of the Heart


Jim Kouzes, the co-author of the best selling book, The Leadership Challenge, says during these trying times, leaders need to provide positive feedback to their teams more than ever to turn around their organization’s performance. He says a positive frame of mind opens people up; they become more creative, more innovative and better able to solve problems. Negativity shuts people down; they become more conservative and less willing to share which causes performance to decline.

Kouzes spoke on LinkedIn’s Human Resource group about what it takes to be an effective leader. He has been studying the field of leadership for decades, written many books and has a database of over 1.3 million managers at the mid-level in organizations who answered his research questions on what skills they used to excel as leaders. Here’s what they said:

Peak Performers:

  • Recognition: it takes a minimum of three positives for every one negative.  Kouzes isn’t just talking about feeling good; he’s talking about achievement and performing at a high level. He’s talking about people who have knocked it out the ballpark and say that for them to perform their best, they need positive recognition as individuals and group celebration.
  • Demographics: old/young, wo/man, Ivy league educated, engineer/marketing, white/Indian, etc. had less than 1% of an effect on how influential a leader is. Want to move the needle?  Leadership behavior along the five skills listed below boosted leadership impact by 30%.

Talent is Over-rated:

  • “People never get extraordinary by themselves” Kouzes said. They need to have a team .
  • The leaders who score the highest for effective leadership focus on constantly learning. Kouzes mentioned Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers  wrote about how to become a peak performer in any field by practicing or doing. (10,000 hours to become a pro.)  
  • Kouzes says the emphasis should be on the development of people not just on the selection of people. Developing peak performers and leaders takes time and training and, as his research shows,  is well worth the effort.

What five skills helped managers excell as leaders and achieve their personal best?

  1. Model the way: when we are clear in our values and beliefs and set a positive example. 
  2. Inspire a shared vision: having clarity on where you want to go and being able to communicate it so others are inspired toward a shared vision.
  3. Challenge the process: ability to overcome adversity, difficulty or challenges and take risks and learn from mistakes. Interesting note: Kouzes says the leaders he interviewed only considered the extraordinary versus the ordinary in how they excelled. 
  4. Enable others to act: strengthening individuals to do their personal best and foster collaboration.
  5. Encourage the heart: Recognizing individual contribution as well as celebrating values and victories as a team.

Kouzes says now more than ever, enouraging the heart is the most important skill and the least spoken about in organizations.  He notes how sports announcers will say “S/he had a lot of heart” when somone wins or a news story of overcoming adversity says “That took a lot of heart”. But, he says in the working world this term is seldom used. He said, “Leadership is an Affair of the Heart” and leaders need to give others heart and courage so they continue to do extraordinary things.”

On final point: Kouzes said ALL generations valued the five traits. #2 is the lowest valued and #4 is the highest valued.  No new or ‘sixth” trait emerged for the younger generation.

Which of these leadership skills resonate most for you in engaging your teams? Do any surprise you?

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