The Leadership Challenge Continues – The Six Strategies

Kouzes, Jim 2

Jim Kouzes is the co-author with Barry Posner of The Leadership Challenge now has over 2 million copies sold as is available in 22 languages. Jim is the Dean Executive Fellow of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business which is part of Santa Clara University. The Leadership Challenge is now in the 5th edition and it has marked the 25th anniversary of the book. The book debuted as the #1 on Amazon Leadership Best Seller List and the 2013 Wall Street Journal best seller list.

Jim and Barry have some new eBooks: Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces and Finding the Courage to Lead. They also have a new trade book bringing some of this leadership to students; Student Leadership Challenge. Their new book, Turning Adversity into Opportunity, came out in May of 2014.

Dr. Relly Nadler: We talked about the new normal, which is really adversity. One of your new eBooks, Finding the Courage to Lead, and it sounds like your newest one may also have an outgrowth of it, is the Six Strategies. I think our listeners would be interested in knowing what these are. What have you found that can help us and can help leaders with adversity?

Jim Kouzes: The Six Strategies, Relly, that we write about in this book  are really an extension of one of the Practices primarily, which we call Challenge the Process. The Six Strategies that we have identified help leaders to turn adversity into opportunity. All of us are leaders in our own environments in some way or another, whether it’s family, community or school. The strategies cover how we can all take an adverse circumstance and turn that into an opportunity.

The first strategy is broadening the context or to broaden the perspective, I should say. It’s common for all of us to take disruptions very personally; like this is happening to me and it’s almost as if I’m the only person in this world who is experiencing this right now.

It’s the same for organizations. The organization is almost under siege or under attack when we face these kinds of problems. While it is personal to us or to our organizations, we also need to broaden the context and understand it from an historical perspective. People have faced similar or worse circumstances in their lives.

Now that may sound too simplistic, but what we know, interestingly enough, is that people who reflect first on their past and take a look at their highs and their lows in their lives, what has taken them to the peaks and what has enabled them to have resilience to move from lows to highs and what has motivated them are much more resilient than people who simply charge ahead without any reflection whatsoever. So it’s actually an important strategy from a psychological perspective to give us a perspective on where we are given our own personal history, as well as the history of other people.

So you take for example Delisle Worrell, who was the governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, and happened to be giving a talk recently that Barry attended. He began that talk by saying that in Barbados they were facing significant challenges and they went through and listed what they were. Then he went through and went backwards in time. He said, before this, here is where we were and here is where we are today and put it all in perspective.

That is the first thing that we need to do is to broaden the context or broaden the perspective.

The second strategy that we talk about in this is to deny the verdict. The former CEO and Chairman of Herman Miller, Max Du Pre, said the first job of a leader is to define reality. You have to tell people the truth about what’s going on. The people would rather hear the truth according to the research, rather than to simply be told that everything is fine—or let’s stick our heads in the sand and forget about what’s happening right now—people want to know what is going on.

You don’t have to see that description of the truth as your fate, it doesn’t have to continue forever. You have to accept the diagnosis but you can deny the verdict or at least defy the verdict. That’s kind of saying to yourself, I can get past this then I can get beyond this, is also another psychological principle of the people who are very resilient. Leaders need to help people ask questions like: “What’s going on right now?” “What is the truth?” “Is it truth or is it a rumor?” “What are we clear about and what are we unclear about?” “What is possible given these circumstances?” “What is the silver lining and where is the silver lining in all of this?”

Go through and not deny the reality, not deny what is happening in the world, but defy the verdict that we are doomed to live this way forever.

The third one is to fully commit to what is important. We have to decide what our values and beliefs are and then commit to those. One of the things that Barry and I found in our research is that leaders who are clear about their values are much more committed to their organizations than leaders who are unclear. The same is true for constituents. People who are clear about their personal values are much more committed than those who are unclear about their values and are more committed than those people who are clear about the organization’s values but not clear about their own.

You have to be clear about what is really important right now.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I have to say, Jim, this seems to be an ongoing conversation, the clarity of values at the individual level. I find it absolutely amazing that after so many years of focusing on leadership that this is still one of the strongest traits or characteristics, right, that we address. In your wisdom and you’re probably over a million surveys and leadership interviews that you have conducted over the years, do you find that this is still a bit of a surprise and in fact, why is this an ongoing issue do you think?

Jim Kouzes: We are no longer surprised by this because it has been so consistent. I remember that I was  part of a panel with Ken Blanchard one time and I was starting to answer a question and I said, I don’t know what you call something that has been the same for the last 25 years, but… and before I could answer my own question Ken answered it for me. He said, I’d call it “the truth.”

Something that has been true since we started this research, which actually pre-dates 1980, on values, we have found consistently that people who are clear about their leadership philosophy, their values and beliefs, those principles that should guide decisions and actions, are significantly more committed than those who are not clear. Their constituents are more committed to the organization, they are more engaged and they consider the leader to be more effective. So it’s a very powerful finding and it’s been true ever since we started doing this.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So Jim, let’s keep going. What are 4, 5 and 6?

Jim Kouzes: Four is take charge of change. You have got to take initiative. People have overcome adversity before and I have overcome it before. I understand that I am not doomed here; that we can defy this verdict and deny the verdict that we have been given. I have taken the initiative to make something happen, so I need to take charge of this exchange. I need to make sure that we persist, that we are determined, that we move forward kind of one step at a time in little small increments, moving forward. That’s the next one.

The fifth one is engage others. In times of difficulty and adversity, in particular, we need other people. Research has shown that those individuals who ask for help are much more likely to overcome adversity than those who don’t ask for help. That is sort of like, duh! How many leaders do you hear turn to the organization and say, we are in trouble and I need your help? The feeling among leaders is that we are in trouble so I better solve this problem. So they take it on all themselves rather than turning to others and saying I need your help.

It’s important for leaders to ask for help in times like this and for all of us to ask for help of each other. People who are more engaged with others rather than less engaged with others during times of difficulty are much more resilient.

The final one, number six, is as a leader you need to show you care. Because it is so difficult and stressful you need to make sure that people know that you have compassion for their situation and that they are not just left out there all on their own to deal with it but that you do care about their fate, you do care about them personally.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I can see how these are weaved into The Five Practices.

Jim Kouzes: There are a lot of similarities, Relly, and then there are some nuances that make it different which makes them more specific to adversity. We might also say that for leaders, challenge is the opportunity for greatness. That is one of the key characteristics of an adverse circumstance, it’s challenging to people. But whether the times are things that we have more recently experienced where significant numbers of people are losing their jobs, or there has been significant disruption in the marketplace, or they are less disruptive than that. Leaders, we find can do at least five things really well. They model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.

Many of the things we talk about in Turning Adversity into Opportunity have similarities to some elements of those five practices.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Jim we have been talking about the Five Practices and some of the discoveries and highlights. Maybe you could focus on some of the things that you would like our listeners to know.

Jim Kouzes: Cathy, I think perhaps our listeners would like to know that of the Five Practices the one that leaders experience as the most challenging is inspire a shared vision. It’s that practice of envisioning an uplifting and ennobling future and then being able to communicate that to other people in such a way that they can see themselves in the picture so that they come to share and own that vision as their own.

Listen to the complete recording of our interview with Jim Kouzes, without commercials, above.


Leave a Reply