Most Important Leadership Truths

Jim Kouzes

Q: Of the Ten Leadership Truths, which are most important in our increasingly global society?

A: It's really tough to single out a few truths that are more important for the 21st century global leader, but I'll highlight two here:

The first is Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership. This is fundamental, regardless of circumstance, but is even more evident in our daily lives with the global economic meltdown of the last two years. Trust and confidence in leaders of most major institutions have plummeted, and in some cases are at a 10-year low. Barry and I have said it many times, but it's worth repeating, especially in these times when people have become more cynical about their leaders and institutions: If people don't believe in the messenger, they won't believe the message. Leaders around the world have to work especially hard right now to earn back lost credibility and do a lot more to sustain it going forward.

A second truth that requires our attention right now is Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart. The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is the defining competence of leaders. You have to take the long-term perspective. Gain insight from reviewing your past and develop outsight by looking around. The challenge right now is that because of global economic problems—as well as heightened uncertainty from terrorism, climate change, and other adversities that are plaguing our world—many leaders have become much more focused on short-term solutions. It is hard to think about five, ten, or twenty years down the road when you're worried about whether you'll have a job tomorrow. But, this is exactly why leaders need to be focused on the future. They need to inspire others to see what a better tomorrow will look like and to show people how they will be part of that picture.

Jim Kouzes, cited by The Wall Street Journal as one of the twelve best executive educators in the U.S., is the Dean's Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. Together with Barry Posner, he is author of The Leadership Challenge and over a thirty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.

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