Ask An Expert

Q:  In your practice you often make the point that leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue. How does dialogue inspire a shared vision and enable others to act?

A:  Leadership is a relationship, and strong relationships are built on mutual understanding. You can get to that mutual understanding only through conversation and dialogue.

This means that you can’t adopt the view that visions come from the top down. You have to start engaging others in a collective dialogue about the future, not delivering a monologue. You can’t mobilize people to willingly travel to places they don’t want to go. No matter how grand the dream of an individual visionary, if others don’t see in it the possibility of realizing their hopes and desires, they won’t follow voluntarily or wholeheartedly.

To become an exemplary leader, you must develop a deep appreciation of the collective hopes, dreams, and aspirations of your constituents. Constituents come to believe in their leaders—to see them as worthy of their trust—when they believe that the leaders have the constituents’ best interests at heart.

Leaders who are clearly interested only in their own agendas, their own advancement, and their own wellbeing will not be followed willingly. You have to reach out and attend to others, be present with them, and listen to them.

This isn’t just theory. We know from our research that when leaders seek consensus around shared values, constituents are more positive. People who report that their managers engage in dialogue regarding common values feel a significantly stronger sense of personal effectiveness than individuals who feel that they’re wasting energy trying to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing.

Jim Kouzes 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—now in its fifth edition—and over a thirty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.

Excerpted from How Dialogue Skills Contribute to Exemplary Leadership one of four interviews with Jim Kouzes by Dr. Rodger Dean Duncan, posted online at Read more of Jim’s interviews here:

Why You Should Hone Your Storytelling Skills
Why Leadership Skills are Vital for Entrepreneurs
Feedback, Learning, Performance, Improvement


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