I just returned home from the 2012 Leadership Challenge Forum, celebrating the 25th anniversary of this extraordinary leadership model, along with the 5th edition of the book. Whether you were there or not, I thought you might appreciate a few personal reflections from the time with authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, and the community of practitioners and supporters.
1. Story telling was a key theme throughout the conference, with the focus less on technique and more on modeling the importance and impact. Stories are a powerful way of communicating lasting lessons and values. This caused me to think about the overwhelming amount of communication exchanged today in cryptic text or confusing email messages. In the attempt to be fast and efficient, maybe we are losing the meaning of many key messages. Maybe that contributes to “poor communication” perennially ranking atop the list of problems in organizations.
2. The so called “back story” is important for context. This refers to parts of a story which the listener does not know about. I assume that there are always parts of another person’s life which contribute to his/her behavior in the moment. Starting a book at chapter five will leave one very confused, and so will interacting with new people without understanding some of their history. Remember the quote attributed to Henry Ford: “Why is it when I want to hire a pair of hands, I get a whole person.” Be willing to share your own and understand others’ back stories.
3. Great leaders lead from a foundation of clear core values. As ordinary as this sounds, never forget its importance. Values help leaders understand the subtle differences between success and significance: success defined as being the best in the world, rather than being the best for the world. Knowing and acting on those kinds of differences are what lead to truly meaningful changes in the world. There is more to success than shareowner value or being number one on the Global Fortune 500 list. Values are essential. Be clear on yours.
4. Each year at the Forum, I meet more and more people whose names I have trouble pronouncing. That is because more and more people from countries far away–with unfamiliar names to me–are coming together to share important experiences and stories about the impact The Leadership Challenge model is continuing to have around the world. Very cool.
5. One of the key differentiators of the work of Kouzes and Posner is their ongoing research. Every year they present more evidence that clearly demonstrates the direct relationships between The Five Practices and important outcomes such as higher performance and more positive work attitudes (or engagement levels). I appreciate their diligence in pursuing and finding the truth about the ways more effective leadership does make a real and measurable difference.
6. My final reflection is that conferences such as these are usually very inspiring to those attending. I believe part of the reason is attendees let go—if only for a short while—some of the daily distractions to focus on a vision of more noble outcomes, such as renewed hope and promise, or how to really make a difference. I often wonder in our multi-tasking obsessed world, how often people actually do check out to reconnect with the purpose and meaning of their work – and lives. Who knows, maybe you do not have to be a Martin Luther King Jr. to inspire others. Maybe you just need to provide an environment that promotes and encourages people to take time to find and explore those uplifting connections for themselves.
Steve Coats, a Leadership Challenge® Certified Master, is a managing partner and co-owner of International Leadership Associates, a leadership development education and consulting firm. For nearly twenty years, Steve has taught, coached, and consulted with executives and all levels of managers around the world in leadership development, team development, personal growth, change, and business strategy. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org