A: Challenge is the defining context for leadership. For over three decades, Barry Posner and I having been asking people to tell us about their personal-best leadership experiences, and the stories are always about dealing with adversity and hardship, doing something no one had ever done before, turning around a losing operation, starting something from scratch, breaking away from tradition, installing untested processes, or struggling with poorly performing units. They were not about maintaining the status quo, but rather about changing the business-as-usual environment. This is a critical lesson to keep in mind, because no one ever got anything extraordinary done without initiating and accepting a challenge. Challenge, it turns out, is the crucible for greatness. Exemplary leaders view challenge as opportunities to excel.
With that perspective in mind, leaders today will be dealing with a variety of challenges that include the rise of emerging markets that are shifting the centers of commerce, rapid technological advancements that are enabling connectivity globally, climate changes that will impact water sources, agriculture production, and sea levels, aging populations that are putting pressure on social support systems in many countries and the large number of unemployed or underemployed young people in others.
In our work in leadership development, there is a major concern about the lack of a sufficient number of trained leaders to move into more senior roles. Organizations can’t keep up with the demand for more and better leaders, and young people don’t have enough opportunities to learn to lead. For example, in one study, 90 per cent of employers want to see leadership development opportunities as part of every student’s educational experience, but fewer than 6 per cent of universities have formal leadership development programs. Another issue is the low levels of trust in leaders globally, in both the private and public sectors. Trust started falling precipitously during the recession that began in 2008, and while it has started to improve, trust in leaders is still at a very low level in most countries around the world. That is a major challenge to leaders because without people’s trust one cannot lead effectively.
Adapted from an interview with Jim Kouzes, What Makes a Good Leader?, published in Gulf Business, the premier business monthly reaching leaders across the Middle East, including UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia.
Jim Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. Cited by The Wall Street Journal as one of the twelve best executive educators in the U.S., he was also winner of the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award by Trust Across America. Together with Barry Posner, he is author of over 30 books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development, including the just released fully-revised and updated sixth edition of the international bestseller, The Leadership Challenge, and Learning Leadership, selected by Strategy+Business as one of the 2016 Best Business Books of Year