The Essence of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®

Jun 5, 2020

When I teach Facilitator Training for The Leadership Challenge®, I often start with some basic tips. The first tip is to think about what The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® mean, be clear on the basics, be able to explain the core research, and be able to expand on its practical applications. The second tip is to think about what The Five Practices mean to you. What is your perspective on Modeling the Way, Inspiring a Shared Vision, Challenging the Process, Enabling Others to Act, and Encouraging the Heart? 
 
As facilitators, we have both the opportunity and the obligation to model leadership as best we can from the “front of the room.” Honoring the research while adding our own voice to the conversation provides a key means to that end. After being asked the question mentioned above by a participant in one of my Facilitator Training sessions, I want to share a few thoughts on what I see as the essence of each of The Five Practices:
 
Model the Way
Part of being a leader means that people are always watching and trying to interpret the meaning of our words and actions. So, as soon as we become the “boss,” step out and take a stand on an issue, or take on a project lead role, we become an object of increased attention and scrutiny. We’re always modeling with everything we say, do, don’t say, and don’t do—like it or not. It all sends a message. The question is, “What message?”
 
That being the case, it behooves us to pay attention to the impact of our actions and interactions and to be intentional about the messages we send. Otherwise, people will “make it up” for themselves, and it might not be what we had in mind.
 
Inspire a Shared Vision
Certainly, Inspiring a Shared Vision is about meaning and inspiration, but relevance is also critically important. While we may often find it uncomfortable to speak in visionary terms using imagery and deep, emotional language, we may also think that we’re only Inspiring a Shared Vision if that vision rises to the level of something revolutionary, like obtaining world peace or ending homelessness. And in the attempt to overlay a “higher purpose” on our work, we create something that doesn’t ring true for our constituents. Or, as leaders, we may emphasize how each job contributes to the organization’s vision (the proverbial janitor at NASA during the race to put a man on the moon) and lose sight of the actual job.
 
That’s where relevance comes in. The work around Inspiring a Shared Vision is to connect with the meaning and purpose of the real work that people do. If a leader is designing a new app, they need to ask what’s cool about that? Opening bank accounts—what’s cool about that? A financial analyst—what’s cool about that? Creating the most elegant and useful spreadsheet can be inspiring in the creation and a thing of beauty in the result.
 
Challenge the Process
There is a kind of psychological underpinning that can incline all of us as leaders to more readily or easily engage in the behaviors and actions inherent to this practice. It’s helpful to enter in with a willingness to examine our assumptions and beliefs and to let go of those that don’t quite stand up in the light of differing or new information. This holds true for what we assume/believe about the people we work with, what the market is ready for, the right way to do things—and even what we believe about ourselves.
 
Stepping into the unknown, publicly raising a divergent point of view, speaking up on an issue even if we don’t have to—these and similar actions are all acts of courage. It may feel risky, and we may be afraid, but if it’s about something that we really believe matters (see Inspire a Shared Vision and Model the Way), we do it anyway. That’s called bravery.
 
Enable Others to Act
This practice is all about trust. And as with Challenge the Process, there is an underlying attitude of openness that can support our engagement in behaviors that Enable Others to Act. To “involve people in the decisions that directly impact their jobs,” it’s helpful if we believe that involvement will be additive. It’s also helpful to believe that even if our idea is great, it’s possible that others’ ideas could be even better or could be based on a more complete and direct understanding of the given circumstances. To “actively listen to diverse points of view,” we have to value the perspectives and intentions of others. And to “give people a great deal of freedom and choice in deciding how to do their work,” it’s useful to accept that our way might work well for us, but another way might work better for someone else. You can see the pattern.
 
It’s interesting to note that Enable Others to Act remains the most frequently demonstrated Practice in the database according to LPI®: Leadership Practices Inventory® results from both Self Reports and Direct Reports. And three of the six Enable Others to Act behaviors are in the top five most frequent behaviors overall, with “treats others with dignity and respect” coming in at number one. And the practice is all about trust. Heartening.
 
Encourage the Heart
There are lots of words that come to mind for people when thinking about this practice: recognize, reward, praise, celebrate, etc. For me, the word that most captures the spirit of the practice Encourage the Heart is appreciate—in the sense of both notice and value. When you think about it, most people come to work every day and do their jobs—and they do them pretty well. And for the most part, we accept that as a given. But what if they didn’t? Then we’d really be in trouble. When you put it in that light, there’s a lot to appreciate.
 
The other inherent aspect of this practice that speaks to its meaning is in the name of the practice itself. The root of the word “encourage” is “heart” in the Romance languages: corazon, cuore, coeur. So, Encourage the Heart really means heart-to-heart. It means being vulnerable, expressing genuine gratitude, offering authentic support, and allowing our humanity to show up at work—which can be both the hardest and the easiest thing to do.
 
Another opening activity I often do in my Facilitator Training sessions is to ask people to come up with one word they would use to describe an excellent facilitator. Two words that show up often are “authentic” and “present,” which fit beautifully—from a facilitation perspective—with the first Commitment in Model the Way: finding your voice. When we stand in front of a room, we’re not only facilitators managing a conversation of discovery. We are facilitator-leaders and leader-teachers.
 
As I reflect over nearly 30 years of working with aspiring leaders and The Leadership Challenge, it occurs to me that my primary effort has always been to find and use my voice and to be both present and authentic. And finding our voices isn’t a one-and-done. Each time we work with people, we’re challenged to find our voices—again and again and again and again.
 
This article originally appeared on FlashPoint Leadership Consulting’s blog, Leadership Insights: https://www.flashpointleadership.com/blog/the-essence-of-the-five-practices-of-exemplary-leadership.

 
Sharon Landes is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge who works as an independent consultant and as a consultant in collaboration with FlashPoint Leadership Consulting. She previously partnered with the Tom Peters Group and the late Terry Pearce’s Leadership Communication. She also served as a visiting faculty member and lecturer at the Haas Graduate School of Business at the University of California. She also held executive positions with financial services companies such as Citicorp in New York and First Interstate Bank in California. She can be reached at shlandes@comcast.net.


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