During the course of a career that has spanned three decades, authors and leadership experts James Kouzes and Barry Posner have interacted with leaders at organizations of all sizes and disciplines. More than 1 million individuals have responded to the pair’s leadership assessment exercises. Drawing on this seemingly bottomless pool of information, the pair examined the common threads that help the best leaders take their organizations to the pinnacle of success. The result is their latest book, “The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know.” In an interview with Soundview Executive Book Summaries, the authors discuss who most employees believe is the most important leader in their organization.One fact that may surprise readers is who has the most impact on employees. People immediately think this must be the head of a company or other C-level executive. Who really is the most important leader?
James Kouzes: The most important leader is your immediate manager. So, if your most immediate manager is the chief executive officer, then that person will have the most impact on you. However, if he or she is not your immediate manager, it’s unlikely that that person will have as much of an impact on your performance on a day-to-day basis as your first-line supervisor. While we often make heroes of people who make the covers of Fortune and Forbes and BusinessWeek and The New York Times, those people don’t have the most impact on the day-to-day behavior of the majority of people in organizations.When you discuss the Eighth Truth You Either Lead By Example Or You Don’t Lead At All you point out the need for the honest admission of mistakes or wrongdoing. What would you say to help people take the first step toward being more honest about their mistakes?
Barry Posner: Leadership is personal. It’s a human connection, a personal connection, between leaders and constituents. The basis of that relationship is built upon a sense of honesty. So, behaviorally, when we ask the question, ‘How do you demonstrate if someone is honest?’ the glib response is that they tell the truth. When we then ask, ‘How can you tell if the person is telling the truth?’ the response is usually based on if the person can admit that they made a mistake.
One of the things that makes admitting a mistake easier to do is based in another truth we talk about. It’s based in the realization that you can’t do it alone. You have to be honest with people because, in the end, you’re not going to be successful all by yourself. Moreover, people will tell you that when somebody’s made a mistake, other people know it. Now they’re just waiting for you to acknowledge it, learn from it and maybe move on.The final truth Leadership Is An Affair Of The Heart steps away from the old logic of ‘Hey, it’s just business.’ Why is it crucial for leaders to engage with their hearts?
Kouzes: We have this perception of a leader as being tough and aggressive and assertive, throwing chairs across a basketball court to get people to follow him. That image is not what the data suggests makes the most effective leader. It’s by putting other people first and yourself second and remembering that your job is to enlarge the lives of others. When you put your heart into that, into the people you lead and in the business and in the people who do you the service of buying your products and services, you can get extraordinary things done.
Posner: Leadership is hard work. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would be willing to do all the things that you need to do as a leader and make the sacrifices that are required to get extraordinary things done if his or her heart wasn’t in it.