Kouzes and Posner Reading, Ch.1&2

Reading Blog Lead Entry Dialogue Leader: Nathan Volz 1/22/2009

The Leadership Challenge

Chapter One

Part one of Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge, incorporates chapters one and two and is entitled "What Leaders Do and What Constituents Expect.� The first chapter sets the context for the "The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership� by introducing readers to two examples of energetic, visionary business leaders, Dick Nettel of Bank of America and Claire Owens of SG Group (Kouzes and Posner, 2007, p.3).

Nettel shares his strategies for reinventing what had been a completely demoralized call center at Bank of America. He spent time listening to everybody’s stories, collecting feedback on what was wrong and what an ideal environment would look like. His process for this was more extensive yet somewhat similar to the snow card activity we conducted in class last Tuesday.

Nettel recognized that there were positive feelings about the workers themselves, despite the environment and previous lack of leadership. He used the ideals and positive feedback to help craft commitments for a vision and initiated frequent, all-inclusive meetings to discuss strategies and to make sure that everybody knew his story and why he chose to be there. Nettel made the solution everybody’s responsibility and made sure to circle back throughout the process to ensure that actions were aligned with the commitments and vision. He also made a point to build morale by reinventing "pride day,� "celebrating heroes," and by encouraging employees to recognize one another (p.7).

Question: Have you ever been part of an organization that was demoralized and uninspired? In the text, Dick Nettel of Bank of America stated, "We had people who were walking around like they ran over their dogs on the way to work� (p.3). How does your experience compare? What did you or your leaders do to promote an innovative change?

Claire Owens of SG Group recognized that "leadership opportunities are everywhere� and described how the loss of her job in the marketing industry prompted her to invent a new marketing business model that could also share her values (p.8). Owens made a point of clearly communicating her values to her workers. Owens also understood that excellent customer service is critical in her industry and that to inspire accountability she needed to treat her employees like people, not merely staff, taking into account their personal needs, accomplishments, and their ability to share new ideas.

Nettel and Owens reinforce the key point that "leadership is not about personality; it’s about behavior� (p.15) and they exemplify the main focus of the first chapter, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.

In summary, the Five Practices include: • Model the Way – Leaders must clarify values and follow up with deeds. "People follow the person first, then the plan� (pp.15-16). • Inspire a Shared Vision – Leaders must inspire and enlist others, not command followership (pp.16-17). • Challenge the Process – Leaders must venture out, be pioneers, be innovative, experiment, take risks, initiate small wins and incremental changes, and constantly learn and adapt (pp.18-20). • Enable Others to Act – Leaders should strengthen everyone’s "capacity to deliver.� They should strive for collaboration and trust, using "we� instead of "I� (pp.20-21). • Encourage the Heart – Leaders need to engage their colleagues and employees in genuine acts of caring, and celebrate values and victories. They need to be authentic when doing so (pp.21-23).

Another key learning from the first chapter is that "leadership is a relationship� (p.24). According to the authors a successful leader-follower relationship can never be based on fear and distrust. Establishing mutual respect and confidence is essential. The first chapter ends with the list of "The Ten Commitments of Leadership,� which are the behaviors within the five practices (pp.25-26). Since those commitments are each covered in detail in chapters three through twelve, I will defer this discussion to later blogs.

Question: Dick Nettel also said he woke up early one morning and realized that he needed to make a difference in people’s lives. I had a moment like this about five years ago when I realized I wanted to return to my native Detroit and help the people there. I’ve been working towards that goal since then. Have you ever had a Dick Nettel epiphany or perhaps a Jerry MaGuire moment when you ate bad pizza, woke up in the middle of the night, and developed a conscience? What is/was your mission? Do you remember what triggered your realization?

Chapter Two

In the second chapter of part one, "Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership,� Kouzes and Posner begin by describing how twenty-five years of research has solidified their conclusion of "what people look for and admire in leaders� (p.28). From a list of of twenty key leadership characteristics, four have consistently been ranked the highest, across all study groups, internationally, culturally, economically and otherwise (p.29). These four state that a leader must be honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. These attributes are not always what people get, but according to the authors, it is always what they want if they are to be willing followers (p.29).

Question: To repeat the question that Kouzes and Posner have already asked more than seventy-five thousand others, "What values, personal traits, or characteristics do you look for and admire in a leader?�(p.28). From your personal experience, was there a leader who exemplified this attribute and inspired you to follow?

Kouzes and Posner also assert that "credibility is the foundation of leadership� and that three of the four key characteristics mentioned previously are essential for a leader to be seen as credible in the eyes of his or her followers (p.37). These characteristics have been defined in other research studies as trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism, which the authors equate respectively to the attributes of being honest, competent, and inspiring (p.37). Being forward-looking is still a vital characteristic, yet there is no foundation upon which to build a shared vision without first having credibility. Kouzes and Posner follow this with their First Law of Leadership, "If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message� (p.38).

The authors further state that credibility matters because the strength of a leader’s credibility has a direct impact on a follower’s loyalty, commitment, energy, and productivity (p39). It is also critical that leaders behave in a way that models their credibility. This leads us to "The Kouzes-Posner Second Law of Leadership,� to "Do What You Say You Will Do.� The authors refer to this at "DWYSYWD� (p.41).

Question: Kouzes and Posner say their First Law of Leadership is "If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message�(p.38). I have been in many situations where as a mid-level manager I had to deliver and enforce decisions that were poorly made, and later proven so. What if you were a mid-level manager or a low-ranking officer in the military and you had to relay a bad decision from a superior that could undermine your credibility? This scenario happens all the time in companies and organizations. How do you maintain your professionalism and also the respect of your followers? What happens if the decisions are consistently poor over an extended period of time?

I have included number of specific questions that I hope will be intriguing and generate some discussion. Please feel free to respond to one, any, or all at your choosing, or perhaps create your own questions for me and for others. Thank you! - Nathan

Cited Source: Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z. 2007. The Leadership Challenge: How to Get Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations. 4th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


The flip side of Nathan’s first questions is, “Have you ever been in an organization that was inspired and morale was high?� I have, and I believe it was because of our leaders.
I once worked for a small privately held company which had recently emerged from financial difficulties. So difficult, in fact, that there were many months where the owners made payroll out of their personal savings. While it would have been easy for the remaining employees to feel demoralized or uninspired in the face of financial instability and an uncertain future, they were optimistic.
The owners demonstrated their personal commitment to their employees as well as their commitment to their vision. Because of the size of the company (fewer than 50 employees) the owners were deeply involved in all aspects of the business. Being amongst the employees every day made it easier for them to inspire a shared vision and followership. The result was that employees were empowered and enabled to act. A common phrase was “run it like it was your own business.� This confidence in people’s abilities inspired them to do their best. In a few short years, the company had turned the corner and continues to show double digit growth every year.
Does this mean it was easy? By no means! People are people, regardless of the size of the organization. It takes a significant commitment and dedication to developing the relationships necessary for a leader to be successful. The owners, the leaders, rarely “pulled rank� or used titles and instead considered everyone equal. I know for a fact that they didn’t have a guidebook or playbook; they were innate leaders. But I believe that they created a culture that exemplifies Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices.

There is still hope for the human race!!! I appreciate Linda's personal example of how her company took responsibility for their actions and, furthermore, the positive results that came from these actions.

What's interesting, and quite nerve wracking, is when a business owner can rule tyrannically (where employees appease owner out of fear, not respect) with little to no negative response from employees, clients, etc. Though I do not agree that this is successful leadership, it does work for some (generally those who may have brought themselves to their position out of good leadership but have become disillusioned). Does anyone have any insight, other than reading another Ayn Rand (philosophized self-interest as the truth), that might bring light to if these people are truly successful?

I also have an example of tyrannical leadership. Whether or not it was successful depends on how you define success! The tyrant thought it was successful because he made millions and was able to lead the life he wanted. Some of the employees thought it was successful because they made more money than they would have anyplace else. The catch was that their pay made them hostage to the company. They put up with the verbal abuse, chaotic workplace, and the churning turnover of less skilled employees. So again, it depends on how you define success!


Last semester I took the course Radical Behaviorism and in that class we learned a lot about shaping behavior "co-workers" through positive reinforcement/rewards or through punishment/"tyrannical leadership." We learned that shaping through punishment usually showed results faster but in the long run was not successful as it usually involved rebellion/aggression from the subject, where shaping through rewarding may take a little longer at the beginning but showed long term success. Lorna, you can correct me on any of this if I am explaining it wrong (she was in the class with me).

Back to some of the other questions relating to this reading…. I was an assistant manager in the woman’s shoe department at Nordstrom’s in Portland, OR and had to take leadership classes etc… A lot of what Kouzes and Posner said was used in the Nordstrom management/leadership classes that I had to attend, and was visible though the various leaders/managers at the store and in the company. At the time I “did not believe in the message� so on the inside I was unhappy with my job etc… but as an assistant manager I had to be convincing to my co-workers that I “did believe in the message� in order to run a successful department. I eventually ended up quitting which would be expected since I did not “believe in the message.�

The one aspect I wonder about is honesty. I was an honest assistant manager in the sense that my ethics were honest and I was open to/with all my employees, but I was not honest in the sense that I never let them know that I did not believe in the message being delivered. It sounds bad to say that I was a good actor/liar? but I did run a successful and happy department and was highly respected by my co-workers. Is honesty important in this circumstance or is it better to keep the employees positive and motivated. Maybe it only affected me since I eventually quit?

I have a somewhat "idealistic" response to your last question. At one point, one of my former managers made the comment that if employees do not agree with the leadership of the organization, they should remove themselves from the organization. I agree that it is incredibly hard engage yourself truly in an organization that you think is led poorly. However, things aren't always simple. While my former manager's comment makes sense in a hierarchical structure led by one or few people, it may not apply to a truly democratic organization. I think this "rule" will become increasingly complicated and shift as business structures shift.

To tie this in with your specific question - I think my former manager would say: "if you don't agree with the message, you probably shouldn't be the one delivering it."

My answer is - in the end I think it is better for more people to be involved in the decision making process. As we move toward a more engaged workforce, especially considering the younger generation, people are going to tolerate a lack of connectivity less and less. I think managers - even mid-level managers - are hired for their skills and expertise. If you disagree with a decision, it may be your job to implement it, but you can still be honest about your role and opinion. "Well, the decision was made to do ___. While I don't agree that this is necessarily the best path for us to take, we'll give it our best shot together and see what happens." Maybe a part of leadership is willing to listen to other people's ideas and try them out, even when they aren't exactly the way you think things should go? I suppose that part goes along with the benefits if one is a pessimist. Either your pleasantly surprised, or proven correct. This of course gets more weighted if the decision is entirely unethical in which case, I think I agree that it would be better for the middle-managers to remove themselves from the process entirely. (Enron comes to mind.)

I recently was a participant of an alumni and student dialogue on leadership. One word was repeated again and again in the description of leaders—integrity. Honesty and integrity go hand-in-hand. Kouzes and Posner add truthfulness, ethical, and principled in the discussion of honesty. I agree with the authors that honesty is the single most important factor which determines with whom I am most apt to have enduring relationships. I have met leaders in organizations who were forward-looking, competent, and even inspiring, but lacked the integrity that I personally need to commit to a long-term relationship. In my opinion, honesty (and integrity) cannot be sustained in the long term, especially under stress, unless it exists as part of someone’s true character.
Now to the question presented by previous bloggers: How do you, as a constituent lower in a hierarchical organization with constituents below you, implement a decision that one feels vehemently against? This presents an ethical dilemma. How does a middle manager retain their integrity as a leader in this instance? I am not sure I have an all-knowing solution. I have left employment when I found that this situation was the norm rather than the exception. But not everyone is able to make such a decision (e.g. economically). For me this instigated change in my life. I knew that I needed to be able to face myself in the mirror every morning and be able to sleep at night. And as a matter of fact, I have suggested this to an employee who couldn’t seem to buy-in to the values of the company I own—a person ultimately has to be true to themselves, personally and professionally. If they are not, they damage themselves and the organization. So, as Michael noted, leaving a situation may be the best solution for the organization you leave, for you personally, and to carry you forward into the next endeavor—one where yours and the organization’s values are in common.

Nathan's last question regarding mid-level managers really hit home for me. Last year I managed 15 brand new-employees, in a store location that had just opened. Although I was a long time employee, it was my first time managing, and I was considerably younger than many of my coworkers. To make matters worse, upper management was constantly changing policies, procedures, layouts, and even prices. It seemed that every time I would try to reinforce a message to the employees still in training, my supervisors would come back with a new change, reversing what we had already been working on. It was nearly impossible to establish any type of credibility with the employees, while still protecting the image of upper management. Although I had eight years of experience, it very was difficult to make myself seem competent and credible. If credibility is the foundation of leadership, I think management was making it very tough to have good leaders within their stores. It is extremely difficult to have an inspiring and forward-looking leader, if the mid-level manager has no idea what tomorrow will bring.

Although I didn't know it at the time, as manger, I was striving to meet these four characteristics of good leaders: honest, forward-looking, inspiring and competent. I tried to be as honest as possible with my employees and was open about the changes taking place. But then I encountered the same problem as Michael: I could not badmouth upper management, although I thought the disorganization was killing our store. So was I really being honest with the employees by taking it all in stride? Jamie suggests using the phrase "Well, the decision has been made to..." This conveys a neutral attitude, but still has the underlying message of "This wasn't my idea!" But it is hard to come to work every day and tell brand new employees "We're changing again!" Believability of sources of information, according to p. 37, is based on trustworthiness, expertise and dynamism. I certainly had the expertise, and I tried, despite our many setbacks, for the dynamism. But it was difficult to be a trustworthy source of information, if they felt that the next day would contradict what I had just taught them.

I think subconsciously we all aspire to have the four characteristics of good leadership- whether we are leaders or not. Not only are these imperative for being a strong leader, they are important for being a good human being. The first and second chapters laid out the foundations for being a good leader, but what struck me was that most of these principles are also necessary for a sense of personal pride and integrity.

Barry Johnson, a successful business leader who advises companies on financial planning developed " polarity mapping", a system of plotting a business' strengths and weaknesses, and how to build upon them. To summarize a procedure that took me eight hours to experience myself polarity mapping, involves stating what you already know, the state (in reference to being) you are now (a want or need for change) and the state you want to be, then balancing your strengths and realizing your fears/ weaknesses. The "map" is actually a grid of four squares with movement from the upper left to lower left to lower right to upper right. There are questions that pertain to each square, beginning with "What are my strengths?" and ending with, "What do I envision myself being?". My experience was actually life altering as I realized I have many aversions I tend to ignore.

If nothing else, polarity mapping is just an interesting investigation. I think it is a good tool for understanding how an individual, or an organization, can better understand what is keeping them from succeeding in something. Food for thought...

My response is directed to Nathan's last question: What if you were a mid-level manager or a low-ranking officer in the military and you had to relay a bad decision from a superior that could undermine your credibility? How do you maintain your professionalism and also the respect of your followers? What happens if the decisions are consistently poor over an extended period of time?

As Bridget responded, we are always aspiring as human beings alone to achieve the four characteristics stated of a good leader. These characteristics in general do make us good human beings, therefore it would seem only appropriate to want to achieve these more so as a leader. In the case of Nathan’s questions above, and in Bridget’s response, this isn’t always easy to achieve; especially when things go wrong.

I believe that there is always room for trial and error for every decision that you make in your life or in the workplace. Decisions made throughout the organization always carry some level of risk. How will you know how that decision will turn out if you don’t give the opportunity to implement it? I believe getting on board with the decision, working with management to add your input (whether it is considered during the implementation or not), will help you mentally get on board to carry through the decision as a leader. The more questions you ask, the more you clarify and understand the decision, the more you can exhibit those characteristics to management and therefore to your team/followers. Maybe there is a poor outcome as a result of the decision or maybe the risk was too great and the decision backfired. I do believe that if you do whatever you can as a leader in the forefront (exhibiting positive leadership characteristics) the better outcome you will have in the end with your team going forward or making changes to move past a negative result.

In addition to the four key leadership characterstics -- honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent that kouzes and Posner presented in Chapter 2, I strongly believe that a good leader should also have compassion for his/her employees. To address your question of having a leader that "exemplifies this attribute and inspire you to follow", I would submit that I have come across a leader who despite being honest for the most part, and quite competent at his responsibilities, clearly lacked the "people's -person relationship that is necessary for workers to get along. Due to his insensitivity to the feelings of his employees, morale and cooperation among workers continued to erode, and this obviously affected productivity, and the enthusiasm that employees looked forward to in a work situation was obviously lacking.

Leadership and Change

Kouzes and Posner Reading, Ch. 5&6.

The Leadership Challenge.

Part 3 of the book – The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner that contains chapters 5&6 of the text discuss the second series of the practices of exemplary leadership, which is: Inspire a Shared Vision.

Chapter Five

This chapter reinforces why it is important for exemplary leaders to envision the future. Kouzes and Posner begin this discussion by introducing us to Pam Omidyar, founder of HopeLab. As a research assistant in the cellular immunology lab at Stanford University, Pam had the responsibility doing an experiment on cancer cells. She later devised Pam a concept of developing a well-designed videogame where kids with cancer “could blast away at their cancer cells and also learn about what goes on in their bodies during treatment” (p.104). Quite an interesting concept indeed! What does a videogame has in common with young cancer patients and their treatment? Think about that. The authors maintain that catalytic leaders not only need to be able to imagine a positive future, but they also need to act on their imagination.

Another major quality that exemplary leaders possess is to be able to look beyond the present. They are able to envision the future and “gaze across the horizon of time and imagine the greater opportunities to come” (p.105). But for them to envision the future, they have to make sure that what they see is also something that others can see, and are willing to follow their leader to achieve a desired goal – shared vision. It is important to note that one of the key points that the authors raised in this chapter is the notion of shared vision. When visions are shared between the leader and the led, the people involved sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges than those that are not shared. Shared vision allows exemplary leaders to imagine myriads of possibilities and opportunities. Pam of HopeLab envisions applying the Re-Mission model to other interventions and innovations.

The authors provided several ways that exemplary leaders can imagine possibilities. Leaders need to reflect on their past. The saying that there is no future without a past comes to mind here. The hypothesis for the Janus Effect sums it up very beautifully: “We make sense of our world retrospectively, and all understanding originates in reflection and looking backward… We construct the future by some kind of extrapolation, in which the past is prologue, and the approach to the future is backward-looking” (pp. 107-108). Exemplary leaders also need to attend the present as well as prospecting the future. Finally, they have to feel their passion.

This chapter concludes by the authors advise that exemplary leaders should find a common purpose since their key task is not to sell their own personal views of the world, but to inspire a shared vision. The authors contend that one can’t mobilize people to willingly travel to places they don’t want to go. Exemplary leaders find a common purpose by listening deeply to others, determining what’s meaningful to others, making it a cause for commitment, and being forward looking in times of rapid change.

Now My Story
After reading through this chapter, I happened to stumble on Paul Hempe and Chad Campbell’s story, co-owners of ZerOwBags. This company is on a mission to prevent trash (plastic) from entering landfills and waterways. They collect plastic bags from all groceries stores and other businesses throughout the Twin Cities, and transform these plastics into hand bags, tote, diaper bags and other beautiful brightly-colored bags. Their mission is to do something creative and useful to raise awareness about the problems of plastic in the environment, and encourage people to change their behaviors (use less plastic packaging and carry re-usable bags to any store for shopping). This is an effort by two individuals that is producing very positive results. They have not only envisioned the future, they have also imagined the possibilities and opportunities that their actions have yielded to society thus far. Now think about Pam Omidyar’s story at the beginning of this chapter, and that of Paul/Chad. Do you notice any similarities? Are these exemplary leaders? What do they have in common? Can this chapter best explain what they do?

Chapter Six
Kouzes and Posner continue their discussion about inspiring a shared vision by enlisting others. They contend that leaders that have the ability to enlist others are always enthusiastic and excited to do so. Keith Sonberg, director of site operations for the Roche in Palo Alto, California, inspired the staff under his supervision to go above and beyond the call of duty by sharing a vision of the company’s future. Generally, people are willing to follow a leader who is widely enthusiastic, and not one that is mildly enthusiastic about something. By enlisting others, exemplary leaders then appeal to common ideas. Visions are about ideas, and they allow people to imagine exciting possibilities, breakthrough technologies or revolutionary social change. They achieve this by connecting to what’s meaningful to others – bringing their ideas into the conservation. They also take pride in being unique since uniqueness fosters pride and boosts the self-respect and self esteem of everyone associated with the organization. Exemplary leaders also try to align their dreams with the peoples’ dreams. Here, leaders learn how to appeal to peoples’ ideas, move their souls, and uplift both theirs and the peoples’ spirits. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech provided a vivid example of an exemplary leader appealing to peoples’ ideas, moving their souls, and uplifting their spirits.

Now, imagine yourself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering this speech. What would your reaction be about the speech? (Consider the mode and situation of the country when this speech was delivered.). Imagine yourself again on January 19, 2008 at the same venue, listening to the inaugural speech of President Barack Obama. What would be your reaction to this speech? Are there similarities in structure, content, form, format, etc between the two speeches? Any differences? What is/are your impression(s) about the two speeches? (Please consider the mode and situation of the country when this speech was delivered in your comment). President Barak Obama’s Inaugural Speech can be accessed at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090120/ap_on_go_pr_wh/inauguration_obama_text

The chapter ends by providing ways that leaders can animate the vision. They can do this through the use of symbolic language, by making images for the future, by expressing their emotions, and by speaking from the heart. I hope you enjoyed these chapters as well as I did. Please let me know about your general impression about the chapters. Thank you for reading this piece.

Cited Source: Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z. 2007. The Leadership Challenge: How to Get Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations. 4th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs