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 is made up of chapters 5&6 of the text, and they discuss the second series of the practices of exemplary leadership, which they call Inspire a Shared Vision.

Chapter Five.

This chapter reinforces it is important for exemplary leaders to envision the future. The authors 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 of performing experiments on cancer cells. She toyed the concept of developing a well-designed videogame where kids with cancer "could blast away their cancer cells and also learn about what goes on in their bodies during treatment' (p. 104). Her ability to envision the future gave rise to the formation of HopeLab. Quite an interesting concept she had. What does a videogame has in common with young cancer patients and their treatment ? A food for thought maybe? 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 the ability to look beyond the present. They are able to envision the future and "gaze across the horizon of time and imagine the great opportunities to come" (p. 105). And for them to do this, they have to make sure that what they see is also something that others can see, and are willing to follow, with the aim of achieving a set goal. One of the key points that the authors raised in this chapter is the notion of shared vision. They believe that when visions are shared between the leader and the led, all involved sustain higher levels of motivation, and withstand more challenges than when visions are not shared. Shared visions allow exemplary leaders to imagine immense possibilities and opportunities that they can take advantage of . Pam of HopeLab envisions to apply the Re-Mission model to other interventions and innovations.

Several ways that exemplary leaders can imagine possibilities are also described in this section. Leaders need to reflect on their past. The saying that ther 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 need to attend the present as well as prospecting the future. Finally, they have to feel their passion.

This chapter concludes by imploring exemplary leaders to 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 should 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 About two weeks ago, I happened to stumble on Paul Hempe and Chad Campbell's story. They are co-owners of ZerOwBags -- a company that its mission is to prevent trash (plastic) from entering landfills and waterways. Based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and working out of Paul's basement, they collect plastic bags from groceries stores and other businesses in the Twin Cities, and transform them to handbags, totes and assessories. Paul tells a very compelling story of their reason for forming this company. He had recently become aware and concerned about the plastics in the environment. ZeroWbag's 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 singular effort by these individuals is certainly addressing one of the major problems facing society today, and perhaps for many years to come. I believe that they have not only envisioned the future, but they have also imagined the possibilities and opportunities that their action has yielded both to them and society. When I stopped by at their factory last week, I had the opportunity to see some of their finished products, I was astounished to see what great end products can come out of "trash". And they are quite expensive too. Now , think about Pam Omidyar's story and that of Paul/Chad. Do you see any similarities? Are they exemplary leaders? What do they have in common? What would Kouzes and Posner say about Paul/Chad?

Chapter Six Kouzes and Posner continue their discussion about inspiring a shared Vision by enlisting others. They maintain that leaders that have the ability to enlist others are always enthusiasic and excited to do so. Keith Sonberg, director of site operations for the Roche in Alto, California, inspired his staff to go above and beyond the call of duty by sharing with them the 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 have the ability to 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 conversation. 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 provides a vivid example of an exemplary leader that appeals 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, 1968, listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering this speech. What would be your reaction to this speech? (Consider the mode/situation of the country when this speech was delivered). Imagine also that on January 19, 2009, at the same venue, you were there, watching President Barack Obama's inaugural speech. What would be your reaction to this speech? Do you notice any similarities in structure, content and formant between the two speechs? (Consider also the mode/situation of the country when this speech was delivered). President Barack Obama's Inaugural Speech can be accessed at: http:// news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090120/apongoprwh/inaugurationobamatext

The chapter ends by providing ways that leaders can animate the vision. They can do this by the use of symbolic language. Paul/Chad of ZerOwBags have such eye-catching phrases like: War on Waste!, Repurpose a Purpose!, Be an Ambassador for mother earth!, Be the Change you wish to see in the world!, Fashion Bulletin: Green is the new Black! ,that one can't help paying attention to. Leaders can also animate visions by making images for the future, by expressing their emotions, and by speaking from the heart. I hope you enjoyed these chapteras as well as I did. The authors have shown that they have a lot of credibility, and they use live examples of real people to make their point. Please let me know what you think about these 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.


Thank you for your insights on this reading Nduka. I definitely see similarities between the two speeches. As in Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, President Obama uses scripture references, paints a picture of the present and future, and aligns his hopes and dreams with the audiences’ hopes and dreams. If anyone watched footage of his acceptance speech in Grant Park in Chicago, IL it was clear from all the people there that they were aligned with his words. People were crying, cheering, dancing, in awe… The aspect that I find interesting is that it really seemed like almost all of America and the World were aligned with President Obama and his message, but in reality only a little more that half of our country voted for him. It seems like it has been a very long time since America has had a President that moved its supporters in the way President Obama has. We are still a divided nation and I think President Obama’s biggest leadership challenge will be to unite our country once again.

Thanks, Nduka. While I was reading Kouzes and Posner’s reference to Reverend King’s speech on the Mall, I too reflected on President Obama’s inaugural address. It would be a fascinating research project to analyze this in greater depth.

What was more interesting to me than the similarity of the occasions was the contrast in context. Dr. King, a preacher, holding no elected office, faced to the east, had five minutes to speak, to inspire, and to convince Americans that civil rights is not just a southern problem. By the way, he tested that speech in Detroit prior to the rally in DC. Kouzes and Posner also espoused the importance of rehearsing.

On the opposite end of the Mall, President Obama, holding the highest elected office in the land, faced to the west, and was the greatly-anticipated, primary attraction for millions. Obama also stood with the literal and figurative authority of Congress behind him. It is difficult to imagine President Obama (or anybody) composing a speech that could have equaled the historic significance of the election itself.

From the reading, I enjoyed the discussion on the importance of past reflection. In an organization this is extremely important and if not done, or purposely avoided due to an unwillingness to acknowledge past mistakes, it sends a non-verbal message to all employees that the leadership is heavily hierarchical and sees reflection as an authority challenge.

I personally experienced this when I tried to offer advice on an organizational restructuring process four years ago. During the transition, there was a need to clarify responsibilities for myself and the other middle managers and that need was entirely ignored by the leadership. When service staff, over 150 of them, gradually learned that the opinions of front-line managers had been ignored, it reinforced their lack of respect for the leadership. To this day, I do not know how employees learned of this matter, but the ultimate outcome was exactly the opposite of what middle managers were hoping for when we asked to participate in the restructuring process. Sadly, the leadership continues to function in the same fashion. Every other year consultants are hired, and every other year they meet only with upper management… who remain clueless on the real issues.

Another drawback for a non-reflective leader who dismisses inclusiveness is that he or she will bare the total blame for every failed policy. This only dampens the low morale of service staff and increases the challenges for middle managers. It is one thing for a leader to make a noble gesture and take the blame for a mistake, but many do not do that and entirely deserve it.

All of the readings for this week, and especially Kouzes and Posner, continue on the themes of passion in leadership, and the journey of self discovery and actualization. Nduka mentioned the authors’ reference to the Janis Effect (p.107). It is quite easy to understand that as we age we have quantitatively a longer past to reflect on and this predicts how far into the future we can visualize the “what, why, how, and how long” of our futures goals. To know oneself through the process of introspective mining is to identify one’s own goals, aspirations, and passions as part of the process of clarifying a personal vision of the future.

Maybe we learn to listen to others by listening to our inner selves first. To be introspective is to come to grips with the good, the bad, and the ugly of ourselves. If we can dig deeper than the superficial in ourselves, maybe we can allow ourselves to be more than superficial with colleagues and to truly listen deeply to what they say and feel—what they want, value, and dream about (p. 119). A leader who has traveled the journey of finding their own passions may motivate in others the process of clarifying and achieving their future aspirations.

Yet there are leaders, past and present, who fully realized their unique abilities without the advantage of a long personal history. They led from their passions. I am in awe of those young leaders; visionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr, Stephen Biko, César Chévez, and Winona LaDuke, who as twenty-somethings were wise and inspiring beyond their years. Alas, it may be a more gradual process for the majority of us.

Thank you Nduka!

I agree with the book that the process of identifying one's mission and "self" - I think at least some element of self reflection is very important. One of the things I wonder is how many people find themselves in a management situation when they've not really gone through this process internally. By working their way up the corporate ladder, I think a lot of people find themselves in leadership roles when they haven't really prepared emotionally to take them on. I wonder also if some people ever just take on a larger corporate company's mission without really having their own? That sounds a bit negative, but I have had some young friends that have found themselves in "great jobs" at a young age, staying with them for years without really doing any serious external or internal reflection or exploration in other areas...

We talked some in class about followers - and I think it is important that followers go through some of this process as well. I think it is equally important that followers find their inner voice, their values, and ask themselves the questions like those on page 126. One would think that knowing what one's personal values might help a follower avoid being misguided - especially in situations where the leader is not as self reflective as one might hope.

Nduka wrote of leaders: They are able to envision the future and "gaze across the horizon of time and imagine the great opportunities to come" (p. 105). And for them to do this, they have to make sure that what they see is also something that others can see, and are willing to follow, with the aim of achieving a set goal.

There is a visionary leadership picture out there that depicts a person laying the tightrope as they are walking on it. What a tremendous amount of trust a team would have to have in such a leader. I worked for someone once who thought that picture embodied her style. I was never quite comfortable with her leadership and never understood why, until the moment she used that example. I could never see what she saw out there beyond the immediate end of the rope. And it made me extremely uneasy.

I learned alot about my own values around leadership during the year of walking that tightrope. As Jamie pointed out it is just as important for followers to understand their own vision, values and voice so as to be an extraordinary force for implementation. In Robert Quinn's "Deep Change" he asserts successful leadership is defined by continuous and reflective personal change (p 34). This process of inner soul searching is required to bring transformational change first on an individual level and then to an organizational level. The times I have struggled in a job have been when I was not clear about my own values.

Leaders and followers alike need the time it takes for introspection and looking forward. Everyone involved in a project should feel like they are invested in the successful outcome. Good leaders should be able to "help others see and feel how their own interests and aspirations are aligned to the vision "(p141). Good followers also have to have clarity about where they wish to go.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs