These experts give us tools and tips to boost leadership. Whether it's the way we share or the words we choose, simple things can make a difference.
"In today's world there are countless opportunities to make a difference. And more than ever there is a need for people of all ages, from all backgrounds, with all types of life experience to seize those opportunities that lead to greatness," Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write on their website, http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/WileyCDA/. "More than ever there is a need for leaders to inspire us to dream, to participate, and to persevere."
Kouzes and Posner are researchers, award-winning writers, and highly sought after teachers in the field of leadership. Their groundbreaking studies, pioneered in 1983, led them to create a model of leadership that has been embraced by more than 2 million people around the world. Their book, The Leadership Challenge, is coming out this year in a fifth edition. It offers readers the chance to take the initiative and make a difference as leaders.
I asked them about the challenges that face leaders today, the tools leaders can use to spread the vision among their employees, and the best way to lead a virtual staff.
Q: Barry, how can public leaders who face challenges, and sometimes even face crises, set credible goals and meet them?
A: You mentioned the notion of setting credible goals, and in some ways it's making sure that they don't overpromise and under deliver. So it's trying to be realistic about what you can do and what you can't do, but particularly trying to at least make it possible to take a first step. And that's important both internally and externally. You make it easy to get started, you try to gain momentum, and you get people to proceed one step at a time, one small win at a time, so that at least you create the notion that you're all on the same side. Then everyone will eventually appreciate that anything really significant is going to take more than a day. It's going to take more than a week. People want to know that this is where your commitment is.
Q: Jim, how do you handle challenges when they might take a lot of time to manage?
A: Challenges are present in everything we do, in all organizations, and they are going to often be disruptive. They are going to require that we look at how we use our time in terms of challenging the process or searching for opportunities or experimenting and taking risks.
Ask yourself at least once a week: What have I done this week to improve so I'm better this week than I was a week ago? If in a meeting you ask everyone to answer that question at least once a week, you'll be utilizing the time you already spend in an organization in a meeting to answer a question that gets people to think: What have I done to do a better job? What have I done to bring in a new idea? What have I done to address a challenge?
The challenges aren't going to go away; we face them every day. But if we institutionalize the mindset of looking at things in a very different way every day, every week, then we will be utilizing our time to challenge the process, search for opportunities, experiment, and take risks in a way that can be a common practice in our organizations.
Q: Final thoughts, Barry, on that point?
A: One thing that is important is that you create a culture in an organization where people are excited and interested in getting better. That's the fundamental notion here—challenging the process and leadership are all about doing things differently than you're doing them today. And presumably, you're doing those things to get better.
Q: Jim, what other tools can you use to teach people about setting long-term goals, or what you call envisioning the future? Would you use games? What other tools would you employ?
A: Having a vision implies the ability to see across the horizon—the capacity to visualize the future. Therefore, we want to expand people's abilities to evoke visual images in their own and other people's minds. There is a tool we use in our training where we give people printed cards with a variety of pictures on them, approximately 150 different pictures. You can do this by simply cutting out magazine pictures. We ask people to look at these pictures and just talk about the image that appears to them. We do that because, as we said earlier, vision is an ideal and unique image of the future.
Think about it this way—here's another technique we use in our training to help make this point—if I say the words: Paris, France, what immediately comes to mind, at least to you?
Q: Oh, for me? Well, my engagement, because that's where it was.
A: Perfect—a perfect example. So what else comes to mind when you got engaged and you think about the city of Paris, France?
Q: The Eiffel Tower; that was the site.
A: The Eiffel Tower. When we do this people come up with the same kinds of things. They think about romance, they think about the Eiffel Tower, they think about the Seine or the Louvre. They come up with images of this place—no one, at least not yet, has ever said, the square miles or the gross domestic product or the population of the city of Paris. Now, why is that? Why is it that when we talk about a place as memorable as Paris, France, we come up with these images?
It's because we tend to remember more in pictures and images than we do in numbers. So leaders need to find ways in which they can create images of an ideal and unique future for the common good that will immediately create that same sense of feeling you have about Paris, and your engagement, or someone else has about the Seine or the Louvre. How can I do that as a leader? Practice techniques that will enable you to do that. Using metaphor, story, example, and illustration in your presentations will help do that.
If you want one source or the best single example of where to look for this, just read and listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It's all there.
Q: Sometimes public leaders and public managers think that they can solve problems better if they work together across agencies. But this is tough to get people to do because there is competition for scarce budget dollars. How do you get people to share information across agencies, to collaborate, to trust, and to work with each other?
A: Let me answer the first part of that question by sharing some research. There's a game called the prisoner's dilemma, which is used a lot in research and looks at how people cooperate or compete. Essentially the ideal solution to the prisoner's dilemma is a win-win solution, where people play tit-for-tat—you do something and I do the same kind of thing, so it's an even exchange.
Well, the researchers decided they would take a look at what happens when we call something by a different name. So, while using "the prisoner's dilemma" in their research, they told the participants that they were playing either the "community game" or the "Wall Street game." They found that when people were playing what the experimenter called the community game, participants were much more likely to collaborate than they were when the experimenter called it the Wall Street game. People were three times more likely to compete with each other when they called it the Wall Street game. In other words what you call something is often going to trigger behavior in people.
My first advice to anyone in—whether it's public sector or private sector—is to look at your language. How are you referring to the situation? Is it really a competition for scarce dollars? Or do we just have the money we have, and we have to figure out how to use the money that we have in a way that's most productive? How can we behave more as a community and less like Wall Street?
The second part of your question is how we get people to share information. Let me again share some research. Leaders who are more likely to give rather than to take—in other words, to first offer something to another person—are much more likely to get things, more, in fact, in return.
So while this may sound counterintuitive, if I wanted another agency within the federal government to cooperate with me and to share with me—share information, share resources, share people, share time, whatever it might be, within the limits of the law—I'd do them a favor first. I would go to someone and say, how can I help you? What can I do for you? I will guarantee you that the next time you need help, there's someone there that you can count on.
Q: Barry, in your book, you also gave very helpful tips about sharing information inside the office. Can you tell me more about that?
A: I think it's just a follow-up to Jim's comment about the importance of reciprocity. It's one of the key leadership principles. If you want somebody else to do something, do it yourself first. In fact, we talk about that as a leadership practice when we speak of modeling the way. Don't ask anybody else to do something that you wouldn't be willing to do yourself.
It's a part of making sure that you're out and about. It's hard to build relationships—and that's what leadership is all about—if you don't have any relationships. Building relationships involves spending time, as I say, outside of your office. It means wandering the hallways, it means spending time in the field, it means taking the initiative to meet people where they are rather than expecting them to come where you are.
Q: Jim, telework is something that agencies are required to use—in part to save money, in part to just be modern. What is the best way to lead a virtual staff?
A: Virtual connections abound. In a global economy, no organization can function if people had to fly halfway around the world all the time. In government you can't afford to do that, and we have to use the technologies that we have.
The stroke of a key, click of a mouse, or the turn-on of a video are enablers to our communication. Earlier we talked about communication, communication, communication as the three most important words a leader can use. All of these technologies are available to us to communicate and to lead. Our friend, Dan Mulhern—who was the first gentleman of the state of Michigan when his wife, Jennifer Granholm, was the governor—reminds us, however that the emphasis in social media is on "social," not "media." That's an important lesson for all of us. There are limits to virtual trust. Virtual trust is like virtual reality; its one step removed from the real thing. And human beings are social animals; it's important for us to interact with each other face to face.
In telework, it's important for those who do that to also find ways in which they can have periodic face-to-face meetings. Almost all the research on virtual management and virtual leadership shows that the best virtual leadership needs to have some kind of face-to-face opportunities for people to get together. Otherwise the leader does not have the same credibility and the organization's teams don't have the same levels of satisfaction.
Q: Barry, in your book I read about a Marine in boot camp on Parris Island. It was a situation that was not just face-to-face, but bed-to-bed. Can you share that story with our audience?
A: The story is one that our colleague, Jim Vesterman, told us years ago about the power of group effort when he joined the Marine Corps.
He thought he was a pretty good team player, but everything he knew about working with other people was about to change. There was an experience he called the "two sheets and a blanket." When the drill instructor begins counting, he said, you've got three minutes to make your bed—hospital corners and the proverbial quarter bounce. Then when you're done, you're told to get back in line. The goal was to have every bed in the platoon made.
Jim said he made his bed; he was proud of what he did; he did it in the three minutes. He stood directly at attention and he was proud of being ahead of the pack, realizing that there were at least 10 of his colleagues that were still working to get their beds made. He thought the drill instructor was going to congratulate him, but instead he said, "Gentlemen, everyone's bed has to be made and we've got all day to do this right. He then said again, "two sheets and a blanket." So Jim started all over again; he ripped the sheets off the bed and made his bed and stood at attention again.
The drill instructor looked him in the eye and said, "Your bunk mate isn't done. What are you doing about this?" Jim said, "I realized that it wasn't just about me; it was about all of us." Jim put his bed in order and then helped his bunk mate put his bed in order. Then they realized that there were still others that hadn't finished. "When everybody was not finished, we realized that we had to help everybody. It wasn't until we were all successful that any one of us would be successful," Jim said.
We tell the story in the book. It's not about doing it yourself; it's about using yourself to make everyone successful. Good leaders can think about that in the public or private sector—it's not about serving yourself; it's about serving others. We're all going to benefit as a result of that.