Authors: James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

Publisher: Jossey-Bass, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0470633540, 224 pages

This straightforward guide by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, titans in the executive leadership field, reviews decades of research. The authors distill that research into 10 laws of successful leadership. They write plainly and use examples to convince you that leadership doesn’t start with technology or innovation. Instead, you’ll learn that leaders need to believe in themselves, build relationships and trust, know their own values, and never stop learning. The book throws in lessons about behaviors you need, attitudes you should cultivate and actions to take as you ascend any leadership mountain. For managers big and small, leaders-in-waiting and anyone interested in the soul of leadership, getAbstract suggests this quick and easy read.

Distilling leadership to its essence

Changes in economies, technologies and workplaces have transformed the details and “context” of leading. But the essential fundamentals – the systems, actions and attitudes – of leadership remain intact. Supporting data reveal these “10 truths” about leadership:

1. “You make a difference”

Leadership starts with a belief that you can do something that matters, like Melissa, a nine-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee. Her concern about the environment prompted her to write a letter to President George H.W. Bush, asking him to fight pollution. She organized her classmates to join the fight by writing letters, recycling and starting a club. Within six months, her letter to Bush had been printed on 250 donated billboards across the United States, her club had gone national and the president’s eventual form letter response became irrelevant. Melissa’s belief that she could make a difference was all that mattered. What she did – and what you can do – makes a leader.

Role models for leaders may emerge from unexpected places. Family members make up most role models, followed by teachers and coaches, not CEOs or executives. Look for role models at home, in the community or down the hall at work. You are the most important leader and role model for those you supervise. Consider using “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” as a guide for your behavior. They are: “1) Model the way, 2) Inspire a shared vision, 3) Challenge the process, 4) Enable others to act and 5) Encourage the heart.”

2. “Credibility is the foundation of leadership”

Leadership starts with belief in yourself. It endures because others believe in you. People follow more eagerly, with more enthusiasm and commitment, if their leader proves credible and reliable. Sixty percent of people consistently rate four characteristics as most desirable in their leaders. Leaders should be:

“Honest” – Tell the truth and live by clear ethical beliefs. Be honest with yourself and others about what’s important, and about their strengths and weaknesses.

“Forward-looking” – Provide followers with a future-focused vision. Understand the visions of others and help connect those visions to create success for everyone.

“Inspirational” – Share energy and excitement, and motivate your troops.

“Capable” – Attract trust by getting things done and inspiring confidence in others.

These traits fulfill the “First Law of Leadership: If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.” Creating belief makes employees work harder and feel happier; their work and happiness affects customers and investors in turn. Understanding the importance of credibility leads to the “Second Law of Leadership: Do What You Say You Will Do…”

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