Published: December 8, 2021
This is the sixth article of our seven-part K&P leadership series. Missed the previous article on encouraging the heart? Read it here.
In our blog series over these past months, we’ve explored four of the five behaviors described in The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s book on exemplary leadership practices. These four behaviors—shared visioning, enabling others, challenging processes, and encouraging hearts—have one specific thing in common: They ask you to take action in your leadership, such as developing certain skills, recognizing others, or increasing personal interactions.
“Modeling the way,” the fifth behavior, goes beyond “doing” and focuses on “knowing” yourself first—knowing what your values are and embracing them. This behavior provides the foundation for the other four, and it’s the most daunting one because it requires honesty and humility. The best leaders exhibit their values and beliefs on a daily basis in every decision they make and how they treat others.
As a leader, when you don’t identify and share your values in the workplace, it can create a lack of trust in your followers because they don’t know what to expect from you. Leaders who say one thing and do another cause team dysfunction, which can lead to stressed, unproductive employees who spend their time complaining to each other about what they don’t like about the job—and about you.
No matter if you are an executive leader, a team lead, or someone who just wants to be good at your job, having your own clearly defined values helps build respect and trust among your team. This creates the foundation for you to influence your team with positive actions that encourage high performance and excellence for everyone. To do this, you need to focus on two areas: clarifying values and unifying followers.
A leader is someone who has two things: a passion to achieve a goal and engaged followers who want to help achieve it. Having clear values and living by them every day helps you gain followers. There are two primary ways to clarify your values and increase your number of followers.
- Know your core values. When you reflect on what you personally believe, you should ask yourself, “Do my inner core values and beliefs match what I say when I’m in my organizational leadership role?” In other words, do your personal values align with your organization’s values? If the answer is yes, then you can be confident that you are leading with authenticity and integrity, which will build trust among your followers.
- Find opportunities to share your values during informal dialogue with others. By making your values visible to others, you can refine your message, uncover disconnects that you may not be aware of, and learn where others see things differently than you do.
Clarifying values builds the trust and respect that will help you gain followers to achieve your goals. But it’s really the dedication of those followers to your cause that affects your success. When you live your values, you inspire others to not just blindly follow you, but to help you expand your vision and move your cause forward. To unify your team behind your goal, work toward achieving small wins while planning for the long term.
- Achieve small wins to build momentum. Moving too quickly and taking on too much at one time in order to achieve your goal can cause your team to distrust you or to disagree with your actions. Instead, focus on building momentum through small wins. By focusing on small wins toward your goal, you can act with a sense of urgency (short term) and experiment with ideas that address the essence of an issue, without trying to resolve the large problem or goal.
- Lay the groundwork for the long term. When your values are clear to your team, you are building a culture where those values can be sustained and motivation continues beyond the short-term urgent. Unifying your team is not about top-down direction, but rather giving people a choice to join or follow you. The choices are clear because they are made visible through your personal actions. Because your team does the work in small steps, it is harder for followers to find a reason to back out of or change their minds about the direction you are heading.
To ensure you’re exhibiting values-based leadership, set aside time each day or each week to consider how your actions have mirrored your values and beliefs. Beyond your own reflection, you may want to ask others for their honest feedback—just be sure not to get defensive if you’re surprised by what you hear. Keep in mind that people often do not interpret what we say in the same way we meant it. When it comes to other people interpreting our intentions, their perception is reality.
Of the five behaviors in the K&P Leadership Challenge, learning how to model the way can be the hardest, especially if you are working to form a new habit or adapting to a new working situation. It takes effort and time to improve, but leading and making decisions based on your values provides clarity and consistency to everyone in your organization.
Be on the lookout for the final article in the K&P series, which will provide more suggestions about how you might apply the K&P behaviors to your leadership journey.