" Ten Leadership Truths"


“To lead is to prioritize, to choose: ‘We will take this path, at this speed, toward this end.’” So writes Peggy Noonan in a recent The Wall Street Journal op-ed.  In this “age of the unthinkable,” if only leadership were that straightforward and simple!   The tectonic shifts in the environment of leadership presented by unsettling realities such as the global economic meltdown; the immediacy of social media; the generational divide between entrenched and emerging leaders and a healthy skepticism about the credibility of political, business and even church leaders only add to this uncertainty.

 The book, The Truth About Leadership:  The No Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know, seeks to address this current leadership confusion.    Co-authors, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, argue that although the context of leadership has changed, the content of leadership has not changed.  Co-authors also of the classic The Leadership Challenge, they contend that there are timeless fundamental building blocks to leadership greatness. This thesis is based upon their thirty- year experience as teachers, authors, consultants and researchers and most recently,    on their   analysis of   data collected from over one million responses to their Leadership Practices Inventory, which had been   sent to leaders in over seventy countries.   

The authors identify ten “no fad, heart-other-matter facts” about leadership.  They admit that knowing these truths by itself does not guarantee that leadership will be made easy.   “You can’t fast-track your way to excellence,” they write,” leadership is a demanding, noble discipline not to be entered into frivolously or casually.”  Mastering these fundamentals requires an intense matter of technique, skill, practice, desire and commitment.  (p. xxv)

The ten enduring leadership truths the authors identify are:

  1. You Make a Difference:

This is the most fundamental truth of all.Before you can lead, you must believe that you can have a positive impact on others. Leadership begins with the belief that you can make a difference. No one else can make you a leader.You have to take the first step.Leadership is not about who you are or where you come from it is about what you do.Leadership is about influence.Surveys show that the most influential leadership role models are local: they are not entertainers, professional athletes, or politicians but parents, teachers and coaches.


  1. Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership:

Leadership is about those who people willingly follow.Before you can lead others, others have first to believe in you. Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. Leadership strategies, tactics, skills and practices are empty without an understanding of this fundamental relational dynamic. Followers must be confident that their leaders can be trusted, that not only their word can be trusted but that they are competent and know where they are headed.“If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.” Credibility comes from aligning actions with words.Integrity, transparency, humility and honesty are key building blocks for credibility.


  1. Values Drive Commitment:

Before leaders can effectively lead others, they need to dig beneath the surface and know what they believe and what drives them.A leader needs to know his or her own true voice.People want to know what you stand for.Value clarity is mandatory for making tough decisions and acting with determination and working through setbacks. Knowing what others values is critical if leaders are going to forge alignments between personal values and organizational demands.The feeling of belonging to a community with a shared vision and values provides the confidence,energy, motivation and passion necessary for leading change. People want to feel a part of something great.


  1. Focusing on the Future Sets a Leader Apart:

Next to honesty, being forward-looking is ranked second among the most admired qualities of leaders.The authors write, “The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is the defining competence of leaders.Leaders are the custodians of the future. They are concerned about tomorrow’s world and those who will inherit it.They ask, ‘What’s new? What’s next?’” (p. 46).Anticipatory thinking is a must for effective leaders.Vision is the life blood of any organization.Developing the capacity to envision the future requires spending more time in the future.Effective leaders constantly remind people of what they are trying to build – and why it matters.A key task of a leader is to lift people’s sights and lifts people’s spirits.


  1. You Can’t Do It Alone:

Leadership is not about the leader per se.  It is a team sport. It is about the relationship between leaders and their constituents. Leaders therefore need to possess the emotional intelligence which understands and is sensitive to the talents, aspirations, feelings and the perspectives of others.Engaging others on this level creates a resonance that enables groups to produce exceptional results. Successful leaders “interact with others in ways that promote connection, collaboration, confidence and competence” (p. 73). This requires listening and engaging in collective dialogue.Leadership is a shared responsibility.


  1. Trust Rules:

Credibility is the foundation of leadershipThis is why trust is so critical in leadership. Trust is the social glue that holds individuals and groups together.If people don’t trust a leader,people will not trust what a leader says. Trust motivates people to go beyond the mere compliance with authority.It motivates them to reach for the best within themselves, their team and their organization.A leader must initiate trust and earn trust. The building blocks for building trust are honesty, integrity, competence, reliability, consistency, predictably, communicating clearly and honoring promises.Clear and constant communications are mandatory.Failing to keep people informed, selectively sharing information and covering-up are trust breakers. “There’s nothing more destructive to trust than deceit, and nothing more constructive than candor” (p. 89).


  1. Challenge Is the Crucible of Greatness:

Exemplary leaders realize that challenge and leadership are inseparable.Great achievements don’t happen when you keep things the same.Exemplary leaders – the kind of leaders people want to follow – are always associated with shaking-up the status quo, which bringsopposition, resistance, fear, uncertainty, disruption, transformation. Effective leaders realize that such brick walls are tests that are thrown up for a reason. They reveal levels of commitment, values, resilience and grittiness. Exemplary leaders are willing to suffer through tough times because these are viewed as the crucibles of greatness.Failure is never final but is a means to learn, grow and enter the possibilities of an exciting future.


  1. You Either Lead By Example or You Don’t Lead At All:

Leaders have to model what the way they want others to feel, think and act.They have to “walk the talk and not just the talk the talk.”Leaders either lead by example or they do not lead at all.People are always watching. They are always watching what you do and comparing it with what you say.A big part of being seen as credible is keeping your promises and being true to your word.Telling the truth when it is difficult, even embarrassing and damaging is one of the best signs that a leader can be believed.Admitting your mistakes and shortcomings goes a long way towards building up people’s confidence in your integrity.An apology lets others know you are concerned about the consequences of your behavior on them.


  1. The Best Leaders are the Best Learners:

When it comes to leadership what comes first:leading or learning?Learning comes first. Learning is the master skill. This includes throwing yourself whole-heartedly into experimenting, reflecting, reading or getting coaching.You have to have a passion to become the best leader you can be. There is no such thing as a shortcut to greatness in leadership. You need deliberate practice to develop expertise. Not only does this mean improving performance but a willingness to be open to feedback.As outstanding athletes devote demanding hours intentionally honing their skills, so must leaders who follow similar regimens of identifying where and how they need to improve their practical and mental leadership skills.Embracing a lifestyle of lifelong leadership learning is a fundamental.


  1. Leadership is an Affair of the Heart:

Love is the soul of leadership.Leaders are in love:in love with leading, in love with people and passionate about values and visions that make a difference. This is the why of what they do. Research shows that the highest performing leaders are the most open and caring, the most positive and are more grateful than their lower performing counterparts.Exemplary leaders lead with their hearts.Exemplary leaders do not place themselves in the center, they place others there. Their passion is to enlarge the hearts and lives of others. Through their servant hearts they make others confident, heighten positive emotions and create a legacy. Leaders say “Yes!”



Reference:    James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Truth About Leadership: The No Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know.  San Francisco. 2010