As we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, our Independence Day here in the United States, I had a thought about leadership. I am a student of the great ongoing research on leadership that Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have conducted over more than 30 years.
The sixth edition of The Leadership Challenge was just released in May, updating their ongoing body of research and bringing new stories of leaders applying the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership©. It is a wonderful read and adds a great deal to the conversation of how we can all continue to develop as leaders.
The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership
The Five Practices have not changed over thirty years of the research. They are remarkably consistent across time, culture and people. It made me ponder whether those same practices would be seen as I reflected on the time more than 240 years ago that lead to the birth of the United States of America. Trying to view the people on the basis of the times they lived in, I asked the question “Do I see evidence of the Five Practices in the actions of the leaders I learned about in school?”
Reflections on the Five Practices
The leaders who created the idea of an independent set of colonies were successful in their current situation. By taking on this idea, they brought risk upon themselves and their fortunes. They still chose the more difficult path and went first. Model the Way, check.
These patriots created a vision of a possible future that was much bigger than themselves. Kouzes and Posner define Vision as “An ideal and unique Image of the Future for the Common Good.” The Declaration of Independence is clearly a visionary document about a possible future for the common good. It presented a possible future that is still referred to today and continues to lead our great nation. Inspire a Shared Vision, check.
Our Founding Fathers laid forth a vision of a country not lead by a king, queen or head of a religious order. They strove to establish a country whose government was to secure the unalienable rights of the people, whose power would come from the consent of the governed. This was an idea that Challenged the Process of how countries and governments had been run. Our leaders would not be chosen by their birthright, but by the choice of the people.
George Washington, frequently referred to as the father of our country, was the commander in chief of the revolutionary forces. He is lauded by historians for his selection of generals to lead the army. Not just choosing and supporting the generals well, but Enabling Others to Act. He actually lost many of his battles, but never surrendered his army. Some of his most important work was the training and supplying of the army. Upon winning the war, he proved his belief in the cause of our new nation by choosing not to seize power, but to preside over the Constitutional Congress as it created our new form of government. Upon his election as our first president, he spent time bringing together people with different interests to lead our young nation.
It is difficult to know without doing further research how the leaders of the day Encouraged the Heart. I have no doubt that these leaders who inspired so many for such a herculean task, took the time to raise up the efforts of those they worked with for this cause.
The five Practices over time
I am once again amazed at the lasting nature of the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. It applied two and half centuries ago, the last thirty years, today and I am sure well into the future.
While we fire up the grill to celebrate our national birthday it is nice to think that the lessons in leadership that applied so long ago, on such a large stage, are the same lessons that we can apply ourselves. Whether we are applying them to leading ourselves, our families, our teams, our organizations or our communities, the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership work to create whatever revolution we need to grow our leadership and our results.