Advice for Grads: Act Like a Leader
Newly minted college grads usually have one overarching goal: find a job. While most are understandably consumed with where to work and what kind of salary they may be able to score, some say that those first entering the workforce should also be thinking about how to become an exemplary leader.
"When you're looking for that first job, keep in mind that 97 percent of employers believe that leadership development should begin by age 21," says Jim Kouzes, coauthor along with Barry Posner of the sixth edition of The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (www.leadershipchallenge.com). "If you haven't started your leadership development by now, you should. You probably won't be in an 'official' leadership position immediately, but from your very first day, you can set the example for others, inspire others, challenge yourself to improve, collaborate with others, and encourage others to do their best."
Kouzes and Posner emphasize that leadership is not about a title and delegating to others - it’s about relationships, credibility, passion and conviction, and ultimately about what you do.
"Everyone has the capacity to be a leader," says Posner. "It's not some mystical inborn quality. It's an observable pattern of practices and behaviors, and a definable set of skills and abilities. As one young leader told us, 'You never know where one step will take you. And you never know where the next one will lead. The difference in being a leader is that you take that step.'"
Kouzes and Posner’s research led them to develop the following Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®:
Model the Way. Exemplary leaders know that if they want to gain commitment and achieve the highest standards, they must be models of the behavior they expect of others. Eloquent speeches about common values, however, aren't nearly enough. Leaders' deeds are far more important than their words, so words and deeds must be consistent.
Inspire a Shared Vision. People talk about their personal-best leadership experiences as times when they imagined an exciting, highly attractive future for their organization. To enlist in a shared vision, people must believe that leaders understand their needs and have their interests at heart. Leaders forge a unity of purpose by showing constituents how the dream is for the common good.
Challenge the Process. Every single personal-best leadership case involved a change from the status quo. Not one person claimed to have achieved a personal best by keeping things the same. Leaders venture out. They also know that innovation and change involve experimenting and taking risks. One way of dealing with the potential risks and failures of experimentation is to approach change through incremental steps and small wins. Try, fail, learn. That's the leader's mantra.
Enable Others to Act. Achieving greatness requires a team effort. Leaders foster collaboration and build trust. The more people trust their leaders, and each other, the more they take risks, make changes, and keep moving ahead. When leaders enable people to feel strong and capable, they'll give it their all and exceed their own expectations.
Encourage the Heart. The climb to the top is arduous and steep. People become exhausted, frustrated, and disenchanted. They're often tempted to give up. Genuine acts of caring uplift the spirits and draw people forward. Recognizing contributions can be one-to-one or with many people. It can come from dramatic gestures or simple actions. It's part of the leader's job to show appreciation for people's contributions and to create a culture of celebrating values and victories.
"There are many opportunities to make these five practices part of your life, while you're working at a temporary job, before you get a position in your desired field or even before you have a paying job at all," says Kouzes. "You can inspire others right now. You can encourage others. You can shake up the status quo and take some risks. These are the hallmarks of exemplary leaders."