Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

June 1999
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Leaders Model the Way – Part 2

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In “The Leadership Challenge,” James Kouzes and Barry Posner demonstrate that leaders:

  1. Challenge the process.
  2. Inspire a shared vision.
  3. Enable others to act.
  4. Model the way.
  5. Encourage the heart.

4. Leaders model the way (continued).

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course! The most effective change processes are incremental. Leaders who try to accomplish the extraordinary must learn the discipline of breaking down big problems and opportunities into small, doable steps. Problems that are conceived of too broadly overwhelm us, but anybody can take “just one more step.” Leaders help others to see how progress can be made by breaking the journey down into achievable goals and milestones. This makes the task more easily understood and accomplished.

Moreover, when only a small task is tackled, the chances of success are much higher, and the “small-wins” process enables leaders to build momentum and their constituents’ commitment to the broader course of action. This creates a climate in which success is not only seen as possible, but imminent.

In leading the small-wins process and building commitment to the long-term vision, leaders will:

a. Take it personally. If you’re the leader, the first small-win “unit” is you. Actions speak louder than words and build your credibility. What new initiatives have you taken lately? What small battles have you won?

b. Make a plan. You’ll never be able to foresee it all, and by the time you get there it will likely all be different anyway. Nevertheless, you’ve got to start somewhere and the process of planning gets people to mentally walk through the entire journey, anticipating the events, milestones, tasks and goals, and imagining their success.

c. Within the parameters of the overall vision, give people choices. Choice is the cement that binds action to the person, motivating individuals to take ownership and accept responsibility for what they do.

d. Break it down. Once you’ve set your sights, move forward incrementally – especially at the beginning. Break large groups and goals into small cohesive teams and doable tasks. There is nothing more discouraging than starting off with a failure, so make sure you include a few early successes in your plan.

e. Publicize your commitments and your progress. By making your corporate goals visible, you create accountability and increase everyone’s sense of obligation to the vision. And by publicizing successes, you generate positive momentum and reinforce everyone’s long-term commitment.

f. Trust God for the outcomes. When change is rushed, it can increase resistance and be extremely expensive. However, when leaders allow change to happen more naturally, it tends to be slower but it also receives greater acceptance. Build alliances and take the time to show people the benefits of moving ahead.

g. Encourage people constantly. Once people start moving down a new path, they need frequent encouragement, especially when they encounter the inevitable obstacles, unexpected disasters and the uncharted forks in the road.

The next two Leadership Letters will consider how leaders “encourage the heart” of their followers.

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