Practice Makes Progress

Leadership is one of those topics that is both fairly straight-forward, and yet, still largely misunderstood. I recently led a workshop at a business conference about leadership practices that really make a difference, but the truth is, leadership practices that work in business extend beyond the bounds of that sector. Leadership in the non-profit sector is as important today as ever, and having lived in both worlds, I find countless transferable learnings.

Let’s start with what a practice is, and what it isn’t.

When I was growing up, I often heard, “Practice makes perfect!” I don’t know about you, but perfection has always been out of reach for me. I do know though that practice makes progress. The ways we spend our time, especially the things that we do again and again, help us hone our skills and show our team what’s really important to us.

Researchers have been studying this for years, and have concluded that leaders who follow these 5 practices a seen more frequently by others as better leaders:

o Model the Way- Leaders set standards for the way people should be treated and the way they should pursue goals. To do this, they set an example for others to follow. They put up signposts when people feel unsure of where to go or how to get there. Leaders create opportunities for victory.

o Inspire a Shared Vision- Leaders passionately believe they can make a difference. They envision the future and create an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

o Challenge the Process- Leaders search for opportunities to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. Since complex change threatens to overwhelm people and stifle action, leaders set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. Effective leaders unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action. And, because leaders know that taking risks involves mistakes and failures, they accept occasional disappointments as opportunities to learn.

o Enable Others to Act- Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect sustains extraordinary efforts. They strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

o Encourage the Heart- Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize the contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.

And these practices get real results. In studying leaders, these practices have been found to help leaders:

- More successfully meet job related demands

- Create higher performing teams

- Foster loyalty and organizational commitment

- Increase motivation

- Reduce absenteeism and turnover rates

- Positively influence recruitment rates

- Earn higher scores on measures of leader credibility

I don’t know about you, but those are results that I can get behind! It can sometimes feel overwhelming to think about tackling all of these at once, but which one could you put into your daily leadership practice to make a difference for your mission? What strategies could you use to incorporate this into a practice that makes progress?

-1- James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge, 4th Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.

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