Editor’s Note: This review was first published on ChurchCentral.com. Dr. Smith is a regular contributor there. We encourage you to check out their website. You can do so here.
The best leaders care. (xvii)
Maybe you missed it. Many have. Written in 2003, Kouses and Pozner (K & P) my favorite leadership mentors, truly demonstrated the core of effective leadership, especially for the Christ-following leader. They are clear that great leaders:
- Challenge the process
- Inspire a shared vision
- Enable others to act
- Model the way
- Encourage the heart. (xiii)
As you read through the stories and watch them distill the essentials for great leadership that leads from the heart to the heart, it seems as if K & P are hearkening back to principles found in the New Testament. (This is NOT a Christian book. However, it does have great help for the wise leader who can discern and learn truth from others.)
So we get a lot of satisfaction from positive feedback, and encouragement helps if we get it. Why, then, don’t we think we don’t need much affirmation? (4)
Encouraging the Heart exposes seven essential practices (habits for the wise) and breaks them down into practical, “can-do” steps every leader on every level can inculcate and imitate. As I review these seven, let me share some glimpses (there is SO much more in each chapter):
- Set Clear Standards – Leaders must engage individuals in a discussion of what the values mean and how their personal beliefs and behaviors are influenced by what the organization stands for. Leaders must also be prepared to discuss values and expectations in recruiting, selecting, and orienting new members. Better to explore early the fit between person and organization than to find out, late in some sleepless night, that we’re in violent disagreement over matters of principle. (52) Sounds just like the way Jesus started with his disciples! (Luke 9:23-27)
- Expect the Best – Successful leaders have high expectations, both of themselves and of their constituents. These expectations aren’t just fluff that they hold in mind to keep a positive outlook or psych themselves up. The expectations that successful leaders hold provide the framework into which people fit their own realities … Maybe you can’t turn an ivory statue into a real person, but you can release the highest potential of your constituents. (64) When Paul sought to expand the church and make it a missional agency across the known world, he provided a simple model of reproducing disciples. (2 Timothy 2:2) The rest of the story is Christianity, as we know it.
- Pay Attention – Leaders are out and about all the time. They’re not in their offices much; the demands of the job keep them mobile. They’re attending meetings, visiting customers, touring the plants or service centers, dropping in on the lab, making presentations at association gatherings, recruiting at local universities, holding roundtable discussions, speaking to analysts, or just dropping by employee’s cubicles to say hello. It’s the nature of leaders to wander; it goes with the territory. In fact, at its root the word lead comes for an Old English word that means “go, travel, guide.” (73) As Jesus wandered the Judean hills and the streets of Jerusalem, he modeled this type of leadership daily.
- Personalize Recognition – What it comes down to is thoughtfulness: how much effort you put into thinking about the other person and what makes the recognition special for that person. It means observing an individual and asking: “What would really make this special and unique for this person – make it a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience? What could I do to make sure that she never forgets how much she means to us? What can I do to make sure he always remembers how important his contributions are?” (95) What leader doesn’t long to hear these words from Jesus? ““His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ” (Matthew 25:23, ESV)
- Tell the Story – Stories put a human face on success. They tell us that someone just like us can make it happen. They create organizational role models that everyone can relate to. They put behavior in a real context and make standards more than statistics. Stories make standards come alive. They move us and touch us. By telling a story in detail, leaders illustrate what everyone needs to do to live by the organizational standards. They communicate specific and proper actions that need to be taken to resolve tough choices. They bring people together around the campfire to learn and have fun. (106) Is it any wonder that most of the Old Testament and the Gospels are story?
- Celebrate Together – Celebrations – public statements by their very nature – give expression to and reinforce commitment to key values. They visibly demonstrate that the organization is serious about adhering to its principles. So it’s important to be clear about the statements you’re making. What are you reinforcing? What are you saying is significant about this moment? Parties are fine, but celebrations are more than parties. They’re ceremonies and rituals that create meaning. When planning a celebration, every leader should ask, “What meaning am I trying to create?” Public ceremonies crystallize personal commitments, binding people together and letting them know they’re not alone. (123) Consider the primary celebrations of the Church – worship, baptism and communion as models. In celebrating leadership, we have many values to admire as Christ’s followers!
- Set the Example – When it comes to deciding whether a leader is believable, people first listen to the words and then watch the actions. They listen to the talk, and watch the walk; then they measure the congruence. A judgment of credible is handed down if the two are consonant. If people don’t see consistency, they conclude that the leader is at best not really serious about the words. And at worst is an outright hypocrite. (133) This sounds a lot like another set of words we are familiar with, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. ” (James 1:22, ESV)
Again, these are but glimpses into each of the seven key practices of great leaders who desire to encourage their leadership’s hearts. Filled with studies, stories and studded statements, Encouraging the Heart is still a masterpiece every leader should know and seek to work out in their daily lives and into the DNA of their organization. Each chapter ends with discussion questions, so the reproducing leader can do a personal evaluation, small group leadership development with their board and team, and multiply these practices corporately with advanced training leadership groups.
If you haven’t read and digested Encouraging the Heart, you truly are missing a hidden jewel.
You can order Encouraging the Heart here.
James M. Kouses and Barry Z. Posner
Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (January 21, 2003)