The 5 skills of great leaders

Great leaders challenge the process, inspire a shared vision, enable others to act, model the way, and encourage the heart, according to Kouzes & Posner. They formulated these five skills after conducting worldwide research into what great leaders have in common, independent of the culture in which these leaders live and work. The fascinating aspect of the research is that it’s not so much about personal qualities of great leaders but what they actually do in their daily lives. And that you can apply what they do yourself, and have a powerful impact on the functioning of your team and the organisation. These are the five skills that Kouzes & Posner ‘discovered’:

Skill 1: Challenge the process

Great leaders are constantly thinking of how to do ‘it’ better. ‘It’ here refers to both the rational (results-oriented leadership) and the emotional (bonding leadership) side of organisations. In other words, they focus on further developing productivity and positivity. In order to bring about this process of continual improvement, great leaders create an atmosphere whereby innovation – and therefore risk-taking – is stimulated. Instead of assessing employees according to the mistakes they make, research is done into what can be learned from these mistakes as an individual and as an organisation. A culture is then cultivated whereby the employees feel that ‘just because you’re failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure’ is not just an empty slogan. It also means that new ideas of working and collaborating are implemented at an early stage. Organisations are thus seen as ‘early adapters’.

Skill 2: Inspire a shared vision

Great leaders dare to dream big about what is possible and are confident that exceptional results can be achieved. This starts with letting go of thinking in terms of limitations and continually asking the question ‘What if…’ This dream (called ‘ambition’ or ‘vision’ in organisational terms) is transformed into a story that can be told in such a way that it inspires others (for tips about this, see my article the art of storytelling). So instead of compelling the employees to achieve a dream, it’s about ‘seducing’ them into seeing their potential and making a dream their own. To achieve this, it’s important to be on the same wavelength as the employees. What do they consider important, what would they like to contribute to, what do they believe in, what are their personal values… and then to link these insights to the dream (of the leader). Take a look at this film and decide which vision you believe in.

Skill 3: Enable others to act

Organisations consist, among other things, of people who act to achieve results that have been agreed upon. Great leaders are very much aware that collaboration is a vital aspect of this. Instead of working from a basis of control, it’s about allowing employees the space and the trust to act with a certain degree of autonomy. Of course some limits/frameworks will need to be agreed upon, for example with respect to what has to be achieved, and some basic task descriptions have to be defined. Additionally, great leaders have a deep-seated belief in the potential of their employees and trust that they want to be responsible for the processes and the results that have been agreed upon. This elemental attitude ensures that energy and pride is engendered in the employees, making it possible for them to achieve extraordinary results.

Skill 4: Model the way

Children learn by observing and imitating. And this same principle also applies when we’ve become adults and are collaborating within organisations. Employees will copy what they see great leaders doing. So instead of talking about how important trust and respect are, for instance, they lead by example, behaving in the way they want their employees to behave. ‘People first follow the person and then the plan.’ Great leaders do this based on a deeper conviction of what is important for them. They are aware of their own personal values, they express them and then act accordingly. And where they see that the values are not being lived up to, they challenge the employees immediately and visibly. Or as Gandhi said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.

Skill 5: Encourage the heart

Great leaders acknowledge and value the people they work with. So even if an employee’s contribution has not produced the desired effect, they see the positive intention and are able to appreciate this. Just how important this positive thinking is has been shown by the work of Daniel Goleman, who established that just 15% of a manager’s work is related to their IQ, and 85% to their EQ (read more on this topic in our article positivity… it really works!). One of the questions this raises is: what results could be achieved if nobody worried about who would get the credits for success? Great leaders have asked this question themselves and act according to their answer on a daily basis.

My challenge to you

To what extent are you applying these five skills in your work? I want to challenge you to reflect on this and to decide for yourself what you’re going to do more, less or differently, from now on. And I also want to challenge you to post your intention in the form of a response below this article. It has been shown that by expressing your intention in public, you increase the chance that changes will actually take place. In other words: from intention to commitment.

Revel in your power and impact!

Curious to learn more?