KouLead 06-11-163      



James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

Jossey-Bass, 2006, 200 pp., ISBN 0-7879-8296-2



Kouzes and Posner are best known for their award-winning book The Leadership Challenge.  This is a collection of brief essays dealing with personal aspects of leadership.  Main section headings are Significance, Relationships, Aspirations and Courage.  There is much good in the book.  Unfortunately it misses the whole realm of exponential possibilities when one partners with God in the world. 


“By asking ourselves how we want to be remembered, we plant the seeds for living our lives as if we matter.  By living as if we matter, we offer up our own unique legacy.”  (6)


“When we move on, people do not remember us for what we do for ourselves.  They remember us for what we do for them.”  (10)


“Exemplary leaders are interested more in others’ success than in their own.  Their greatest achievements are the triumphs of those they serve.” (10)


“You are the most important leader in your organization for the people who look to you.” (11)


“The best way to learn something is to teach it to somebody else.”  (21)  When we teach we “always try to provide an opportunity for participants to become the teachers.”  “When they have to talk to even one other person about their own experiences…they’ve got to reach deeper inside than if we just leave them to sit there passively and listen.” (22)


“Each of us, whether we intend to or not, will become at some point a character in someone’s story.”  “The obvious question is, What will they say?” (25)


“…most leaders don’t want honest feedback, don’t ask for honest feedback, and don’t get much of it unless it’s forced on them.”  “The higher up you go on the corporate ladder, the less likely it is that leaders will ask for feedback.” (28)

“Paying attention to the early warnings prevents more serious problems later.” (30)


“It is hard to get good feedback.  The default position in our cultures is: fear.  Fear of getting honest feedback and probably even more fear of giving it.” (31 quoting Dan Mulhern)


“…to your direct reports you are the most important leader in your organization.  You are more likely than any other leader to influence whether people will stay, perform at their best, wow customers, or be motivated to share the organization’s vision and values.  In other words, you are the CEO of your group.” (33)


The behavior of the immediate supervisor is the strongest influence on ethical or unethical behavior of employees.  (34)


“There is a 100 percent chance that you can be a role model for leadership.  There is a 100 percent chance that you can influence someone else’s performance.  There is a 100 percent chance that you will make a difference in other people’s lives.” (36-37)


“No one likes to be an assumption.  No one likes being taken for granted.  No one likes being ignored, overlooked, or dismissed.”  “We all want to know that we’re appreciated, and we want to hear it firsthand.”  “…we need someone shouting in our ear, ‘Come on, you can do it.  I know you can do it!’” (40)


The most important thing a leader can do is say “Thank you, great job.  I appreciate you and what you’re doing for the company.” (42)  “Extraordinary achievements never bloom in barren and unappreciative settings.” (44)


“…if people are going to follow you they need to know more about you than the fact that you’re their boss.  They need to know something about who you are as a person—your hopes, dreams, talents, expectations, and loves.” (50)  “Do they know who you are, what you care about, and why they ought to be following you?” (51)


“They want to know about your values and beliefs, your aims and aspirations, and your hopes and dreams.”  “They want to know what drives you, what makes you happy, and what ticks you off.”  “This is about learning to trust.  We’re just more likely to trust people we know….”  Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow.” (52)


“We lead our lives in the company of others, and that is where we leave our legacy.  It’s the quality of our relationships that most determines whether our legacy will be ephemeral or lasting.” (55)


“Leaders should want to be liked.”  “…we never, ever hear anyone tell us…, ‘He was a real jerk, but I sure was inspired to do my best for him.’” (57)  “Likability is a major factor in being successful in just about every endeavor in life.” (58) “It’s about how you act when you’re around others.  It’s about your behavior.” (61)


“I think people notice when you are having difficulty working with someone, but they also notice when you find ways to make it work.  In other words, you begin to shine as someone who can be trusted and is capable of leadership.” (63 quoting Eric Piziali, Hitachi Data Systems)


“Experience is a great teacher, and not all experiences are going to be pleasant.”  “…in every serious conflict there’s something about ourselves we have the chance to learn.” (64)


“When you’re in a difficult and tense situation, the first and most important thing to find out is if everyone involved shares the same purpose and goals.  It’s crucial to talk about desired outcomes and make every effort to get everyone aligned.” (68)


“Leaders have to be able to promote, demonstrate, and support constructive insubordination.” (68)  “We have to make it possible for people to argue with each other—up, own, in out, and sideways—if we are to realize the best from today’s diverse and talented workforce.” (69-70)


“Leaders must decide on what matters in life, before they can live a life that matters.” (90) “Until you passionately believe in something it’s hard to imagine that you could ever convince anyone else to believe.  And if you wouldn’t follow you, why should anyone else?” (97-98)


According to thousands of surveys “being forward-looking is second only to honesty as their most admired leader in quality.”  (99)  Today’s leaders stink at it.”  “…this is the competency that has shown up as being the least understood, appreciated, and demonstrated.” (100)  [As someone said, Forecasting is difficult – especially about the future. dlm]


“To increase our ability to conceive of new and creative solutions to today’s problems, we have to stop, look, and listen.  We have to stop doing for some amount of time each day.” (103)  “It’s imperative that we spend less time on daily operations and more time on future possibilities.” (106)


“What people really want to hear is not the leader’s vision.”  “They want to hear how their dreams will come true and their hopes will be fulfilled.  They want to see themselves in the picture of the future that the leader is painting.  The very best leaders understand that their key task is inspiring a shared vision….” (108)


“…very few adults like to be told in so many words, ‘Here is where we’re going, so get on board with it.’’  “They want to feel part of the process.” (108)  As one employee said to the boss, “We want to walk with you while you create the goals and vision so we all get to the end vision together.” (109)  “We want to walk with our leaders.  We want to dream with them.  We want to invent with them.” (110)


“Getting others excited about future possibilities is not about creating better PowerPoint presentations.”  “It’s about intimacy.  It’s about familiarity.  It’s about empathy.  The kind of communication needed to enlist others in a common vision requires understanding constituents at a much deeper level than we normally find comfortable.  It requires understanding others’ strongest yearnings and their deepest fears.  It requires a profound awareness of their joys and their sorrows.  It requires experiencing life as they experience it.  Being able to do this is not magic, nor is it rocket science.  It really calls for listening very, very closely to what other people want.’ (112)


Breakthrough innovations “are, in fact, the result of superb and attentive listening.  They are the result of being closely attuned to the environment.  They are the result of a great appreciation of people’s aspirations.” (113)


“There’s too much focus on the leader leading and not enough on that same leader following.  ‘A good leader is also a good follower.’” (122 quoting Susanna Wong)


“…leadership is a dynamic relationship between leaders and followers in which the roles of leader and follower are often exchanged.  It’s the kind of relationship in which leaders transform followers into leader.” (123)


“Being a follower is good for the soul.”  (128)


Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus.  Her actions were not complex or superhuman.  They were simple and mundane.  But she shows that it is possible for one person to make a difference. 


“Courageous acts flow from a commitment to deeply held beliefs—you just can’t separate the two.” (151) “We all have the capacity to create Rosa Parks Moments.” (152)  “Rosa Parks Moments are turning points in our lives.” (153) 


“Modesty may not seem like an important leadership virtue these days, but failure to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground invariable leads to the greatest leadership sin of all—hubris.  Excessive pride has gotten more than a fair share of leaders and companies in a heap of trouble.” (158)  “We have to be vigilant in noticing our mistakes and admitting them before they’re printed in the press.” (159)  “Humility and grace make up the antidote to the poison of excessive pride and the rapacious harm that it does to our lives.” (162)


There are countless chances to make a difference every day in the lives of those we lead.  “Leading is not about what we gain from others but about what others gain from us.” (178) 


“The legacy you leave is the life you lead.  We lead our lives daily.  We leave our legacy daily.  The people you see, the decisions you make, the actions you take—they are what tell your story.” (180) 



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