We have probably all started, inherited, or established leadership teams. This is a time of excitement and of anxiety as leaders feel out each other’s styles and quirks. It is helpful in these times to have a method for how you start to establish the leadership foundation in which you will all stand. Below I have outlined a method that Bill and I have both used and modified over the years. This is just one way to do it, but I have found success in going about it methodically.  There is no one right way to do this, but there are many wrong ways. I hope you will find some value in this model.

So why is creating a leadership foundation critical to the success of your organization? Without a compass, we will lose our way. We must all share the same true north in order to function as a high performing leadership team.  “Credibility is the foundation of leadership.” “If you do not believe in the messenger, you won’t believe in the message.”– Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge

How does the team begin to clarify what they will stand for? We start with three basic questions:

  1. How will we act as a leadership team?
  2. What are our core values?
  3. How will we hold each other accountable?

In order to become a leader, it is important that I first define my values and my principles. That’s the first exercise we do as a team. Here is how you take the team through the first exercise.

  • Exercise #1

Discuss how we will conduct ourselves as a leadership team. (Take 15-20 minutes to discuss)

  • Exercise #2

Come up with 4 core values the team can agree on. (Take 20-30 minutes)

Now that we have our core values, let’s look at our principles. To begin, let’s review examples of exemplary leadership.

The 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership

  1. Leaders Model the Way.
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision.
  3. Challenge the Process.
  4. Enable Others to Act.
  5. Encourage the Heart.

I find it helpful here to give examples of principles. This is where as a leader you should draw from your past experience. These are examples and that is important to stress. The team in the end should agree on the principles that are right for this team and organization.

Suggested Principle #1

Challenge the status quo.

Challenging the status quo of the entire organization is really none of my business. I need to take this principle and apply it to my sphere of influence.

Progress is always preceded by change. If things are going to improve, then something has to change. Change is always preceded by challenge. It is absolutely necessary for someone to challenge the status quo in order to create change.

As a leader, we have to challenge what is……..the current state; But, we must combine it with a vision of what it should be. Leadership is about pointing people to a preferred future.

Suggested Principle #2

Be a listening culture.

Why is it important to be a listening culture? Because every idea has a shelf life and the next generation product will not come from the previous generation. To effectively create change, we should be open to new ideas and not see them as a threat. We should be willing to listen to many ideas, to get to the great ideas. The only way to benefit from ideas is to know where the ideas are, to hear from those who have them. We should create an atmosphere where people feel like we are open to hearing their ideas and implementing new ones.

“Leaders must challenge the process because any system will unconsciously conspire to maintain the status quo and prevent change.” – Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge

If we are not careful, we will wake up in an organization that is conspiring against us. If we feel like we have to work around our own processes, then we need to challenge these processes.  A lot of time as leaders, we are the status quo which makes it even more important for us to challenge status quo. Success breeds complacency and complacency breeds failure!

Suggested Principle #3

Make it better.

It is our responsibility to speak up when you see how something could be done better. We have to encourage and reward good ideas. Our mission and our vision are permanent but our model is temporary. Marry the mission and date the model. There is nothing about our model (approach) that is sacred. Inquire about what is not working in our model.

Suggested Principle #4

Be a raving fan publicly and an honest critic privately.

Until we decide together to change something publicly show your support for the current state, but bring your insights and concerns privately so we can discuss and make it better.

People around us must feel empowered to challenge the process. Leaders are born critiques and it is OK to feel like you could do it better. It is worth repeating. Leaders by nature are critics. As leaders, we can learn from each other’s insight. It is not rebellion to feel, as a leader, you could do it better. We must mature to a place where we appreciate stability. We cannot change everything all the time, but we have to change some things some time.

A challenge to a process is not a challenge to our leadership or authority. Just remember at some point the decision was a great one, so appreciate the past and welcome the future.

We have to develop the art of challenging the process without challenging the authority of your leader. This has to do with language, tone and timing. Follow through now and debrief later.

Public loyalty breeds private influence.

This moves us into the next exercise of defining our principles.

  • Exercise #3 (Take 60-90 minutes)

Let’s agree on our guiding principles as a leadership team. Remember: Despite their difference, people’s workplace engagement is a result of how their leaders behave. Make sure that the team does not try and develop more than 4-5 principles. Too many are too hard to remember and if you cannot recall them then your chances of living them grow slim.

One you have defined your core values and your principles let the team ponder them for a few days and then revisit. Tweak them where they need to be and then take the bold step of communicating them to your organization. Give each other and your staff permission to hold each leader accountable to walking out this leadership model. Over time this will allow you to build strong alliances, win the respect of your staff, and provide them with a stable consistent leadership experience. In another post we will talk about the model for how to start this same type of work across your front line associates.





Photo credit: DIY.DESPAIR.COM


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