The Five Traits That Define Effective Leadership

What are the characteristics of a good leader?

A session at NAIOP’s 2020 Chapter Leadership and Legislative Retreat last week, “Effective Leadership: Timeless Practices, Timely Tactics,” grappled with that question by examining the enduring wisdom of a classic book.

Jeffrey Cufaude, the president and CEO of Idea Architects, based his session on “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. Originally published in 1987, the book is now in its sixth edition, published in 2017. “The Leadership Challenge” has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.

According to the book, leadership is “the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.”

“The reason the word ‘struggle’ is in there is because sometimes, it is going to be a struggle,” Cufaude said. “They want to be upfront about that. We want you to sign on for that struggle.”

According to “The Leadership Challenge,” there are five practices that define exemplary leadership.

First Practice: Model the Way

According to the “Leadership Challenge” website, “Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, peers, colleagues and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow.”

 To do this, a leader has to find their own voice by clarifying their values.

“If people don’t trust your character, it doesn’t matter what happens next,” Cufaude said. “What are the values others should most associate with your brand of leadership?”

Additionally, leaders should set great examples by aligning actions with shared values.

Second Practice: Inspire a Shared Vision

According to the “Leadership Challenge” website, great leaders “envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become.”

Cufaude said this part is all about the vision and not the person.

“This does not mean you have to be charismatic,” he said. “It means you have to have a compelling vision for your organization.”

To make this happen, a leader must envision the future by imagining exciting possibilities; according to Cufaude, five years is a workable time frame.

The second way to achieve this is to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.

“It’s kind of like the classic insurance sales technique,” Cufaude said. ”‘Do you want to provide for your loved ones after you’re gone? I’m here to help you.’ It’s a series of questions that inspire head nods and ‘yes’ responses. If you want to get buy-in, get people to contribute.”

Third Practice: Challenge the Process

This involves searching for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow and improve. It also means that leaders should experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes.

According to Cufaude, avoiding “analysis paralysis” is crucial here.

“Rather than studying a new program forever and ever and then releasing it, put out an MVP – minimum valuable product – and then experiment and adjust that as you go along,” he said. “Learn what works and what doesn’t. Try a lot of stuff to see what works.”

Fourth Practice: Enable Others to Act

To do this, a great leader must foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. Additionally, they should strengthen others by sharing power and discretion.

“This is the delegation part of leadership,” Cufaude said. “You share decision-making authority to give people power to make decisions so they’re not coming to you for approval all the time.”

Fifth Practice: Encourage the Heart

This involves recognizing others by showing appreciation for individual contributions.

“You need to put a system in place to do that,” Cufaude said. “You have to make it specific, very detailed feedback, not just a generic ‘good job.’ ”

Another way leaders can achieve this is by celebrating values and victories. This helps to create a spirit of community. “We can’t do too much of this,” Cufaude said.

In a final piece of advice, Cufaude urged open communication when leaders notice that people aren’t engaged in the process.

“Go talk to them,” he said. “Ask them what you can do to get them more involved. Don’t assume that people don’t care or are too busy. Speak the behavior that you’re seeing.”

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