The 5 Practices of Progressive Leaders

Today, many organizations are not only at risk financially, but are at risk of losing their relevance, of becoming the dinosaurs of our modern world.

We can talk all we want about needed change, but unless we have progressive leaders who are willing to think in new ways and venture into new territory, our organizations are likely to stay stuck in the status quo.

So, what makes a leader exceptional in today’s organizational environment? Following are five practices for progressive leadership, each one key to moving organizations forward effectively in today’s world:

Progressive Leadership Practice #1: Model the Way

We’ve all heard the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” While typically verbalized within the context of parenting, it also shows up in organizations – much to the detriment of trust and morale.

Exceptional leaders walk their talk. In their daily lives, they align their deeds and actions with their personal values and, in the workplace, they align their deeds and actions with organizational values. This means that the leadership practice of modeling the way starts with clarifying organizational values and communicating them to all staff and stakeholders.

Once organizational values are clarified and communicated, it’s up to you as a progressive leader to be steadfast to your commitment to them, as well as being alert to discrepancies. This is how leaders earn the right and respect to lead – by embodying what they request.

Progressive Leadership Practice #2: Inspire a Shared Vision

Leaders breathe life into hopes and dreams, helping others see possibilities.

Inspiring a shared vision involves imagining exciting and empowering options for your organization’s future and enrolling others in the dream. Making this a practice is critical because a vision that exists only in the mind of the leader will never be strong enough to create change. Employees must own the vision themselves if the organization expects to move towards a new frontier.

It’s not enough to tell employees where you’re going, you need to explain why you’re going there, how they can help and what change will mean for each constituent.

The ability to inspire other people is directly related to how deeply you know them and, especially, how well you understand their wants and needs. Keep in mind that leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue, and always seek to learn more about your team.

Progressive Leadership Practice #3: Challenge the Process

Exceptional leaders aren’t recognized for how well they maintain the status quo, they’re celebrated for how well they challenge the process.

Progressive leaders continually scan the environment to discover what others are doing and find ways to stay ahead of the curve. In short, they take the initiative to make change.

To grow as leader, you must take on the personal challenge of being a pioneer, of stepping into the unknown in order to innovate and improve.

Listen to your customers, vendors, colleagues and, especially, to those doing the work in your organization. These are the people who know what products, services and programs your customers need and want. Additionally, look outside your organization and into other industries for ideas. You can also maintain an “Organization of the Future” committee 24/7, rather than only tasking your team to vision the future during scheduled strategic planning periods.

Progressive Leadership Practice #4: Enable Others to Act

You may be the dedicated leader, but leadership is not a one-person show. You must create a trusting environment based on collaboration and accountability so that those around you feel safe sticking their necks out.

In enabling others to act, it helps to know that the trust others have in you is a direct result of your competence and integrity – doing what you say you’re going to do. But you also need to trust those around you, giving them the information and skills they need to rise to the occasion and produce unexpected results.

The reality is that Command & Control as a management practice is out. Personal power, commitment, collaboration and connection are what make leaders successful in modern times.

Progressive Leadership Practice #5: Encourage the Heart

Until now, organizational life in many industries was relatively constant. Today, though, we’re asking a lot of our employees in creating change.

If you want your staff to be engaged and moving forward, you must encourage their hearts by personally showing them you care. Taking time for acknowledgement, recognition and celebration of successes is key, and the most inexpensive, personal gestures make the biggest difference.

Leaders sometimes forget that leadership is about the relationship between those who lead and those who follow – and the quality of the relationship matters.

If you want to get extraordinary things done through people within your organization, connect heart to heart. There is nothing more inherently motivating to employees than knowing they matter to the person leading them into unfamiliar territory.

As leaders in 2013, we have a mandate to make real change. Whether this has been verbalized within our organizations or not, the risk of the status quo is simply too great to ignore. But if we’re not continually growing ourselves beyond our own status quo, we can’t expect our organizations to thrive in the current, often turbulent, environment.

Knowing the 5 Practices of Progressive Leadership is a starting point for the journey into a new kind of leadership – one that’s empowering and capable of inspiring dramatic shifts. And the work has just begun.

Next Time: Growing Leaders – Self Awareness & Authenticity

The Leadership Challenge______
Adopted  from The Leadership Challenge, 4th ed 2008, by James M. Kouzes and Barry B. Posner, one of my favorite leadership books.

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