The Truth about Leadership
The “Truth about Leadership,” by James Kouzes & Barry Posner, is no fly by night, shoot from the hip leadership book based on personal opinion or fad. It contains ten universal leadership principles based on 30 years of research and more than one million responses to Kouzes and Posner’s leadership assessment.
Don’t get me wrong. The Truth about Leadership doesn’t read like a research book. In reality, I found it encouraging. Some leadership books show you how to be a better leader. Kouzes and Posner made me want to be better leader.
The ten leadership truths are:
#1. You make a difference
#2. Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership
#3. Values drive commitment
#4. Focusing on the future sets leaders apart
#5. You can’t do it alone
#6. Trust rules
#7. Challenge is the crucible for greatness
#8. You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all
#9. The best leaders are the best learners
#10. Leadership is an affair of the heart
My favorite leadership truth
I’m frequently asked, “What advice do you have for young leaders?” Because of, “The Truth about Leadership,” I tell them, “Believe you matter.” Kouzes and Posner put it this way, “Everything you will ever do as a leader is based on one audacious assumption. It’s the assumption that you matter.”
Give yourself permission to make a positive difference. The ultimate leadership question is, “What difference will you make?”
Although, “The Truth about Leadership,” is rooted in research, it’s not stiff. It’s an easy read filled with stories and illustrations. In addition, subheadings and highlighted text carry the reader from page to page.
Kouzes and Posner’s research indicates the ten fundamental truths about leadership universally apply across cultures, contexts, and generations. Master them and you’ll master leadership.
What fundamental truth about leadership most applies to your current situation?
Jim left a comment for Leadership Freak readers at “How Jim Kouzes has Changed.”
Thanks for this – an easy to digest breakdown (which is exactly what I need!). I’ll start following your posts so I hope to learn more!
Great insight Dan!
You will never how many people you have helped, but I will tell I am one and I’m sure that you are touching thousands if not millions with your heart and soul of Leadership values!
The Leadership truths are very true, I just never realized how many of them we use not knowing the results!
The old saying “you only get out life what you put in comes to mind’!
Better yet “believe in others and they will believe in you”
#7 Challenge is the crucible for greatness. When it all runs smooth, complacency accumulate like moss on a river rock. Nothing changes. Vision dulls. Standards of expectation lower. Mediocrity moves in to stay.
But tension, that’s another matter. Challenge forces the leader to new heights. Status quo looks silly in the backdrop of new possibilities. Opportunity raises head and shoulders above the myriad of the mundane.
That’s what I’ve noticed in the last 12 to 18 months with the US economy and its impact on our business and in ministry leadership.
I like it!
My favorite is #9 – The best Leaders are the best Learners. I can’t tell you how many times I have worked for a leader who refuses to recognize the need to grow with their team. Somewhere in leadership charm schools they must be teaching folks that it’s a sign of weakness to admit you don’t know everything?
I agree Steve, if you are done learning, you are done leading. If you are not growing, then you are dying.
As a community leader, I find it difficult to believe, that I’m a leader, or that I can make a difference.
It is my desire to make a difference, but its hard to believe thst I could.
I enjoy reading leadership books, and learning and applying what I learn from them
Drawing on your own great leadership, I’d like to add that “You inspire others to use their brains and voices and hearts and minds.”
#2 Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership. Amen! Character, competence, and a commitment to behave responsibly 24/7 is the essence of credibility. People want to be led by authentic people they can trust. Lose that and people will gravitate away from you faster than a race horse.
“You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all”
I don’t think I have ever before encountered the entire foundation of leadership in one succinct sentence.
I agree to all ten leadership truths. And universally applied among them are – trust, credibility, values and challenges etc. The core of leadership starts at heart. We need courage to exercise leadership. I also believe that respect is equally important for effective leadership. Delegation, empowerment, encouragement are equally important. But all originate from action that comes from courage. I firmly believe that courage is driver of effective leadership quality. The most fundamental truth applies to my current situation is trust, transparency, integrity and role model. Usually people complain about lack of trust, transparency. They point out the gap between promise and action. They also want to follow some role model,but unfortunately they do not find it. I have seen this is the perhaps universal problem in every organization.
The solutions to these often neglected and much discussed issues lies in creating trust, building integrity and meeting promises. When people lose trust, they lose commitment and loyalty. Even the higher pay and perks may not restore trust. But non monetary recognition measures can restore trust if each employee is treated like family member and he or she should not feel differential treatment from the leader or his or her colleagues.
Credibility is foundation of trust and it is a both way process. Be credible to create credible environment.
What a great list of leadership essentials! Credibility is key and provides the foundation for so many more of those on this list. Can’t wait to read the book!
I’m intrigued by #6 “Trust Rules”. I have always been somewhat of a “rules are more like guidelines” type of person. I am interested in learning more about how effective leaders learn to trust rules.
I can see where you might think “trust rules” means trusting rules. However “trust rules” is actually about the importance of credibility and how to earn it.
Thanks for your note and good luck on the book give away.
Yeah, like saying trust calls the shots. Or trust is king. Or trust reigns.
Leading by example is crucial. Too many so-called leaders like to tell others to do things they have never done themselves. You are not a leader unless you are leading people to do what you are willing to do yourself.
If you will not, then they will not.
Great post Dan !! Thanks for sharing this review. In looking at the 10 truths I’d have to pick “Trust rules.”
So often, trust is the baseline issue in most people I encounter. It’s interesting because people keep following the “trust must be earned” model. Honestly, I don’t think that people can live up to that because, as humans, we will disappoint each other as some point in time.
I follow the mantra of “Give trust first” – even if you erode or tear at that trust. I think leaders need to model all facets of great behavior, but trust is the foundation.
I have found that trusting people from our first meeting gives them the encouragement and reassurance that they have value – which they do. Too many people want people to “perform” in order to get affirmation and acknowledgement. This doesn’t work.
Trust first. It never fails.
“Believe you matter” is a key — absolutely — as long as it is connected to your next point from the book:
You matter to make a positive difference! Ego maniacs believe they matter yet they are not leaders. Leaders believe they can change something for the better and use all the other principles in the book as well as so many of the insights you have shared in your blog … to make a positive difference.
I love the key point you highlighted. It is the one that non leaders, naysayers, and skeptics often try to refute.
Heh, speaking of Egos…
The best quote I heard yesterday: “Some people’s Ego’s are bigger than their work ethic” Chuck Larsen.
Hah .. good one Alan.
1. For young leaders I agree they matter. More important is the people they lead matter more (see affair of the heart and you can’t do it alone)
2. Where is care on this list? That’s the one that drives me personally. I almost missed one big leadership opportunity because I didn’t care, but I was ‘shamed’ into caring by my coworker, Beth.
You can read that story here: http://bit.ly/9oUEXA
Great principles…………….to me I look at them as having an “AND” after each. Its not a list to pick and choose from, they should all be embraced!!!!
Few books tackle management without oversimplifying. It sounds like this one has the right approach. If the list is any indicator, this ought to be a good read.
Please put my name in the hat.
I recently have been promoted to a Sales Manager position, as individual contributor I only have to motivate myself to get things done.
– Now I am learning as a Leader – you not only have to lead from the front by example, you also have to teach them how.
– It goes back to be a master listener to understand people’s concerns, sometimes they just want to be listened.
– I am also learning that everybody wants to be somebody, everybody wants something better.
– Lastly, everybody loves recognition, everybody has a sign on their chest – that screams – Look at me, I am here.
This sounds like a must-read for anyone serious about leadership. “Give yourself permission to make a positive difference” will be an encouraging, freeing game-changer for many people!
Dan, I enjoyed this post, and the succinct list of 10 leadership truths. I know I mentioned previously that the Tallahassee Leadership Book Club has chosen this book for its November 8 meeting, but just wanted to mention it again in case Jim makes it this far down in the comments. 🙂
You asked: What fundamental truth about leadership most applies to your current situation?
As I have shared before, for the first time in many years, I do not have any direct reports. This is forcing me to ask myself how I am leading if I am not directly supervising. The answer is still forming, but somehow it has to do with my writing, my volunteer coordination activities, and the way I align each and every choice I make with my personal values. I suppose that touches on several of the truths, but it starts with #1: believing I make a difference even if I am not signing time sheets and evaluating performance.
In my personal blog last night (http://waytenmom.blogspot.com/2010/10/its-about-time-for-about-me-mama-kat.html), I finally stopped procrastinating on composing the “about me” page for my website-to-be. The quote that I topped off my about me page with echoes leadersip truth #10 (leadership is an affair of the heart):
You don’t have to get a job with a famous company or hot-shot industry in order to have a spectacular career. You just have to do what you do with reverence.
Thanks Dan! I always learn something everytime I drop by….Blessings to you and your team….Rick
I’m interested in the symbiotic nature of 2 and 3. Seems like credibility can come from doing what you say, but also in having values always guide your decisions.
Also, 6 (Trust) should naturally flow from that, as well as one other thing that Kouzes & Posner highlight in “Encouraging the Heart” – Appreciating others. So, so important.
Love this stuff, thanks for posting Dan.
Much like Court #6 Trust Rules was a surprise to me. Challenging and testing assumptions and “received truth” has always seemed to be a core accountability of Leadership.
Your comment made the concept as envisioned by the authors clearer and more applicable .
Your comment made me wonder about several of the other principles in particular #10.
I am interested in any elaboration you can share on this statement.
Thanks for your comment. I’m going to quote a brief synopsis of #10 directly from the book.
“Leaders are in love with their constituents, their customers and clients, and the mission they are serving… Love is the motivation that energizes leaders to give … ”
Hope that helps,
Best to you,
I come from the perspective of a student leader… I managed a $10.3 million budget as the Student Body President of Florida State University.
What I believe speaks the most volumes and what I’ve seen on college campuses is #5 – You can’t do it alone! So many people think they have all the answers and know it all. I’m a believer that in order to GET, you have to ASK.
How do we communicate this to students of the ME generation?
Thanks for the post and review, Dan.
I agree Laymon…and if you think you are doing it alone, then you are not leading!
Dan, thanks for your continued post. They’re a great way to start the day.
#9 is the one I find most interesting and can relate to the most. We as leaders should not stay stagnant or continue to rely on what we’ve learned in the past. While most of the qualities of great leaders we have read about have been around for many years, it’s good to read a refreshing book or attend a seminar to sharpen those skills. They can easily be lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Thanks again for your post and enjoy your day.
I have to agree with Ajay, one cannot aspire to be a good or even great leader without embracing all ten of the leadership truths. If Jim and Barry haven’t done it already, you guys might consider creating on of those motivation posters with the ten truths – The Ten Truth Commandments of Leadership.
I look forward to reading the book.
To all have a safe and relaxing weekend…Jim
This book is literally life-changer for me!;-)
Thanks Dan, for short sweet and neat sum up!
It’s a privilege to have someone featured in the book stop in to share a good word.
For LF readers, Ivana’s inspiring personal leadership story is featured in the epilogue of “The Truth about Leadership.” You can read her story and learn more at http://ivanasendecka.com/
Best to you,
Hello Dan, indeed excellent list of Leadership Truths.
It all applies here in Pakistan too.
World knows 5-15% of Pakistan which is repeated all the time and thus #7 Challenge is first thing which we encounter a lot, but #11 Believing You Matter is what made me to take action and currently I’m working on an initiative Indo-Pak Peace Media (a movement to bring People of Pakistan & India closer for good )
I’m also great believer in #9 Best leader are the best learner learning all the time enable us to improves every day, encourages us to take action on what we learn / what it requires to make change.
And yes #4 Focusing on the future is my way to go.
Thanks you Dan and all wonderful participant, it is really great learning. Peace
“Believe you matter” is great advice for all leaders, especially young ones. I have consulted with supervisors and managers for many years and have seen how lacking that belief holds one back. I have also seen how someone with less skill, experience and talent can rise above the rest of the pack due to a strong belief that their opinions and work matter. I plan to read this book in the near future and anticipate adding it to me list of “must reads”.
Dan – thank you for such a succinct, powerful distillation of the book. Building on the points you and Kate made, “I make a difference in building a better future because I help others make a difference.” Leadership then becomes about leveraging the best in others.
Leadership is earned/given freely. Take seriously that honor, savor it, share the learnings and apply all the passion you can (and more) enjoying the moments.
# 2 is key…. a great training I once recieved was based on the Speed of Trust by Kovey…. I really believe that all great leaders must have trust in the team and the team in turn must trust their leader….
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
I enjoy your book reviews and recommendations. Kouznes & Pousner are my favorite reading materials.
thanx for the essay, and a welcomed book to be added to my collection
I love #1 – “You Make a Difference.” Everyone has influence on others, the question we must constantly ask is if our influence is a positive thing or a negative thing.
Man, I think this book just nailed it! The Leader of the Future is MUCH different from the ones we have had until now! I will enjoy reading this when I win!!!
#5. You can’t do it alone…this is one that applies to my current situation and any team building stage of a project. It’s about working with others and building relationships with a foundation of credibility and trust (#2 & #6). Two quote come to mind:
“He that thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following him is only taking a walk.” – Unknown (Leadership proverb quoted by John Maxwell)
“True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to.” – Jim Collins
You can’t do it alone! Thanks for the opportunity – I look forward to reading this book!
Again thanks for the review and good recommendation. Been learning lots following your blog. Wished I had this several years ago as #5 just about drove me into the ground.
“You can’t do it alone” I have a friend who’s business is expanding, she recently added five new employees. She was exhausted…working long hours well in to the night and some early mornings, trying to manage it all. I asked her had she thought about delegating some of the responsibilities to any of her employees, was there one employee she could possibly increase their level of responsibility, someone she could develop a little more? It took her just one second and she blurted out a name. I then asked her what top 3 things on her “to do” list could she delegate to this employee. Turns out her newly expanding business needs to be able to implement employee training and develop an employee manual. It was a big step, but I am so proud of her….she delegated! Her employee is challenged and excited, then I said now let her lead that meeting, because she has the competency to do this as well! She’s delegating a lot more now days and her employees are rising to the challenge and its fun!
Dan, fantastic post. I like Ajay said feel one needs to embrace all ten truths. Which one of these is more applicable to my situation. Without a doubt credibility and trust both immediately come to mind. The resiliency needed to persevere comes from the passion of giving and seeing the results. Regards, Al
#9. The best leaders are the best learners definitely sticks out for me. You don’t know everything, be prepared to learn from those around you (particularly your own staff).
Encouraging an environment where people feel they have an opportunity to learn, to experiment, even if it doesn’t work out, is hugely important in my opinion.
Credibility and Trust and Undoubtedly #9. The best leaders are the best learners. – But what happens when you feel there is no more to learn on your assignment. What are you supposed to do here?
“#5. You can’t do it alone”
That’s so true Dan. The first way to be successful as a leader/entrepreneur is to be humble and realize that by pairing with like-minded individuals you’ll effectively open up to unimaginable possibilities.
Dreaming together and working to make that dream come true, that’s the most rewarding of activities.
Thanks for your post. I’ve enjoyed reading both The Leadership Challenge and Encourage the Heart. I look forward to reading this one as well.
While I don’t believe that everyone is a leader, I do believe all people have the potential to become leaders. Believing that you matter is an important truth!
I really like the distinction between the “know-how” of leadership and the “want-to” of leadership. I would love to read this book as I have been a reluctant leader for about 15 years now. I know I should embrace this role God has called me to. Maybe this book would be a spark of encouragement and propulsion toward leading on purpose!
Thanks for sharing.
The most important things which i believe in#5. You can’t do it alone and #9. The best leaders are the best learners.
Thats what i am following.
Before I read this post, I was reflecting this morning on what inspires a worker to be happy to go to their job. I watched my husband as he went to work… and he was excited… really. I realized that his boss has made him feel like a valuable member of a team effort. He wants to be there because he feels like he makes a difference everyday. My conclusion: his boss is a good leader.
Jim is really awesome.
You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all.
I guess this book contains what a leader ought to have. I hope i win a copy of it.
All of those principles sound so interesting but the one that immediately catch my attention is #5. You Can’t Do It Alone. Often I try to do things by myself and often end up creating more problems because I haven’t taken the ideas, considerations and help from others to make it the very best! I’m working hard on involving others instead of trying to do it by myself. This looks like a book that I can learn a great deal from — which relates to #9!
Thanks for the summary.
This is yet another example of how Kouzes and Posner have been “leading the way” in leadership for years. We need a book like this to show us reality without any biases. If only I could get some of the managers in my company to read it…
I like truth #10.”Leadership is an affair of the heart” you have to love what you do to drive the passion to stay committed in leadership. It hurts at times, when people aren’t living up to your expectations or they let you down, but if you are committed in your heart you can stand fast and get past that. I believe it also drives the people following you to get behind a passionate and caring leader, it drives them to do their best and commit to the cause.
#5 is my second favorite, because I had to learn it the hard way and what Cheryl said above is spot on.
It’s hard to choose a favorite amongst this list. Eager to read more about all 10! Thanks for the summary!
This sounds like a great read. I’m getting ready to step into a leadership role overseas and am beyond nervous… I think just remembering #1 will be a challenge
I think #8 – you either lead by example or you don’t lead at all – most applies to what I’m dealing with now because I keep seeing senior managers at work who talk a big game about change but haven’t put any action behind it themselves! Definitely a buzzkill for followers.
Kouzes and Posner’s “Credibility” book transformed my way of thinking about leadership, so “Truth” is totally getting added to my Goodreads list! Thanks for sharing!
My rule #11:
Don’t take yourself to seriously.
Great summary of what sounds like a fantastic book! I’d love to read it. I’ve never thought of myself as a skilled leader. I’d love to win a copy of this book. I promise to read it, digest it, and pass it along to someone else who can put it into action.
I’ve read Kouzes & Posner before and get the Leadership Challenge newsletters so I loved seeing them here, too. I am constantly re-evaluating my impact as a leader in my home, work and the nonprofits I work with so your saying “Give yourself permission to make a positive difference. The ultimate leadership question is, “What difference will you make?”” resonated with me.
When I was young we would go to a multi-generational family cabin where we had fun and made great memories with family and friends but each time we left we had to DO something to leave it better than it was when we got there. I hated it doing the work but it was always rewarding to look back from the car at that last moment and see a new rock path or leaves all raked and know that we did that. I have taken this lesson with me throughout my life. Each job I’ve had I’ve tried to leave it better than it was before even if it meant something as simple as a cleaner countertop.
As president of a nonprofit I have thought a lot about what difference I am making and are people going to remember. I haven’t received any rewards or certificates but I think that they will remember me positively.
Thanks for the post. It was great to think this out loud.
great summary of 10 items in the book and your comment as well – “believe you matter” saying much with few words, followed with the expanding item – great post, even a jump start to the week! thanks for being here for me to read!
Trust rules. Two words that say so much that is pivotal for leadership to be effective. If you don’t trust your own judgment, you are more likely to make bad decisions. If you don’t trust your team, you will not empower them. If you don’t empower your team, they will not lead you and in turn your decision making process will be limited. Trust rules, such a clever play on words, I like it!
How do rank these characteristics? How do you chose which is best among your children? If I was to looking at company that only has the next quarter on its radar, then # 4 is important. I do lean heavily towards the personal character elements of trust (6), credibility(2), values(3) and heart(10). To me these are the “soul/spirit of a person and very, very critical. However, what I do not see listed (and may read in the book???) is the belief in the capability of others – which is necessary for #5 “you can’t do it alone”. A leader must both inspire, model and count on the greater quantity and quality of the output of others. Oh, and let’s not forget continual learning – I shudder when i think of the type of leader I would be if I operated from the knowledge that I had 30n years ago! All of this is not consistent with the scientific musing of those who view leadership as a science (of technique) – not a human skill (and spirit). I applaud you both!
#8. You either lead by example or you don’t lead at all
I try to live this in all aspects, sometimes more successfully than others. Great reminder!
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I was most impressed by all of the truths. How many of our so-called leaders of today adhere to more than one or two of these.
I know I’m jumping on this thread VERY late in the process, but I have to say that I love number 9. While the best leaders are the best learners, I think the reverse is also true–the best learners will become the best leaders.
AWESOME thought for the day. Thanks a bunch for the quick afternoon pick-me-up.
The great thing about this form of leadership teaching style is that instead of just telling you what a leader should do, you are being empowered to be a better person which will make you a better leader. example: (#1. You make a difference) This is influence at its best.