The Truth About Leadership

Ten Enduring Truths That Cross Every Generation

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s provide some outstanding insight in their book, The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know. Kouzes and Posner have studied leadership for three decades and have written some of the most well-respected leadership material around.

So what makes this book different? Admittedly, they had originally set out to write a book about leading the Millennial generation. However, as they began their research, they discovered that Millennials’ concerns and issues about leadership were not much different from their older brothers and sisters, and even their parents. Essentially, age made no difference. Kouzes and Posner observed, “Good leadership is good leadership, regardless of age. It became very apparent once again that the context of leading may change a lot, but the content of leading changes very little.”

So, the authors changed their focus. Rather than writing a book about leading Millennials, Kouzes and Posner chose to focus on the issues of leadership that are enduring, true, and relevant for all generations. Their research (gleaned from 30 years of work, and two years of analysis of over one million responses to their Leadership Practices Inventory… from over 70 countries) served as the basis of TEN LEADERSHIP TRUTHS:

Truth #1: You Make A Difference – “Everything you will ever do as a leader is based on one audacious assumption. It’s the assumption that you matter.” In fact, research has shown that a leader’s behavior impacts why people feel engaged and positive about their workplace more than any other characteristic.

Truth #2: Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership – The four most desired characteristics in a leader are honesty, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. These are the qualities necessary to be credible to your followers.

Truth #3: Values Drive Commitment – “Clarity about personal values has the most significant impact on employees’ feelings about their work and what they’re doing in the workplace…People cannot commit fully to anything unless it fits with their own beliefs.” Leaders must “build and affirm a community of shared values.”

Truth #4: Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart – Kouzes and Posner observe that leaders are responsible to be “custodians of the future,” and yet top executives only spend 3% of their time “thinking about, and getting others on board with, the critical issues that will shape their business ten or more years down the road.” Leaders must be optimistic, spend more time in the future, and set up a futures research team.

Truth #5: You Can’t Do It Alone – The authors observe, “The very best leaders understand that it’s about inspiring a shared vision, not about selling their own idiosyncratic views of the world.” The word “with” is a key word when leaders are dreaming and tackling challenges. They must work closely with a team.

Truth #6: Trust Rules – Amazingly, in one survey more people said they trust a stranger than they trust their boss. And yet, organizations with a high level of trust outperform low-trust organizations in total return to shareholders by 286%. When risk is high, people are willing to risk more.

Truth #7: Challenge is the Crucible for Greatness – Leaders must have grit, be willing to fail, and recognize that significant accomplishments often involve adversity, difficulty, change, and challenge.

Truth #8: You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All – Kouzes and Posner observe that leaders must focus more on being believable rather than interesting. Actions truly do speak louder than words. The authors observe, “Quite often the greatest distance that leaders have to travel is the distance from their mouths to their feet.”

Truth #9: The Best Leaders are the Best Learners – One quote summarizes this chapter exceptionally well: “Learning is the master skill. When you fully engage in learning–when you throw yourself whole-heartedly into experimenting, reflecting, reading, or getting coaching–you are going to experience the thrill of improvement and the taste of success. More is more when it comes to learning.” Is “learning” the master skill of your life?

Truth #10: Leadership is an Affair of the Heart – Leaders are not just concerned about the bottom line…they pay attention to the human heart. Caring and loving others is the foundation of truth #10.

Question: Which truth should be on your personal growth radar?