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Encouraging the heart

Book cover

by James S. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Jossey-Bass, 1999.


Management is not just about the head. Caring is a key aspect of management. Seven ways of exhibiting it are offered with 150 specific suggestions.

(Reviewed by Kevin Barham in January 2001)

(These book reviews offer a commentary on some aspects of the contribution the authors are making to management thinking. Neither Ashridge nor the reviewers necessarily agree with the authors’ views and the authors of the books are not responsible for any errors that may have crept in.

We aim to give enough information to enable readers to decide whether a book fits their particular concerns and, if so, to buy it. There is no substitute for reading the whole book and our reviews are no replacement for this. They can give only a broad indication of the value of a book and inevitably miss much of its richness and depth of argument. Nevertheless, we aim to open a window on to some of the benefits awaiting readers of management literature.)

Are leaders born or made? The debate will continue forever. But here's a book that firmly says everybody can, and should, develop leadership skills. In today's complex business environment, leadership is everyone's business. In promoting this message, the book draws on the power of a very simple principle of human performance: people like to be recognised for doing their best.

Leadership, say authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner, is not about a position or a place. It's an attitude and a sense of responsibility for making a difference. Many people assume that money is the mainstay of motivation. But, in truth, the desire to accomplish extraordinary things is linked to basic human need: we all want to be respected for who we are and to be recognised for the things we do. While many leaders know this from experience, few know how best to act on it, however.

Kouzes and Posner aim to offer a deeper understanding of one of the most elusive aspects of leadership - caring - and how it works. To this end, they provide a set of principles, practices and examples which, they claim, will show how to energise people to excel and then reach for even greater heights. They maintain that people will aspire to higher standards of performance when they are genuinely appreciated for their dedication and publicly recognised for their extraordinary achievements.

The authors' earlier research shows that when getting extraordinary things done, leaders:

  • challenge the process.
  • inspire a shared vision.
  • enable others to act.
  • model the way.
  • encourage the heart.

Kouzes and Posner have found that the more frequently leaders engage in these five leadership practices, the more effective they are as leaders on numerous measures of satisfaction and productivity. As they have shown in previous publications, all five principles are essential to exemplary leadership and none alone is sufficient. This most recent book, however, concentrates on encouraging the heart partly because they found a paucity of resources in print on this particular aspect of leadership to share with their students and the managers attending their workshops. They were also determined to change the view that the human side of business is 'soft'. Encouraging the heart, they say, is actually one of the most difficult aspects of leadership.

The book is designed to describe what leaders do to encourage the heart of their people, explain the principles underlying their practices, provide some examples of real leaders demonstrating these actions, and then offer some suggestions on how the reader can start putting them into practice.

The first part of the book introduces the basic message about encouraging the heart: the core of effective leadership is genuinely caring for people. It describes the research supporting this point of view and presents a succinct case study illustrating the seven essentials of encouraging the heart. It also offers a short 21-item 'Encouragement Index' that enables the reader to assess his or her strengths in this dimension of leadership and identify opportunities for improvement.

Part two goes on to explore the seven essentials in detail, bringing in the research of other scholars and illustrating each essential with case examples. The essentials represent a set of recognisable, learnable, and repeatable actions leaders take that both make people feel special and reinforce the standards of the enterprise. For each essential, the authors also ask a set of questions to help the aspiring leader clarify his or her own approach and attitude and indicate where they could do more. The seven 'heart encouragement' essentials proposed by Kouzes and Posner are:

  1. Set clear standards. This means the leader must be clear about both goals and values (or principles). While goals are shorter-term, values are more enduring and define the arena in which goals and metrics must be set. Unless there are clear values and principles, people will be unsure where they are going, what the ground rules are that govern how we behave, or how they are doing along the way. It is also difficult for leaders to recognise performance when they don't know what to look for.
  2. Expect the best. Successful leaders expect the best from their people as this is the only way to get the best. People tend to live up, or down, to our expectations of them. And as people learn they are capable of performing in particular ways, they begin to develop a self-expectation of high performance which becomes self-fulfilling.
  3. Pay attention. When successful leaders expect the best, they are much more able to pay attention to what's going on around them and find examples of people who are living up to and exceeding expectations. Leaders are always on the lookout for exemplars of values and standards. If people know there is a caring leader in their midst, patrolling the organisation in search of achievements to celebrate, they will be stimulated to show something that can be honoured and celebrated. And in a supportive climate, people are also much more likely to help each other succeed.
  4. Personalise recognition. The best leaders get to know the person so that when it comes time to recognise achievement, they know a way to make it special, meaningful and memorable. Failure to learn something about others can result in an act of recognition that has no meaning, that may even hurt or diminish someone, or may be culturally inappropriate (as in the case of the Asian employee who was rewarded for his exceptional contribution to a project by giving him his own corner office; he was horrified as he felt it destroyed the feeling of teamwork and his future relations with his team members).
  5. Tell the story. Great leaders are great storytellers. Story telling is an essential skill for communicating the lessons that we learn from highly complex, challenging situations (and research shows that stories can be a more powerful means of persuasion than statistics). Well-told stories reach inside us and pull us along; they give us the actual experience of being there and of learning what is really important about the experience. Furthermore, leaders find many ways to broadcast and publicise stories of recognition and use all available media to boast about the good things going on in their organisations. (This section includes some useful practical guidelines for telling stories that acknowledge achievement - for instance, remind people of the values and principles involved in the story, and find a way to add a surprise or an element of amazement).
  6. Celebrate together. Leaders bring people together to share the successes of their colleagues and to provide needed support to each other. Such celebrations build community, create a sense of belonging and reinforce important values. This kind of social support is essential to people's well-being and productivity. This applies to leaders as well as their employees. The best leaders want to get closer to their people than do the poorer performers. Leaders who try to become closer are not only likely to be more successful, research shows they are also more likely to be healthy. (The authors suggest that it is essential for the leader under pressure to nurture a strong personal support network as a place to let off steam and as a forum for brainstorming.)
  7. Set the example. More than anything, people want leaders who are credible. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. But to be credible, leaders must do what they expect others to do. When it comes to sending a message throughout the organisation, nothing communicates more clearly than what the leaders actually do. If they want to create and sustain a culture of recognition and celebration, they have to set the example. If your people see and hear you thanking people for their contributions, telling stories about their accomplishments, and taking part in celebrating successes, the more likely you are to see them doing the same.

For Kouzes and Posner, these seven essentials of encouraging the heart are core leadership skills. It is not just about showing people that they can win for the sake of making them feel good. When trying to raise quality, recover from disaster, start up a new service, or make dramatic change of any kind, leaders must make sure that people experience in their hearts that what they do matters.

The last part of the book sums up and provides advice on 'how to find your voice'. This confronts the reader with some fundamental questions: 'Who are you anyway? Are you what you say you are? And does that embody what others want to become? How much do you really care about the people you lead?' These are not trite questions. Think about them.

Finally, the book sets out 150 ways in which readers can themselves apply the seven leadership essentials. For example, the authors recommend that leaders who are intent on improving their approach should practise 'living with encouraging the heart'. Create a plan, they say, to make it part of your life for a week in which you should include some element of encouraging the heart at work, at home, in the neighbourhood, while shopping and so on. For one week, see what it's like to live with this practice. Try it.

Barry Posner is a professor of organisational behaviour and dean of a US business school. James Kouzes is chairman of Tom Peters Group/Learning Systems and the book has much of the upbeat, inspirational flavour that we expect from Tom Peters himself. Fortunately, it is a lot shorter and more concise than some of the excellence guru's own books. Its strength perhaps lies not so much in its originality as the way in which the authors synthesise their own research with that of other management scholars to present a straightforward and practical leadership approach that many managers could apply and adapt to good effect in their own teams and organisations. (One noticeable omission is a reference to the work of Roger Harrison, the influential management theorist and consultant. Harrison was one of the earliest writers to call for the creation of 'love in the workplace' on the grounds that this would help employees' genuine desire to provide improved service to internal and external customers overcome the constraints on better and more individualized service often imposed by organisational systems. Harrison's writings in this area would repay a visit.)

One reservation about Encouraging the Heart: the book, despite its admonishment to consider the cultural underpinnings of individuals when choosing rewards, promotes a model that is largely inspired by experience in the highly individualistic Anglo-Saxon organisational culture. Managers in global organisations need to give some thought as to its total applicability in different cultural settings around the world.

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