Jim Kouzes: How Dialogue Skills Contribute to Exemplary Leadership

Part 1 of 4

About Our Guest: Jim Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership at Santa Clara University and coauthor with Barry Posner of the internationally award-winning and bestselling book, The Leadership Challenge, with more than 2 million copies sold. Jim and Barry have co-authored more than 30 other books, including The Truth About Leadership, Credibility, Encouraging the Heart, and A Leader’s Legacy. The Wall Street Journal named Jim as one of the ten best executive educators in the U.S., and in 2010 he was presented the Thought Leader Award by the Instructional Systems Association and in 2010 through 2012 recognized as one of HR Magazine’s Top 20 Most Influential International Thinkers.  – Doctor Duncan

In your practice you often make the point that leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue. How does dialogue inspire a shared vision and enable others to act?

Leadership is a relationship, and strong relationships are built on mutual understanding. You can get to that mutual understanding only through conversation and dialogue.

Jim Kouzes

This means that you can’t adopt the view that visions come from the top down. You have to start engaging others in a collective dialogue about the future, not delivering a monologue. You can’t mobilize people to willingly travel to places they don’t want to go. No matter how grand the dream of an individual visionary, if others don’t see in it the possibility of realizing their hopes and desires, they won’t follow voluntarily or wholeheartedly.

To become an exemplary leader, you must develop a deep appreciation of the collective hopes, dreams, and aspirations of your constituents. Constituents come to believe in their leaders—to see them as worthy of their trust—when they believe that the leaders have the constituents’ best interests at heart.

Leaders who are clearly interested only in their own agendas, their own advancement, and their own wellbeing will not be followed willingly. You have to reach out and attend to others, be present with them, and listen to them.

This isn’t just theory. We know from our research that when leaders seek consensus around shared values, constituents are more positive. People who report that their managers engage in dialogue regarding common values feel a significantly stronger sense of personal effectiveness than individuals who feel that they’re wasting energy trying to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing.

What else does good dialogue bring to relationships?

Dialogue also produces clarity. One study, for example, reported 185 different behavioral expectations about the value of “integrity” alone. Even with commonly identified values, there may be little agreement on the meaning of the values statements.

The lesson here is that leaders must engage their constituents in conversation about matters of principle. A common understanding of values emerges from a process, not a pronouncement.

So dialogue helps produce a sense of community?

Exactly. Exemplary leaders also know that they can’t do it alone. Nothing extraordinary ever happened without the enthusiastic and committed involvement of others. Leadership is not a solo performance. It’s a team effort. Leaders need partners to make extraordinary things happen in organizations.

Therefore, effective leaders invest in creating trustworthy relationships. They build spirited and cohesive teams, teams that feel like family. They actively involve others in planning and give them the discretion to make their own decisions. Leaders make others feel like owners, not hired hands.

Leaders develop collaborative goals and cooperative relationships with colleagues. They are considerate of the needs and interests of others. They know that these relationships are the keys that unlock support. Leaders bring people together, creating an atmosphere where people understand that they have a shared fate and that they must treat others as they would like to be treated. Mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary group efforts.

Coming up:

Part 2: Feedback, Learning, Performance, Improvement
Part 3: Why You Should Hone Your Storytelling Skills
Part 4: Why Leadership Skills Are Vital for Entrepreneurs

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Rodger Dean Duncan

Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP and a regular contributor to Forbes and Fast Company magazines. He is widely known for his expertise in the strategic management of change, for organizations and for individuals. In 1972 he founded Duncan Worldwide to train and develop leaders. His clients have included some of the top companies in the world, as well as cabinet officers in two White House administrations.
Rodger Dean Duncan

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