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5 Practices of Exemplary Leaders

Industry Advice Business Leadership

When scanning stories about Angelina Jolie, a question occurred to me. How did she transform from a wild young starlet, known for wearing her husband’s blood in a vial around her neck and kissing her brother on the lips, into a world-renowned humanitarian, movie star, mother of six, and spokesperson who bravely announced her mastectomy? As I pondered this, I realized Jolie is actually what I call a “transformational leader” and clearly demonstrates one of the transformational leadership models I teach in the Master of Science in Leadership program at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies. The model is called the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.”

While I knew this leadership model—developed by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, and described in their work The Leadership Challenge—applied to organizational leaders, Jolie helped me understand how it can apply to people in all walks of life.

Let’s explore the five practices as they relate to all kinds of leaders.

1. Model the Way

Leaders who model the way exhibit two key behaviors. They “Clarify Their Values” and “Set an Example.” Their actions are aligned with their values. When Jolie, one of the sexiest women in the world, announced she had a double mastectomy and wanted to use her experience as a teachable moment to help other women, it was a powerful example of modeling the way.

2. Inspire a Shared Vision

Kouzes and Posner identify “Envisioning the Way” and “Enlisting Others” as two ways leaders can inspire a shared vision. Bill and Melinda Gates immediately come to my mind. They’ve established for their foundation a clear vision focusing on five areas: Global Development, Global Health, U.S. Programs, Global Policy, and Advocacy. They’ve also convinced other wealthy people, such as Warren Buffet, to donate part of their fortune to their foundation.

3. Challenge the Process

How many of you reading this blog have an iPhone, iPad, or Apple computer? Or perhaps the devices you use are enabled by the technology Apple developed. The transformation in technology wouldn’t be available if Steve Jobs had not “Searched for Opportunities” and “Experimented and Taken Risks”—two behaviors of exemplary leaders.

4. Enable Others to Act

Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African leader, exemplifies this. By “Fostering Collaboration” and “Strengthening Others,” he was able to successfully lead South Africa through the dismantling of apartheid while encouraging racial reconciliation.

5. Encourage the Heart

Leaders encourage the heart by “Recognizing the Contributions of Others” and by “Celebrating the Use of Values and Victories.” When thinking about this practice, I glanced at the Mighty Mouse trophy I won during one of my favorite jobs. I have long forgotten the accomplishment we celebrated, but I clearly remember the spirit of community and appreciation I felt when I won the award.

How about you? Can you think of a leader, friend, peer, or family member who exhibits one or more of the practices of Exemplary Leadership?