By: Anne Massaro, Ph.D.
Project Manager, Office of Human Resources
James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, identified “modeling the way” as one of five practices of exemplary leadership. Others of us know this practice as “leading by example” and being aware of the “shadow we are casting.” From my perspective, it is the most critical leadership practice. When we ask our colleagues to engage in something for which they have reluctance, and when we ask our colleagues to embrace new behaviors, they will hesitate long enough to see if we are fully engaged and willing to embrace what is uncomfortable, different and new. If our leaders are not fully engaged in a new strategy and in changing their own behavior to meaningfully contribute to the new strategy, why should we?
In a recent retreat, a participant reminded me of the quote, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” I don’t know the author of this quote, and the author’s name wasn’t offered to me. The meaning of the quote, however, I know. We do what our leaders do. Consciously and unconsciously, we commit when our leaders commit. We walk the talk when we observe those we deem credible walking the talk. We risk our personal investment when they risk and personally invest.
The Ohio State University values give us hundreds of opportunities every day to “model the way.” If I am accountable for successes and for mistakes, others around me will do the same. If I am open to receiving feedback, and acting on the feedback I receive, it will be easier for those around me to be open to feedback. If I communicate in honest and direct ways, I will likely receive the same, in return. Values on the wall are nice to have and they sound impressive. Lived values, values “in-use” are what will really change culture, one person at a time.
Here is a video that goes into more detail about The Leadership Challenge