A recent survey of expats named Dubai one of the best places in the world to start a business, a positive indicator for the UAE as it pushes towards its Vision 2021 initiative to be one of the best places in the world for entrepreneurship. For those starting a business, how can they ensure that they’re on track for success? The key, says Jim Kouzes, is great leadership.
Great leadership creates great workplaces. In our research we found that leadership contributes more to positive outcomes than any other single factor. Great products, great strategy, great people are absolutely critical but with poor leadership they produce only a third to a half of their potential. So, entrepreneurs and SMEs striving for great results in their marketplaces should start by investing in the development of exemplary leadership skills.
Identifying the practices of great leadership
When Barry Posner and I began our leadership research over thirty years ago, we had a simple question: What do leaders do when they are operating at their personal best? We wanted to know how they made extraordinary things happen. To uncover these practices we asked people to recall a time when they set an individual leadership standard of excellence, present or past, and then we asked them to tell us what they did during those peak performances. We asked about the context, their intentions, their specific actions, the people involved, lessons learned, and other aspects of their personal-best cases.
We gathered stories from leaders at all levels in the public sector and education, profitbased firms and non-profits, agriculture and high technology, manufacturing and utilities, banking and healthcare, natural resources and retailing, and the arts and community service. The leaders were employees and volunteers, young and old, women and men from over seventy different countries representing many different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.
After analyzing thousands of these leadership experiences, we discovered—and we continue to find—that regardless of the times or the settings, people who guided others along pioneering journeys followed surprisingly similar paths. Though each personalbest experience was unique in its individual expression, there were clearly identifiable behaviors and actions that were consistent across the vast majority of cases.
The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®
We found that when making extraordinary things happen in organizations, leaders engaged in what we call The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. When performing at their best leaders:
- Model the Way
- Inspire a Shared Vision
- Challenge the Process
- Enable Others to Act
- Encourage the Heart
These practices are not the private property of only the people we studied. Nor do they belong to a few select shining stars. The Five Practices are available to anyone who accepts the leadership challenge. Our message is similar to the message of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, and Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE. In 2013 he wrote, “Anyone who can improve the life of those around him is a leader. Anyone who can serve people and make them happy is a leader. A leader is also a person capable of creating positive change, whether at work or at home and of innovating and creating even the simplest of things. All people are born with the seeds of such qualities which they can nurture and grow, so that, bit by bit, they advance on the path to leadership and ultimately evolve into great leaders.”
Meeting the challenge
For businesses today, whether you are an eighty-year-old corporate icon, or a high-tech start-up, nothing is certain. There is no doubt about it; we live in challenging times.
Yet, as surprising as it may sound, in these difficult times we’re likely to see some of the most extraordinary leadership we’ve seen in decades. That’s because leaders don’t do their best when they’re maintaining the status quo or when they feel comfortable.
They do their best when faced with adversity, crisis, and difficulty. Whether that involves developing innovative new services or starting a new agency or business, challenge is the opportunity for greatness. Here in the Gulf, it is widely recognized that exemplary leadership is the key to outstanding organizational success. Wise leaders know that they need to invest in learning the behaviors that will enable them to become the very best they can be—and to develop those same competencies in others. Entrepreneurs ready to make that investment will launch their startups on a path to long term success.