Jim Kouzes: Leading the HR charge

Written by
Jim Kouzes

03 Jul 2017

03 Jul 2017 • by Jim Kouzes

What are the main leadership challenges faced by the Middle East?

According to a 2015 report from the World Economic Forum, 86% of people believe there is a leadership crisis in the world today. Lack of leadership is third on the list of growing trends.

The Middle East is challenged by the same major issues that top the list of concerns in other regions. Organisations in the Middle East are also tasked with keeping up with the demand for a skilled workforce. As engagement of the workforce increases in importance, the region’s organisations need to re-examine internal cultures in order to boost employee retention.

HR practices must be revised and updated to keep pace with external changes and meet the expectations of senior management, which should accelerate the ability of HR to contribute to the development of the business. Leadership remains a perennial issue. In the Middle East, 78% of executives agree that developing leaders is important to the success of their businesses.What are the main leadership challenges faced by the Middle East?

What skills are needed to address these challenges effectively?

The key to making extraordinary things happen in organisations is great leadership. It contributes more to positive outcomes than any other single factor. Great products, great strategy, great people are critical, but with poor leadership they produce only a third to a half of their potential. It takes great leadership to create workplaces that produce great results.

Is a different leadership mindset required to be successful in the future?

The context of leadership has changed in the 33 years since Barry Posner and I started researching exemplary leadership practices. But there are fundamentals that support everything great leaders do, and those will continue to inform what leaders do in the future. Over the years we’ve collected data there is one trait, however, that differentiates leaders from other credible people. The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is a defining competence. Also, credibility is the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe in the messenger they won’t believe the message.

Do you think leadership is something that can be taught?

Leadership is not some mystical quality that only a few people have and everyone else doesn’t. Neither is it the private reserve of a special class of charismatic men and women. We’ve collected assessment data from millions of people around the world, and there are leaders in every profession, every type of organisation, every religion, every country, from young to old, male and female. It’s just a myth that you either have leadership or you don’t. There is leadership potential everywhere. The
truth is the best leaders are the best learners.

How can the regions HR leaders navigate uncertain times ahead?

The best way to ensure you are equipped with the right leadership talent is to become an organisation that is attractive to the best. People want to work in organisations that have a strong culture of leadership. It is HR’s job to drive the development of organisational cultures in which people have trust in, and respect for, each other, and that offer exceptional opportunities.

Where do you see the future of leadership in the Middle East?

What is most needed is the opportunity for all emerging leaders to learn, experience challenging assignments, and observe exemplary role models of leadership. Great leaders can make a positive difference in the world.

Cultivate great leadership capabilities in your future talent

Jim recently asked a group of leadership developers to describe what they thought a culture of leadership would be like, revealing four clusters of cultural attributes:

The most frequently occurring word in the open-ended responses to questions about a culture of leadership was “trust”. If leaders are going to grow and thrive, people need to trust each other. They need to feel safe around each other and be open.

Organisations with a culture of leadership are fanatical about making learning a priority and providing a variety of systematic opportunities for learning. Strong organisations provide classroom-based learning programmes, online learning options, external opportunities and mentors
and coaches available for one-on-one sessions. Feedback is encouraged, and 360-degree assessments are all part of the development experience.

Learning requires taking risks – doing things you’ve never done, challenging yourself to take on new assignments, addressing weaknesses, and stretching into areas of discomfort. In cultures that develop exemplary leaders, there’s not only tolerance for risk, there’s encouragement to take a risk.

To become the best leader you can be, you must be able to see exemplary leadership in action in order to learn to produce it yourself. You need access to those with experience and expertise and have to see people in the organisation model exemplary leadership and support leadership development at all levels. You need all leaders to ‘live’ the values.