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Lessons in taking the lead

Published on Friday, 04 Nov 2011
Barry Posner
Photo: Jonathan Wong
Book: Credibility - How Leaders Gain and Lose It
Author: James Kouzes and Barry Posner
Publisher: Jossey-Bass

Leadership has taken a beating this millennium. Soon after the dawn of the 21st century, executives of American-energy giant Enron were found to have orchestrated one of the biggest frauds of all time, igniting investigations into a string of similar cases.

Fast-forward a few years, and the Western banking sector – echoing the recklessness of Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street – plunged the global economy into the abyss of an extended financial crisis. Meanwhile, business and political leaders have spectacularly failed to meet expectations during these testing times.

No sphere of public life has been spared by this apparent collapse in leadership credibility. Even Catholic church leaders have been found to have abused their positions of trust in the most heinous ways.

And Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire was exposed as being led – in Britain at least – by chiefs so unscrupulous that the Australian media mogul himself had to beg the forgiveness of the parents of a murdered British schoolgirl. Why? The victim’s mobile phone was hacked by Murdoch’s news hounds, on orders from up high – while the homicide investigation was still in its crucial early days.

Thus far, it’s been a lamentable era for leadership. Indeed, in so many respects, leadership now appears to have morphed into something with the whiff of sordidness rather than veneration, much less respect. What better time then to reboot and reexamine the concept?

Extensively rewriting and updating the Credibility text that they wrote in the early 1990s, and building on research and findings from their ground-breaking The Leadership Challenge (which came out in 1996), Dr Barry Posner and James Kouzes explore in this revised Credibility the issue of leadership with verve and insight.

They determine many things here, among them, that leadership is, above all, a relationship. And as with all relationships, credibility is a central pillar. Leaders, they posit, must “say what they mean and mean what they say.” In other words, they ought to behave in a mindful way.

This lavishly revised issue – substantially updated since its initial publication in 1993 – features new case studies from around the world, and fresh data and research. Moreover, it is attractively formatted and, just like its predecessor, lucidly written.

Posner and Kouzes are familiar names in leadership-coaching circles. Furthermore, Posner is an increasingly acknowledged expert on this side of the Pacific, having been a member of the adjunct faculty of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Business Group for several years.

But Posner is best known for his work as professor of leadership at the Leavey School of Business, at California’s Santa Clara University. Credibility’s co-author, Kouzes, is the dean’s executive professor of leadership at the same highly rated West Coast business school.

Classified Post was fortunate enough to catch up with Credibility co-author Posner at a recent presentation he gave at Hong Kong’s American Chamber of Commerce.

Asked why he embarked on this extensive reworking with Kouzes, he shares his thoughts in an exclusive interview. “Credibility, when I first tackled the topic in relation to leadership, was at an all-time low. However, credibility today is at an even greater all-time low! The 1990s version has been rewritten extensively. This book is much more global in scope, reflecting change that has taken place since,” he says.

Summing up the three most important lessons of the many the book provides, Posner is unfazed. “Credibility is the foundation of leadership. You can’t do it alone. And lead by example – or don’t lead at all,” he says.

Credibility is not a given, he adds. “It has to be earned day to day. Long-run credibility is going to be earned by short-run credibility,” Posner points out.

And what advice does he have for the many business and political leaders who have lost credibility during recent tumultuous years? “There are six means to regain credibility, as we have outlined. But start with number one – admit that you made a mistake.”

This timely book reveals and explains the key disciplines that enhance a leader’s capacity for developing and sustaining credibility. And they all make
perfect sense.

An inspiring and refreshingly disarming guide, Credibility will help the reader understand the importance of credibility for personal and organisational success. And it provides a great deal of wisdom along the way, all tested in the real world.

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