May 17, 2022

Leadership. What is the same. What has changed.

In a recent article for CEOWORLD MagazineI told my experience with Exchange of guardians. The principals asked me to lead a program that linked the five best practices of The leadership challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner with frames from my most recent book, Peernovation: What peer advisory groups can teach us about building high performing teams (2020). This whole experience has made me rethink the challenges facing CEOs and business leaders today. What has changed with regard to the fundamental principles of good leadership? What was not the case and why?

What is the same.

The first edition of The leadership challenge was published in 1987. Considered among the best leadership books ever written, his Five Exemplary Leadership Practices have stood the test of time. Now in her 6and edition, today’s story modernizes what it means:

  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Allow others to act
  5. encourage the heart

pass the floor; connect people’s work to something bigger than themselves; questioning age-old practices in an ever-changing world; provide employees with the resources, training and freedom from hierarchy to thrive; and nurturing their hearts have always been important leadership principles. We just had so few positive examples that we didn’t know life could be better. Yet, thirty-five years later, after Kouzes and Posner showed it to us, these practices matter more than ever. Why? Because while the fundamentals of good leadership haven’t changed, the way people want to be led has.

Back to 1987

Before exploring how some of the expectations of our leaders are different today, let’s take a look back at the style of leadership that prevailed then – top down, command and control. To illustrate, I’ll offer a personal example that I covered in my book.

Meet Roy, my sales manager at a Ford dealership where I worked for six months after graduating from college. The owner was essentially irrelevant, at least in terms of direct contact with the sales team. The general manager’s name was John, a well-dressed Bob Newhart figure with a low-key demeanor and a dry sense of humor. Roy, the sales manager, was a chain-smoking tyrant. This duo was a classic good cop, bad cop. The dynamic was similar to what I remembered from high school – the main ambassador everyone loved and the badass vice principal everyone feared.

At the dealership, Roy was our assistant manager, so to speak. To paint a picture, he rode everyone hard, all the time. If he saw a hint of inactivity in your eyes, he would throw you a directory and tell you to call twenty landscapers and sell them a truck. All “conversations” with Roy were one way.

In all honesty, Roy was like a turtle: tough on the outside, soft on the inside. I don’t believe he led people the way he did to be cruel; it was just the only way he knew. His managing director and the owner above him were quieter about it, but just as command and control oriented. That was all most employees, no matter where they worked, knew at the time.

How and Why It Changed – Global Influences

At the end of that decade, in a world where authoritarian rulers ruled nations as well as corporations, everything changed. Protests in Poland for freer elections, which sparked peaceful revolutions across Europe, were followed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a resounding and demonstrative example that forcing people to live or work in conditions against their will was not a sustainable leadership strategy. Unfortunately, American companies have been slow to pick up the slack, with rare exceptions.

Fast forward to 2006

The book, Tribal leadershippublished about 20 years later The leadership challenge, included research from thousands of companies across the United States, revealing that among its five culture stages, the Stage 3 leadership approach (I’m awesome…you’re not) took center stage. from the scene. Top-down leadership continued to prevail.

Maybe it was after “You” (we, all of us) were named 2006 Time Magazine Person of the Year working conditions began to change. I have no proof, mind you, but the timing is interesting.

During this period, as people admired their leaders/authority figures, they began to rely more than ever on those who stood by their side. (This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer provides proof of this). Additionally, technology provided tools for people to share their ideas and opinions with the world. As consumers, we looked at ourselves before deciding which car to buy, which book to read or which university to choose. We didn’t know these other Adam consumers, but their opinions strongly influenced our decision-making.

As parents, we began to listen and learn from our children instead of dismissing their opinions and ideas as misinformed. We recognized that the circumstances that shaped their views were markedly different from the generations and times that shaped ours. While it could be said that it has always been the case, our children had a voice this time around, and it was getting louder. As a result, parents and children adopted a relationship of “us” instead of us and them, and this continues today.

As employees, we more frequently engage in meaning-making exercises with each other to assess whether the latest decree from the summit merited the full support of employees. Employee compliance began to plummet as employee engagement began to take hold – slowly but surely and especially in jobs considered part of the knowledge economy. Growing up, I was told, “Good things come to those who wait.” My daughters will tell you, “Good things happen to those who do.” They don’t just want to be heard; they demand it.


As we look at the world today, the balance of power has clearly shifted. Top-down control is a myth. Place a ping pong call between your fingers. Hold it gently and it stays where it is. Squeeze it too tight, and it’ll shoot out of your fingers faster than you can say leadership, or you’ll crush it beyond repair. Try to control people, and they will fight.

We see it every day in Ukraine, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy experiences the Five Leadership Best Practices in all their glory. The fundamentals of good leadership have not changed. As a leader today, focus on what your citizens or employees expect of you and how they want to be led. When that happens, everyone wins.

Written by Leo Bottary.

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