Shining a Light On Leadership

A few examples of how simple leadership principles can benefit an organization's health, wellness, and capabilities.

Many years ago, one of my college professors introduced me to a book by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner called The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. In this book, Jim and Barry ask the reader to discover what they call the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. I actively try – and fail more than not – to use these principles as the guiding foundation in my work as a leader.

So, I thought I would take this opportunity – now one year into a pandemic – to shine a light on some local leaders who I believe have exhibited these principles with authenticity.

Model the Way
Catalyst Students at Stevenson High School
Last Friday, I had the privilege of supporting five students from Stevenson High School in facilitating a vaping presentation for their teachers during four Lunch and Learn sessions. The students researched the topic, assembled the materials, built the slide deck, and practiced their “run of show” so that their teachers would have a valuable learning opportunity. A couple of things struck me about this experience. First, I absolutely love the model of students teaching teachers, and this was a perfect example of that. Two, I was impressed with how articulate and confident the students were during their delivery. Finally, I was inspired by witnessing these students not only model the way that a teen can live a drug-free life but also by their fortitude in standing up as advocates to bring real solutions to their communities. Speaking of inspired…

Inspire a Shared Vision
Dr. Lisa Leali, Superintendent of Schools – Lake Bluff School District 65
I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Leali in a few different contexts since she arrived in Lake Bluff as the new Superintendent this summer. When I think about the primary reasons why we, collectively, will make it through this pandemic, I keep coming back to the leadership of those who “can see beyond the now.” That is one phrase that describes Dr. Leali. She came into a nearly impossible situation as a first-year superintendent and established a vision for the Lake Bluff School District that was unique, family-centered, and rooted in empathy. Consistently, she has inspired a shared vision for effective leadership throughout the community by being transparent, honest, and approachable and by listening with an intent to understand. By the way, the plan has been an enormous success. Teachers are teaching. Kids are learning. Schools are open (and safe!) Everyone is looking forward to more normalcy next year, but through the efforts of Dr. Leali (and many other Superintendents who have led similarly), this year has not been a wash. You got this!

Challenge the Process
Nate Biggs, Chief Operating Officer – LEAD
Hiring Nate, who calls himself our Chief Nerd but is really our COO, is probably the best decision I’ve ever made as a leader. I’ve always believed that you should surround yourself with people smarter than you are, and when Nate joined us nearly three years ago, it became quickly apparent I had succeeded on that front! Organizational culture is vital to everyone on our team, and our culture includes the freedom to challenge the process. Nate encourages healthy dialogue, seeks out opportunities to learn something new, and continually drives our processes forward by looking for innovative ways to improve our organization. Nate takes pride in freeing me up and getting me out of the weeds (which took some significant challenging of the process), and I can’t even put into words how good that has been for the organization. Every organization should have a Chief Nerd Operating Officer like Nate, and I don’t plan to ever not have him working alongside me.

Enable Others to Act
Nicole Quick, Chief Advancement Officer – LEAD
Simply put, Nicole is one of the primary reasons LEAD has thrived during the pandemic. I’ll put her in the same “smarter than me” category I mentioned above. When I think about how a leader enables others to act, I think about their ability to foster collaboration, build new teams, and empower and support them to make an impact. These are the areas where Nicole excels. She came on board as our Chief Advancement Officer precisely one year ago and has worked to build an Advancement operation during what might be the most challenging time in a generation for fundraising. Nicole responded to that challenge with a can-do attitude and with an approach that said, “We’ll find the people, we’ll help them to feel capable, and we’ll go to work.” In less than one year, Nicole built a new fundraising committee that seats members from 3 different time-zones, started a Donor Circle with a growing membership, ran a very successful virtual gala event, submitted various grants, and solicited contributions from new donors. That’s just the start. I can’t be sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the authors of this book had Nicole in mind when they envisioned the enable others to act principle.

Encourage the Heart
This is my favorite of the Leadership Challenge principles. It’s all about recognizing the contributions of others, celebrating accomplishments, noticing the specific impact that someone has on your organization or mission, and most importantly, making people feel like heroes.

I am going in a different direction with this one and turning it over to you. Have you noticed someone on your team encouraging the heart by recognizing the contributions of others or making people feel like heroes? If so, I’d love to hear about it. If you have a story you’d like to share about someone, please email me directly at, and next week, I will publish every one I receive.

Note: Image above of “Leadership vs management” by ocd007 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

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