You don’t get to decide if you are a leader. Your employees do. That’s right. Regardless your title, position on the organizational chart, pay grade or authority to fire people, you can’t force people to believe in you. Your employees get to decide if you are truly worthy of their respect, support and loyalty. That means you need to prove yourself by behaving like a leader.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizationshave researched the foundations of exemplary leadership for more than three decades. The duo surveyed more than 100,000 people around the globe and across industries for the past 30 years, and the responses consistently show that people are most like to follow leaders who are honest, competent, inspiring and forward-thinking. So regardless your organization, your level within that organization or where your employees are located, if you want them to believe in you and follow you, the research indicates that you should possess those four characteristics. Here’s why, according to the authors:


No matter what the setting, people want to be fully confident in you, and to be fully confident, they have to believe that you possess authentic character and solid integrity. That over 80 percent of constituents want their leaders to be honest above all else is a message that you must take to heart.

Prove that you’re honest: Tell the truth, do what you say you will, follow through, keep your promises, and always have your employees’ best interests at heart.


For people to have confidence in your competence, they need to believe that you know the business and understand the current operation, culture, and people in the company. They need to know that you have had the breadth of experiences that will enable you to lead them through challenges.

Prove that you’re competent: Never stop learning about your industry, operations and your employees’ work. Follow the trends, grow your skills and increase your knowledge.


You must uplift employees’ spirits and give them hope if they’re voluntarily going to try something new or take risks. That starts with showing your own enthusiasm and personal commitment to a goal. After all, if you show little passion for a cause, why should anyone else? While you always want to be as transparent as possible, especially during times of uncertainty, you want to remain optimistic.

Prove that you’re inspiring: Communicate in your words, demeanor, and actions that you believe your team can overcome any obstacles and meet your goals.


This shows you have the ability to envision the future, that you are not content with things as they are today and that you have a plan to make the future better. Whether you call that future a vision, a dream, a calling, a goal, a mission, or a personal agenda, the message is clear: Know where you’re going if you expect others to willingly join you on the journey.

Prove that you’re forward-thinking: Figure out what you want for the future of your team or organization, and connect that vision to your employees everyday work and goals. They have to understand how their contributions fit into the overall plan.

Together, say Jim and Barry, these four characteristics comprise what social scientists refer to as credibility. “Credibility is the foundation of leadership,” asserts Jim. “People must be able, above all else, to believe in their leaders. To willingly follow them, people must believe that the leaders’ word can be trusted, that they are personally passionate and enthusiastic about the work, and that they have the knowledge and skill to lead.”

About the Authors:
James M. Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University, and lectures on leadership around the world to corporations, governments, and nonprofits.

Barry Z. Posner is Accolti Endowed Professor of Leadership and former Dean (1997-2009) of the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. An accomplished scholar, he provides leadership workshops and seminars around the world.

They have been working together for more than 30 years, studying leaders, researching leadership, conducting leadership development seminars, and serving as leaders themselves in various capacities. They are coauthors of the award-winning, best-selling book The Leadership Challenge. Since its first edition in 1987, The Leadership Challenge has sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide and is available in more than 20 languages. Kouzes and Posner have coauthored more than a dozen other award-winning leadership books and are frequent keynote speakers. Each has conducted leadership development programs for hundreds of organizations.

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