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Jim Kouzes

Jim Kouzes

Jim Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Professor of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, and the coauthor with Barry Posner of the internationally award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge.

Wanted: "Loving Critics"

The late John Gardner -- leadership scholar, presidential adviser, cabinet secretary, and founder of Common Cause -- once remarked, "Pity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers." Gardner knew that none of us likes to hear the constant screeching of harpies who have only foul things to say, and that we never benefit from, nor truly believe, the sycophants whose flattery is obviously aimed at gaining favor. To stay honest with ourselves, what we really need are "loving critics" -- people who care deeply enough to give us honest feedback about how we're doing.

It would appear, however, that the executives on Wall Street were either listening only to uncritical lovers or no one at all. And they aren't alone. At least that's what we've discovered in our research.

In our most recent analysis of assessments from nearly 50,000 leaders, we found that the statement that ranks lowest is this one: "(He or she) asks for feedback on how his/her actions affect other people's performance." Most leaders don't seem to want honest feedback, don't ask for honest feedback, and don't get much of it unless it's forced on them.

It would have been nice if someone on the board, or someone in the executive suite, were to have whispered in a leader's ear, "I care about you and this organization. I want to see you and the company succeed. But you know what? Handing out bonuses at a time like this is absolutely the wrong thing to do for a lot of reasons."

It would take a lot of courage, but that's precisely what we need right now--more courageous leaders who are willing to rage against the machine. As one executive commented, "Adversity introduces us to ourselves." In this time of great challenge, when we look in the mirror in the morning, who is the self that we see? It's a question we all ought to be asking.

By Jim Kouzes

 |  February 3, 2009; 2:34 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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