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Practical Perspectives: Exemplary Leadership & Your Values
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 05/02/2011

County jail As leaders it is extremely import we are striving for personal-professional development. One relatively inexpensive method I have found tremendously valuable are the many management books available from my local library. A few years ago I had an opportunity to get my hands on an excellent read titled The Leadership Challenge. In The Leadership Challenge, authors Kouzes and Posner (2007) outline five practices of exemplary leadership including 1) model the way, 2) inspire a shared vision, 3) challenge the process, 4) enable others to act and 5) encourage the heart. After reading this book I am compelled to think about the ways I have followed these practices as a jail administrator. I have found most helpful an orientation to Kouzes and Posner’s Characteristics of Admired Leaders list, (honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent), when assessing my actions on the organization. In the process, you may very well on occasion asked myself, “if you had to substitute others for the top four, which would you choose and why”? I have come to realize the focus is on the task of "clarifying values", the first of the leader commitments mentioned in The Leadership Challenge.

In The Leadership Challenge, authors Kouzes and Posner (2007) outline five practices of exemplary leadership derived from their analysis of thousands of personal-best leadership experiences. Interestingly, they discovered that ordinary people who guide others along ground-breaking journeys follow somewhat similar paths. Although each case examined was unique to its self, every case was found to follow remarkably similar patterns that lead the authors to forge the common practices observed into a leadership model. Through case analysis and survey their review of the dynamic process of leadership uncovered the following five practices common to personal-best leadership experiences. When getting exceptional things done in organizations, leaders guide others by “modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart. The authors conclude the five tenants are available to anyone who accepts the leadership challenge and has stood consistent the test of time.

In this addition of Practical Perspectives, let’s look at the “values that guide us" as leaders in a tremendously challenging occupation, i.e., managing custody! What are the values that guide you? Do they drive you to action? In The Leadership Challenge, and many other similar professional management books, the manager is challenged to consider shared values such as high performance standards, a caring attitude about people, and a sense of uniqueness and pride; and to evaluate your own philosophy. Within this article I would like to share my practical examples from experience and perspective on these values and which ones I have found most important that may be a shared value in your work. In hope that you may benefit from the story I will share here, I would recommend you consider while you read “what leads you in your jail management decisions”?

As I consider the five common practices in my leadership experience, I find parallel application in my life when having assumed leadership challenges. As the chief jailer and administrative officer within the third largest community corrections/jail facility in the State , I can look back on the last nine years to a number of events illustrating exemplary leadership representing my personal-best that guided others along groundbreaking achievements. Seven years ago the organization I manage today could reasonably be described as void leadership, straddled with more class action law suits than you could count on one hand, low morale, no vision and/or plan to improve the situation, and a recidivism rate 30-40 percent higher than the national average. Today’s operating environment showcases a new generation rehabilitation model that embraces industry best practices that has lead to resolving all conditions that contributed to the poor circumstance and performance the organization experienced prior to my leadership influence.

By rallying the organization around a set of industry standards and best practices the process afforded clarification of clearly established values that transcended in depth the organization. Subsequent conditions were set to enable benchmarking aspect of the organization on the industries best operational examples. Rallying on best practices and having performed similar organizational change within an organization, I directed in another State, my management team was able to envision a pathway to the future. I found myself acting as a coach, teacher and mentor of a vision that embraced solutions to the organizations ills, which inspired subordinate leaders to action. I found it necessary to flatten the organization to promote responsiveness and zeal to needed change within the structure of organization. By challenging fiefdoms of non-productive control brokers within the organization, “we” tore down roadblocks to performance accountability, as I instituted architecture of accountability.

Upon removing major performance roadblocks, I engaged an employee empowering strategic accountability system that fostered collaboration and decision-making support structures. The resulting impact has been a shaping of conditions for the organization 180-degree turn around. To look inside the organization today you will now find an atmosphere of encouragement and a climate that looks to build up comment and work well done. This is something different from the organizations past practices where personnel rarely received recognition for work well done other then criticism and finding of fault. The organization now inspires corrections excellence, celebrates core values, has a newfound pride, and regularly celebrates successes in part to reinforce continued strivings in setting the example. As I inventory my leadership sway within this organization I believe my greatest influence has come as a direct result of my setting the standards for excellence and provide an example by modeling the way with integrity and a sincere respect afforded to other around me.

Kouzes and Posner purport a leader’s credibility makes a difference, and leaders must take into the utmost consideration, as it will directly influence organizational loyalty, commitment, energy, and productivity. As an experienced manager, I could not agree more with the authors’ conclusion on credibility. Upon listing the five practices common to personal-best leadership in chapter one the authors go on to list “characteristics of admired leaders,” or what people look for and admire in leaders. The authors’ list twenty qualities most people look for in the character of a leader, i.e., to be honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. As I had indicated, I have considered these specifically in my practice, and have concluded the exercise of abandoning them potentially flawed in every turn. Rarely have I had moments of genius or original thought, and given so why would I argue points challenging the authors’ empirical conclusions.

When contemplating abandoning these adopted vales as my driving forces, within the exercise, I am reminded of Elbert Einstein having said “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” I would suggest on a limb and to be bold if compelled to select four substitutes not even be listed. I rather prefer leaders with a performance orientation, which are effective, with integrity, and responsive to new ideas and the environment. However, the four substitutes of what people look for and admire in leaders I am sure are in keeping with the authors’ characteristics of admired leaders. I believe suffice to say regardless of the stated most admirable leader characteristic anything suggested from the list or otherwise would crumble if exercised by an actor without credibility, as I discovered early in my career, credibility is the foundation of leadership and meeting the challenge.

So with this entire leader characteristic talk how do you make it real? The focus or the task for the jail administrator is now one of “clarifying values” that guide us to action. I ascribe to a core set principle values that inspire me and are consequently witnessed by others to inspire them to follow my leadership. This is when you should consider your own values. My personal values are as follows: 1) I value “effectiveness” in actions taken or resources expended, 2) I value “dedication” to the organization’s mission, the organizations personnel and my craft, 3) I value “integrity” which leads to credibility and a foundation to build personal and professional success upon, 4) I value “responsiveness” to thought diversity and my environment, and 5) I value a “performance” orientation that directly stimulates productivity. These personal values have been long standing and are believed to by my center posts for the successes of my past, and will likely mark as my guideposts in future as I rise to leadership challenges.

As the chief jailer, I would like to believe these values I have shared you could embrace in your own practice. What’s important here is that you know clearly what your values are, for the benefit you’ll have on the direction in which you lead the jail is best left to a deliberate design. In this case, it recommended you base your personal and professional values on the three central themes including high performance standards that are emphasized in The Leadership Challenge, i.e., a caring attitude about people, and a sense of uniqueness and pride… and you can’t go wrong! From an orientation of public-sector public-safety service, I have mixed feelings in choosing between themes of high performance standards, and/or a caring attitude about people. To protect and service is a hallmark for law enforcement and in keeping with public expectations as a public administrator practitioner, I am duty-bound to perform to standards, but less I forget my profession demands a caring attitude in the mix. At times, I have found myself in the trappings of belief that only if I could leave the caring attitude for others I could better concentrate on fussing high performance standards. However, I have learned the best practices quash such a myopic perspective in value. Within our profession, high performance will not be found without the positive reinforcing impacts carried by the demonstration of caring attitudes about people.

Kouzes, James M and Posner, Barry Z (2007). The Leadership Challenge, (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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