Model what Matters (Leadership Practice 1)

U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program runner Capt. Kelly Calway of Fort Carson, Colo., finishes second among women in the 2010 Army Ten-Miler with a time of 57 minutes, 10 seconds on Oct. 24 at the Pentagon. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, FMWRC Public Affairs, Flickr

All-Army runners take top trophy … U.S. Army, Tim Hipps , Flickr

Last week, I provided an overview of 9 Effective Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works. The 9 effective leadership practices highlight various dimensions of servant leadership that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

Beginning with Authentic Leaders

The first grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasize the importance of beginning with authentic leaders who are able to foster collaboration. In this first cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) modeling what matters, (2) engaging in honest self-evaluation, and (3) fostering collaboration.

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

In this post, we will spend time briefly unpacking the first leadership practice: Modeling what Matters.

Modeling what matters is similar to the leadership practices that other researchers have identified as well. Bass and Avolio engaged the concept of “idealized influence” associated with transformational leadership theory. Kouzes and Posner engaged the concept of “model the way” as a key practice exemplary leadership.

Inauthentic leaders can demand of followers what they as leaders are unwilling to do. Authentic leaders, however, must model what matters and be willing to “practice what they preach” when it comes to expected organizational behavior.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

On this point, research participants noted that modeling what matters “is the primary and most effective way to communicate the organization’s mission, values, and ethos,” and that “actions communicate much more loudly than words” when it comes to organizational values.

Reinforcing the importance of this leadership practice, Max De Pree argues that “clearly expressed and consistently demonstrated values” are often the most important factor in facilitating the important relationship between leaders and followers.

Model what Matters for Your People

While it may be tempting to just dictate or tell followers what to do, the best leaders understand the importance of action. Leader behaviors provide a powerful example for followers. Are we modeling what matters when it comes to expected organizational behavior?

Leaders don’t just use words in their communication. Leaders communicate, for better or for worse, through their actions. So leader, be sure to model what matters for your community. Allow your actions to provide a crystal clear message that is consistent with your words and calls followers to a higher level of engagement with your organization’s mission.


Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability


Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Watershed Moments and Leadership Development

Just yesterday I passed a sign along the side of the road that caught my attention.


Photo Credit: Justin A Irving,

The sign indicated a geographic point of separation between the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds in Colorado. Watershed in this sense of the word points us to where water will drain from these mountain tributaries.

Watershed Moments

While this is a literal watershed place, leaders are often faced with figurative watershed moments in their development as leaders. Dictionaries define this sense of watershed in the following manner:

…a time when an important change happens

…a crucial dividing point, line, or factor:  turning point

…a critical turning point in time where everything changes that will never be the same as before

Watershed Moments and the Level 5 Leader

Leadership theorists point to related concepts as they describe how leaders develop. Jim Collins talks about events such as a battle with cancer, changed war orders, or religious conversion as creating a watershed moment for developing “Level 5 Leaders.” Collins explains that such experiences allow the level 5 seed to sprout in their lives. Robert Clinton engages integrity checks developing leaders face in his discussion of leadership emergence theory. These integrity checks are often watershed moments, shaping and defining the character of the developing leader.

Watershed Moments and the Twice-Born Leader

Abraham Zaleznik puts forward what he calls “twice-born” leaders in a 2004 HBR article. Zaleznik points to “once-born” and “twice-born” personalities, and argues that it is twice-born personalities who tend to be leaders. According to Zaleznik, while “once-born” individuals have fairly straightforward and relatively peaceful experiences in adjusting to life, “twice-born” individuals often do not having an easy time. Their lives and upbringings were often marked by continual struggle to attain some sense of order, and this struggle created “twice-born” occasions to grow as leaders.

Watershed Moments and You

If you look around at leaders we generally respect, they are often leaders who have faced watershed and challenging moments in their lives. Consider Abraham Lincoln’s overcoming of failure before leading the US through its historic watershed season. Consider Nelson Madela’s time on Robben Island. Consider Martin Luther King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.”

Although the experience of difficult circumstances is not something we wish upon ourselves, these circumstances often define watershed moments in our own leadership development journey.

  • How will we face them?
  • How will we face opposition?
  • How will we face failure?
  • How will we face an opportunity to “get away with something”?
  • How will face physical pain such as a life-transforming accident or a battle with cancer?
  • How will we face the loss of a job or position?

Will we face our challenges as watershed moments? Embrace your challenges in life and leadership as opportunities to develop your character, courage, and conviction.

As you think through your own leadership journey, what have been your watershed moments in life and leadership development?