A Simple Practice that will Turn any Manager into a Leader

A friend wrote of his leadership experience in one of the most criticized federal bureaucracies, the Veteran’s Administration. Everyone knows you cannot bring change in the Veteran’s Administration. His claim of success would seem impossible. The practice that brought the outcome is startling, simple, practical, and scientifically sound. I am going to recommend it to everyone I teach. I suspect most will resist and a few will use it and flourish.

First, consider the claim. Over the 25 years, his psychiatric service continually grew, reaching “tens of thousands who needed care.” One reason is that the organization was able to do something other rural services could not do. They continually “attracted” top talent. His boss told my friend he had never seen anyone so lucky.

The service seemed to “draw” all kinds of other resources, including money. Washington regularly increased their budget because his people did what they said they would do. They were seen as giving Washington greater bang for the buck.

This claim of excellence, thriving, and growth in this particular federal bureaucracy is unconventional. What is the practice that he claims produced this success?

The answer is consistent with leadership research. He forced himself to acquire moral power or idealized influence. This was accomplished by a two-step process.

First, he worked hard to clarify his own beliefs about the moral foundations of leadership.

He then shared a written statement of his leadership ideals and invited his people to challenge his hypocrisy whenever he strayed. This was a courageous act that signaled he really was a leader. Most authority figures are not leaders. They are more concerned with their ego than their morality. To specify one’s deepest leadership beliefs and ask to be held accountable from the bottom up is a brilliant and frightening act. I am going to suggest it to everyone I teach.



  • What is moral power and why is it essential to leadership?
  • Why does the above practice demonstrate real leadership?
  • Why wouldn’t every manager engage in this practice, and what does your answer tell you about professional life?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



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