“The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations. It’s about the practices leaders use to transform values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards. It’s about leadership that creates the climate in which people turn challenging opportunities into remarkable success” (Kouzes & Posner, 2002, p. xvii). The preface of this book begins with this paragraph, summarizing the concept of leadership that it prescribes.
The book was originally published a little over 25 years ago, and became an influential book that was representative of Transformational Leadership. As I described in a recent post, transformational leadership can be defined as “the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower” (Northouse, 2013, p. 186). Transformational leaders are people who are recognized as “change agents who are good role models, who can create and articulate a clear vision for an organization, who empower followers to meet higher standards, who act in ways that make others want to trust them, and who give meaning to organizational life” (p. 214) Kouzes and Posner, culminating in their important publication, The Leadership Challenge, researched and developed a model of leadership that represented these ideals.
Their research was conducted through countless surveys and interviews of leaders around the world over the last several decades, and resulted in establishing what they term as the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. The effectiveness of these practices is predicated on the establishment of credibility first (no one is very willing to follow a leader that they do not trust), which was revealed when their research show that honesty and integrity were consistently the highest rated attributes that followers wanted in their leaders. With credibility established, the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are:
- Model the Way: be a model of the behavior you expect from others, with clear consistency between words and deeds
- Inspire a Shared Vision: imagine the future, and then enlist people in that vision, with an understanding and consideration of their needs
- Challenge the Process: be willing to change the status quo and adopt innovation, recognizing that experimentation, risk, and failure comes with change
- Enable Others to Act: foster collaboration and trust, empowering and making it possible for others to do good work
- Encourage the Heart: demonstrate genuine acts of caring to uplift people and show appreciation, drawing them forward
They finish their book by establishing the view that leadership can be learned, encouraging people to self-analyze and take the stops to develop effective (and moral) leadership skills.
The book, with the principles described by Kouzes and Posner, is an excellent resource for leaders. The ideas are practical and understandable, and correlate strongly to biblical principles (see the bonus note below). This book is a definite must for your leadership growth and development.
Bonus: A separate book, Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, was published in 2006 as a faith-based companion to The Leadership Challenge. The book addresses the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership from a Christian perspective, utilizing five men and women from the world of leadership to reflect on the role of faith in leadership as it applies to the principles of Kouzes’ and Posner’s work.
Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge (3rd Edition). Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.