The Leadership Challenge

"Leadership is not about who you are; it’s about what you do. "

- The Leadership Challenge, page 15

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership is the focus of the fifth edition of James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s The Leadership Challenge. Since the first edition in 1987, they have compiled 30 years of researching leaders of both big and small organizations and reviewed what makes these leaders exemplary. Though the leaders researched have different trades and purpose, Kouzes and Posner found five common practices among them.

  1. Model the Way
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enable others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart

The behaviors of exemplary leaders are the same today as they were 30 years ago. The context has changed but not the content. The result of their research also shows successful leaders are not only found in large organizations but also small companies and all over the world. The Leadership Challenge is filled with stories touching on each of the five practices and how to apply them in your own organization. For some leaders the practices may be already part of their daily habits. However, other practices are a fresh reminder of how to apply best practices to move an organization into the future. With a fast moving culture, The Leadership Challenge is a great resource to keep those who are already in a leadership position or who strive to be, motivated to be their best!

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Challenge the Process

"If you have not endured the most difficult, you cannot become the most successful"
- The Leadership Challenge, page 157

I appreciate the reward, like anyone else when they have been able to develop a solution to a challenge. This part of the text was a great reminder why leaders should not become complacent. The important take away is, not to deny challenges and only work towards what comes easy. Taking on challenges can equate to a new product or process that just might become your best leadership moment. Challenges can take you as a leader and the organization to places that have not been reached. It can create situations where the organization and its leadership are not ordinary but extraordinary. Is that not what we all want, to leave our mark and be viewed as extraordinary?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Make Something Happen

"Treat today as if it were your first day. Ask yourself, ‘If I were just starting this job, what would I do differently?’ Then do those things immediately. This is how you’ll continuously uncover needed improvements."
- The Leadership Challenge, page 164

Do you get caught up in the daily task that you forget to look around and ask why do I do what I do? Exemplary leaders are going to ask this routinely, not just every five years when building a marketing plan. A great habit to get into is to enlist department heads to evaluate processes and policies. Then have them conclude if the current operation is effective. This creates a team effort as well as opportunities for leader moments to be made. Encouraging innovative thinking among department heads can create opportunities for not only the organization to be more effective, but to grow. If outdated policies and procedures continued it could make your organization stagnate. Exemplary leaders do not find comfort in the status quo. Get in the habit of not being routine.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Challenge with Purpose

"As long as you believe what you’re doing is meaningful you can cut through fear and exhaustion and take the next step."
- The Leadership Challenge, page 171

Strong leaders are not going to challenge just because they want to stress people out. They are going to challenge with meaning, great passion, and because they want people to work with purpose. Have you ever worked for a boss that just liked making people nervous? These are not what we would call exemplary leaders. People are going to be more motivated to complete a project if they believe in it and have a personal buy in. People will keep going in challenging times because they believe in what they are doing. It’s not about the paycheck. As a leader it should be a priority to ensure your team understands the bigger picture and what purpose they fulfill. With a feeling of purpose your team can do great things.

Whether you are a CEO of a large company or just starting out with a small team, The Leadership Challenge is an exceptional text to keep in reach. The book is filled with brilliant insight into leadership development. Kouzes and Posner have produced a great tool that is applicable to any organization big or small. I think it gives leaders a message of hope in leading their company into the future. You might also want to check out The Leadership Challenge apps. The app provides quick references to each of the five practices. The app also provides exercises to apply the leadership practices to your organization. You can even get inspirational daily quotes. Overall, it’s an engaging book and you can’t help but feel inspired after reading it.

What are the practices you respect in a leader? What kind of leader are you? 

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Amy Bontrager

ABOUT Amy Bontrager

Amy has a passion for the nonprofit sector. “How to be business savvy, while changing the world.” She earned her MS in Nonprofit Management in 2010...
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