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The Leadership Challenge, written byJames M. Kouzes and Barry Posner, is a book with deep insight into the many facets of the interpersonal dynamics of leadership in the workplace. This book focuses on the understanding that true leadership is not only a skill that can be learned but a relationship that must be nurtured and cultivated to reach its full potential. Readers will learn how to accomplish extraordinary things while becoming extraordinary leaders. In the ever-evolving world of business, it is imperative that leaders not just get things accomplished but make things happen. The book discusses the importance of a team-oriented work environment and the leader’s critical role in order for that to be achieved. The Leadership Challenge focuses on new ways to be more impactful and more effective with today’s work force who are often motivated by different things and work differently than they did in the past. The new sixth edition is updated to help readers stay relevant and current in today’s modern workplace.
The Leadership Challenge Book Review
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner are the authors of The Leadership Challenge. The first publication of their book was in 1982. Their book focuses on actions leaders can take that make a difference in the area that they impact. Dr. Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University in California. Dr. Posner is Accolti Professor of Leadership and the former Dean of the Leavey School of Business also at Santa Clara University. Both have traveled around the world sharing their knowledge of leadership at seminars and workshops. Kouzes and Posner have worked with hundreds of businesses and organizations helping them to focus on how to maximize the leaders in their organizations. They are also the authors of a dozen other award-winning leadership books. Together they developed the highly-praised Leadership Practice Inventory which is a questionnaire that assesses leadership behaviors and is one of the most used leadership assessments in the world. They have received numerous awards, recognitions, and honors related to their work regarding leadership. With over three decades of data, The Leadership Challenge provides compelling and evidence-based practices to help good leaders become extraordinary.
What Makes a Great Leader
What Leaders Do and What Constituents Expect
A leader can be described as a person others would be willing to follow. There are five practices that can be taught and that can guide leaders to be their personal best: model what they expect, inspire and share their vision, challenge current policy and procedures, allow others to act and finally consistently work on building relationships (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).
Over the last 30 years and with thousands of interviews Kouzes and Posner have identified numerous characteristics that followers believe leaders should possess. Throughout these interviews, there have consistently been four characteristics people look for more than others in a leader: honesty, forward-looking, competent, and inspiring (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). These four characteristics are the same across countries, hierarchies, cultures, organizational functions, genders, levels of education and age groups; however, there is one trait that people look for above anything else, credibility. “Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 43). Leaders must be believable and trustworthy. For a leader to be viewed as credible, they must consistently follow through with their commitments and do what they say they are going to do (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).
Model the Way-Practice One
Strong leaders must have strong clarifying values that serve as the leaders’ guiding principles in everything they do (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). They must model these values each day and in every aspect of their leadership roles. What leaders do when no one is looking can be as much, if not more, impressionable than what a leader says when all eyes are upon them. Both a leader’s deeds and their words must be consistent. (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). Leaders must share their values with those around them and be clear that everyone knows what is expected of them. “Shared values are the foundation for building productive and genuine working relationships” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 61). Good leaders need to be living their set values at all times and their constituents need to know those values. When a leader has a clear set of guiding principles, they can begin to share their vision for the future (Kouzes & Posner, 2017).
Inspire a Shared Vision-Practice Two
Leaders have big plans for their organizations. “If you are going to be an exemplary leader, you have to be able to imagine a positive future” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 97). Great leaders want to accomplish things their predecessors were unable to achieve or perhaps never even attempted (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). They know that to achieve these goals they will need to share their vision, inspire others to care about the vision and enlist everyone in pursuing the vision (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). Leaders believe that they can and will make their plans come to life and exciting things will happen in their organization. They understand there will be trials along the way and welcome the challenge.
Challenge the Process-Practice Three
Leaders become great by challenging the status quo (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). Leaders know that change is not easy and to facilitate it they must serve as stewards for change to occur. They must welcome new ideas as well as listen to anyone who might have innovative thoughts on ways to better the organization, at every level. “Leaders are pioneers willing to step out into the unknown. However, leaders aren’t the only creators or originators of new products, services, or processes. Innovation comes more from listening than from telling” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 152).
Enable Others to Act-Practice Four
“You can’t make extraordinary things happen by yourself” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017 p. 217). Great leaders know that for organizational greatness to transpire they will have to enlist the knowledge and experience of the members. Empowering and entrusting them to make decisions for the betterment of the group (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). Leaders know that they alone do not have all of the best information and that their constituents often are the ones with the knowledge to make needed changes to make the organization great. Leaders know it is important to empower the members of the group to act to achieve the shared vision (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). Constituents perform best when they feel they are trusted to make decisions and that their thoughts and actions are valued.
Encourage the Heart-Practice Five
Once constituents are enabled to act, they must feel that they are valued and appreciated for their contributions to the organization (Kouzes & Posner, 2017). “It is always worth the time to recognize someone’s hard work and contribution” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 267). When people feel that their leader believes and supports them, relationships grow and the spirit of community begins to take place. “Believing in others is an extraordinarily powerful force in propelling greater performance” (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 253). Leaders know that when strong relationships are established and maintained organizations can obtain amazing success and growth.
Current Organizational Environment
The way The Leadership Challenge breaks down leadership truly has brought several issues to the forefront in my district. One administrator is not an extraordinary leader; they are a good manager. This administrator is lacking in several of the top four characteristics that followers look for in their leader They are often viewed as lacking credibility due to the fact that they frequently fail to do what they say. The administrator recurrently leaves the staff with unfulfilled commitments and over the years they have begun to lose trust in what is promised will be left undone. Often, this administrator is viewed as incompetent do to the fact that they have never taught any academic courses only music. This administrator grimaces upon change and tends to focus on things remaining the same. They struggle to look at new ideas or a new solution to existing problems. The administrator tries to be inspiring, yet the good intentions are often lost in translation and presentation. This leader would benefit tremendously if they would read The Leadership Challenge. The many examples of how good leaders became great might encourage them to make much needed change. The administrator needs to focus on listening to their followers and lead their campus to the next level of greatness. Since this administrator does not have the classroom teaching background, they could increase credibility by focusing on doing what they say they will do and embracing the change that their followers want and need. This book would help this administrator tremendously as it has helped so many other leaders in the past. Focusing on the five practices would help make needed personal changes to elevate the campus, staffed with incredible talent, to the next level.
- Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The leadership challenge. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- The authors of the Leadership Challenge: Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2019, from http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/About-section-Our-Authors.aspx
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