In this sixth edition of their bestseller – The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations – the authors shine a light on the practices that still make the best leaders the best.
“When you look at the business environment in 1987 compared to today, well, it looks like a different universe,” notes Kouzes. “Yet what we’ve found is that while the context of leadership has changed dramatically over the years, the content of leadership has not changed much at all.”
“The fundamental behaviours and actions of leaders have remained essentially the same, and they are as relevant today as they were when we began our study of exemplary leadership,” adds Posner. “Leadership is about tapping into the traits and motivators that come with being human, and those hold firm—even when the way we get work done changes completely.”
The authors first asked ordinary people in the early 1980s to tell them what they did when they were at their “personal best” in leading others. They found that despite differences in culture, gender, age, and other demographic variables, the stories leaders came back with revealed similar patterns of behaviour. They published their findings in 1987 in the debut of The Leadership Challenge.
“After analysing thousands of these leadership experiences, we discovered, and continue to find, that regardless of the times or settings, individuals who guide others along pioneering journeys follow surprisingly similar paths,” says Kouzes.
Posner continues, “Though each experience was unique in its expression, there were clearly identifiable behaviours and actions that made a difference.”
When leaders are at their personal best, there are five core practices common to all. They:
- Model the way
- Inspire a shared vision
- Challenge the process
- Enable others to act, and
- Encourage the heart.
Together, these comprise The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership model—and Kouzes and Posner find that leaders who more frequently demonstrate these practices create higher performing workplaces and have significantly more engaged employees than leaders who demonstrate the practices less frequently.
Throughout The Leadership Challenge, the authors tell stories of ordinary people who’ve made extraordinary things happen. These leaders are from all over the globe, from all age groups and walks of life and represent a wide variety of organisations.
They focus on everyday leaders because, as they write, “Leadership is not about position or title. It’s not about organisational power or authority. It’s not about celebrity or wealth. It’s not about the family you’re born into. It’s not about being at the organisation’s apex, as CEO, president, general, or prime minister. And it’s definitely not about being some sort of hero. Leadership is about relationships, about credibility, about passion and conviction, and ultimately about what you do. You don’t have to look up for leadership. You don’t have to look out for leadership. You only have to look inward. You have the potential to lead others to places they have never been.”