The Leadership Challenge
Abstract “Everyone has a role in accomplishing the mission and everyone directly impacts the effectiveness of his or her organization” (Horton, p 247). According to Conger and Benjamin (1999), creditability and authenticity lie at the heart of leadership, therefore, determining and defining one’s own guiding beliefs and assumptions lie at the heart of becoming a great leader. Providing direction and exercising influence are the two functions at the core of most definitions of leadership. Leaders work with others to create a shared sense of purpose and direction and to achieve shared goals.
They help to establish the conditions that enable others to be effective (Leithwood & Riehl, 2003). Kouzers and Posner (2002) conducted research to analyze thousands of personal best leadership experiences in which they found remarkably similar patterns of action. They forged these practices into a model of leadership and developed the core essentials that every leader must practice to achieve success resulting in The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. This paper will provide a brief analysis of this model through summarization of their book The Leadership Challenge and provide personal thoughts and application for use.
Summary The Leadership Challenge is not simply a book, but a resource that serves any leader no matter what type of organization or institution. It is a theoretical framework for becoming an effective, successful leader that is well researched and immediately applicable. Authors, Kouzes and Posner aim to help leaders engage in the best practices presented in their book, in order to strengthen and grow their leadership skills and abilities. Kouzes and Posner (2002), created a leadership model that addresses certain behaviors that are available to anyone through committed practice versus personality of a leader. They highlight real-life stories of individuals who have succeeded as leaders using the identified practices.
They suggest that anybody can be an effective and successful leader as long as they exhibit the behaviors identified in the five practices presented in their leadership model. The Leadership Challenge focuses on approaching leadership as a measurable, learnable and teachable set of behaviors that consists of five fundamental practices common to extraordinary leadership achievements. Kouzes and Posner (2002) found that when leaders are at their personal best, these five core practices are common to all.
According to Kouzes and Posner (2002), leadership is not about personality, it’s about behavior, an observable set of skills and abilities. The book is organized into seven sections in which five of the sections represent the five practices of exemplary leadership that Kouzes and Posner identifies.
The remaining two sections serve as the introduction and the concluding thoughts and advice about leadership. The first section, Model the Way, explains that leaders must effectively model the expected behavior by clarifying their values and setting the example. A leader must clearly and distinctively express their values to everyone in their organization and must believe in those values. Effective leaders must set the example through their daily actions that demonstrate their commitment to their beliefs (Kouzes and Posner, 2002).
Inspire a Shared Vision, the next section, identifies an effective leader as one who must envision the future by imagining and believing in an exciting, highly attractive future for the organization and be confident in that vision(Kouzes & Posner, 2002) . They must also enlist others in a common vision by convincing people that he or she understands their needs and have their interests at heart. Therefore, leaders must have intimate knowledge of people’s dreams, hopes, aspirations, visions and values, according to Kouzes & Posner (2002).
During the Challenge the Process section, Kouzes and Posner (2002) determines leaders must challenge the current process by searching for opportunities to innovate, grow, and improve through looking outside the personal self and the organization for new products, processes, and services. Good leaders, according to Kouzes and Posner (2002), experiment and take risks, even though the possibility of failure exists. They encourage leaders to build upon small victories in order to obtain long-term success in this section.
In the section titled Enable Others to Act, Kouzes and Posner (2002) identifies fostering collaboration, building trust, and making it possible for other to do good work as strategies to enable others to act. This can be accomplished by engaging all those who make the project work and strengthening others by increasing self-determination and developing competence. Encourage the Heart is the fifth practice and consists of genuine acts of caring to uplift the spirits of the people on the team. Effective leaders recognize contributions of others and celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community.
These practices make up the leadership model developed by Kouzes and Posner; however, there are four characteristics and ten commitments of leadership that are extensions or inclusions of the leadership model. According to Kouzes and Posner (2002), the real-life examples of leadership at its best come from ordinary people. Kouzes and Posner suggest that anybody can be a great leader if they possess the behaviors identified and follow the leadership model they developed. Personal Thoughts
The Leadership Challenge is a well researched, thoughtful, thought provoking, and applicable leadership framework. It includes real-life examples to help better understand the practices and commitments presented. Kouzes and Posner (2002) provide tips to struggling leaders regarding the various practices and commitments. The suggestions given are supported by real-life leadership examples that allow the reader to completely absorb the presented information, while providing the reader with a variety of best practices to implement. I found this to be a positive asset of the book and one of the best strong points. The Leadership Challenge is very detailed and provides countless examples, but the length of the book is too long and at times it’s too deep. I believe the size may keep many leaders from reading it, causing them to miss out.
This is an excellent book for leaders of any kind looking to strengthen their leadership skills. It provides a clear framework for understanding the leadership model and presents attainable examples from real-life leaders that the reader can apply to his own leadership journey. I would consider as another weakness the examples are largely confined to a business world setting that focuses mostly on managerial experiences in the corporate world. Overall, the authors write with clarity and the book’s format is easy to follow. It includes research-based leadership and could be considered a premier resource on becoming a leader. The Leadership Challenge is user friendly and inspires the belief that if you practice the principles outlined in the book, you can become a more effective leader regardless of your current level of leadership. Personal Application
Leadership capacity is an area in which we are working to build in my school. As I read the book, I thought about myself and the role I play in leadership at my school. I found that some of the practices, I already apply. I did see how I can use this resource to improve upon what I already do and implement what I don’t. I plan to share the five practices with my leadership team in the form of professional development in order for us to work together to fully implement the leadership model Kouzes and Posner (2002) have developed. It is expected that challenges will be faced when implementing this process.
The need for mobilizing others to want to do extraordinary things is evident in my school as we have transitioned to a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) school. I strive to be an effective leader that can motivate others to want to grow and expand, professionally and personally. I plan to use the Leadership Challenge and the practices and commitments it provides in order to help accomplish this goal. I plan to take this resource and incorporate it as a part of my leadership skills and abilities in order to make extraordinary things happen. I can use the practices in my everyday operations at my school.