The Leadership Challenge – Book Review

Happy Thursday! Today I’m going to talk about one of my all-time favorite leadership books, The Leadership Challenge. The book is written by James M Kouzes and Barry Z Posner.

Kouzes is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. Posner is the Accolti Professor of Leadership and former Dean of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. The book, The Leadership Challenge, was published 1987. The book has sold over 2.5 million copies and it is currently in its 6th edition. So, a lot of people have read and enjoyed this book. The name of the book came from the concept of the challenges that take place make extraordinary things happen. Make extraordinary things happen; that’s where this book comes from. This is considered by many business professionals to be the top leadership book. To me, personally, it is the top leadership book because of the leadership practices it covers. Also, there’s an assessment that’s tied to this book, a leadership practices inventory. It is commonly referred to by LPI 360. Over 3 million people have taken the LPI 360. There are 5 practices and 30 behaviors that are covered in The Leadership Challenge. The practices are:

  1. Model the Way – Leaders must set the example. I have this saying, which I took from a friend, speed of the leader, speed of the team. This is because the leader sets the pace. We have to remember that people aren’t listening to what we have to say, they’re watching what we do. We, as leaders, have to be the models.
  2. Inspire Shared Vision – You can’t command commitment, you have to inspire it. You have to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations. So, it is critically important that the leader has a vision and that vision is shared among the team. That it’s not just the leader’s vision, but everyone owns that vision.
  3. Challenge the Process – You need to search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve. As leaders, we must always be looking for ways to improve things. The definition of insanity is to do the same things over and over and expect different results. As a leader, we can’t do that.
  4. Enable Others to Act – Leaders foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships. Focusing on others’ needs builds trust. One of the things that leaders must do in developing leaders is to enable them to take on projects, tasks, and we have to trust them to do it. At the same time, we must allow them, our employees, to make errors, because if we don’t allow people to make errors and if we don’t enable them, then they will never grow as leaders. So delegation is extremely important.
  5. Encourage the Heart – Being a leader requires showing appreciation for people’s contributions and creating a culture of celebrating values and victories with a spirit of community. Leaders recognize people’s contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.

Any guesses for the practice least used by leaders today? If you guessed 5, you were right. The 5 leadership practices provide an operating system for what people are doing as leaders when they’re at their best. There are hundreds of studies on this book and these practices to demonstrate that these practices make a positive difference in the engagement and performance of people in organizations. An interesting statistic in the book is that nearly 96% of direct reports of those who are most directly engaged indicate that their leaders very frequently used these 5 particular practices. There are also 10 commitments of the exemplary leader that are listed in the book.

These are under Model the Way:

  1. Clarify values by finding your voice in affirming shared values
  2. Set the example by aligning actions with shared values  

Under Inspire Shared Vision:

  1. Envision the future by imagining exciting and enabling possibilities.
  2. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.  

Under Challenge the Process:

  1. Search for opportunities by seizing initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve.
  2. Experiment and constantly take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience

Under Enable Others to Act:

  1. Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.
  2. Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.

Under Encourage the Heart:

  1. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
  2. Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.


The Characteristics of Admired Leaders, or CAL as it’s referred to, is on page 30 and there are twenty different attributes. The four most desired attributes by employees (for what they want in a leader) are: honest, competent, inspiring, and forward-looking. These are the four most wanted attributes in leaders. The Kouzes-Posner second law of leadership is very important and it is DWYSYWD. This stands for:








This is going to help create trust. It will also show that you are honest, and, as I said earlier, people are looking for honest leaders. Remember, they aren’t listening to you, they are watching what you do.


There are leader summaries at the end of each chapter that are excellent. They give you an opportunity to see, on these particular pieces, if you are following these leadership models. The book is also filled with great examples of leadership in different case studies. Kouzes and Posner go on to state that leadership is an observable pattern of practices and behaviors and a definable set of skills and abilities. Any skill can be learned, strengthened, honed, and enhanced, given the motivation and desire, with practice, feedback, role models, and coaching. That’s where I come into play, coaching. People who participate in leadership development programs demonstrate that they improve over time. They can learn to be better leaders. So, leadership is something that can be learned. However, they do go on to say that although leadership can be learned, not everyone wants to learn it, and not all those who learn about leadership ever master it. In my humble opinion, this is the best book on leadership that is out there. It helps develop you and helps you to develop others into strong leaders. I want to end with a quote here. “Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard.”


I provide coaching and workshops on The Leadership Challenge, and I also facilitate the LPI 360. For more information contact me at or through my website. Tune in tomorrow to listen to the next episode of the Coach Jeff Garrett Show and Remember, Be Great!


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


©2024 Ascent Performance Group

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?