The leadership challenge by Oozes and Posner

Oozes and Posner's leadership challenge focuses on building leaders who perform at their peak. Two authors conducted interviews with leaders and their followers to determine what it means to work at the pinnacle of your abilities. They discovered via multiple case studies and interviews that leaders who performed at their best possessed five wonderful attributes. They are the ones who set an example, inspire a vision, challenge the process, empower others to act, and encourage the hearts of their followers. Leaders who apply these five strategies on a regular basis are more effective than those who use them just infrequently. Oozes and Posner also state in their book that anyone can be a leader because exemplary managers exist in every industry, demographic, and geography. Authors noticed that everyone is encouraged to act like a leader in the best organizations around the world (Kouzes & Posner, 2006).

The leadership challenge is about the leaders who mobilize others in an organization to do extraordinary things. They are the leaders who have realized that difficulties are not an issue, but the response to them determines the outcome of the company’s activity. The leadership challenge appreciates that every individual has an opportunity to make a difference by providing direction and support to his or her teams. Setting positive examples is also another way in which people can set an example. The book is about those who act and how systems of reward and punishment allow innovation. The book is a guide for all people who want to develop their capacity in guiding others and taking them to levels they have never been before. The initial research by Posner and Kouzes was conducted nearly thirty years ago and times have changed since then. However, five practices that they identified have transcended time and remained in some of the most relevant concepts in leadership. The paper will focus on these principles created by Kouzes and Posner and their implementation in a modern world.

Leadership Is a Relationship

Five practices of exemplary leadership illustrated by Kouzes and Posner are efficient for the current generation and future application. Authors describe leadership mainly as a relationship between the leader and the followers (Maxwell, 2011). It is found everywhere, and it is not inherited. Leadership cannot be carried in a gene. Authors describe leadership as a set of skills and abilities that are available to individuals and can be easily identified. The main essence of leadership is to inspire and give those who decide to follow hope. The quality of the relationship between the leaders and the followers is what matters the most. Mutual respect and confidence should characterize an effective relationship. Kouzes and Posner identified that the success of leaders is dependent on their capacity to build and sustain the relationships that enable people to do extraordinary things.

Importance of Credibility in Leadership

People always look for traits that they can emulate and admire in their leaders (Maxwell, 2011). As such, they only choose to follow the people with specific personal characteristics and attributes. Credibility is the foundation of all the qualities that a leader demonstrates. The followers must feel that they can place their trust in the leader and he or she must have shown these attributes regularly over time. Other traits that are important include honesty as followers often associate this with integrity. The followers feel that they can trust an individual who is honest as he or she can differentiate what is right and wrong. They also feel confident with true leaders and believe that they cannot be misled. Honesty comes along with some values and ethics, so people only trust those, who demonstrate these standards and live by them.

Leaders ought to have a sense of direction, which shows their concern for the future of their organizations (Giuliani & Kurson, 2007). When they demonstrate such an attitude, people are more likely to follow them, connect with their point of view, and share their visions. In addition to being goal oriented, leaders need to be inspiring to help their followers in sharing their ideas. Exemplary managers are those, who can communicate their ideas in ways that encourage their members to sign for the duration of the activity and remain excited throughout. The communication between these leaders is like a breath of life into the dreams and aspirations of the people, which makes them more willing to be part of the vision. If a leader wants to know whether he or she has inspired commitment among the followers, he should expect enthusiasm and excitement from them. Such leaders communicate in words and actions and are capable of getting extraordinary things done in optimal performance.

A leader must also be competent. People who are led must believe that their manager is responsible and can guide them to where they are going. A leader, who operates the followers, has solid judgment and relevant experience in his or her area of leadership. The record of accomplishment of leaders also plays a great role in the confidence that the followers demonstrate towards them. Therefore, they should take the time to learn the business activities of the organization and understand the current operations in the organization. After that, a manager should actively participate in all the events related to the industry and demonstrate excellent people skills.

Ethics and values are important in leadership. The basis for all of them is credibility, as it incorporates trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism. Credibility makes leaders enthusiastic about their knowledge and work, and therefore, inspires confidence from the people they lead. For individuals to believe the message, they must have faith in the messenger. The followers, who perceive their managers as credible, have a sense of ownership in their organization, feel committed to its operations, and have a strong sense of team spirit. When there is low credibility, the followers are only motivated by money, and they often feel unappreciated and unsupported. Credibility affects the attitudes of employees and influences even the loyalty of customers and investors. They believe in the leaders who mainly comprise the management because they walk the talk in their organizations. Leaders should do what they say they will do just like Kouzes and Posner put it in their second law of leadership.

Model the Way

The first practice of an exemplary leader that Posner and Kouzes talk about is that of setting an example (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). After conducting numerous studies, the two authors identified that leadership is more of the behavior that individuals demonstrate than their personality. Leaders are the role models of the behavior they expect to see in other people. For instance, when they want to achieve high standards or gain commitment, they begin by demonstrating these characteristics to their followers. In modeling the way, leaders should be clear on the guiding principles at their workplace. They should also clarify the values that they hold. Values and beliefs often receive opposition and criticism from individuals both at the workplace and outside. The leaders must, therefore, demonstrate these values to show that they believe in them regardless of the possible opposition that may come up.

Leaders must explore their personal territory before seeking to guide other people. They ought to begin by understanding who they are so that they guide other people. Kouzes and Posner emphasize the need for leaders to give a voice to the values they believe in, especially when standing up for them. It is not enough to demonstrate them; the leaders should keep talking about them in the place of work with employees and other key stakeholders, including competitors. When people keep talking about the values they believe in, workers form a culture of the organization and eventually a reputation. The organization is identified with specific attributes.

The values that are shared in an organization become its principles. The community in the organization is built around these shared values. When the values of a group, an organization, or individuals therein are coordinated, tremendous energy is generated, and this intensifies the commitment and enthusiasm from the followers. The organizations with high values experience almost ten times growth of their net income and three times increase in their stock price when compared to those that do not have a shared set of values.

Setting the Example

A leader should demonstrate the shared values to other employees (Kouzes & Posner, 2006). The exemplary leader begins by personifying the shared values in their organization. They should recognize that they have to be mindful of all the decisions made and make sacrifices for their organizations. Leaders should practice what they preach. For instance, they should arrive early at the workplace and leave late, be the first ones to do things that other people value and use proper language in the organization. When they lead by example, leaders should teach other employees to model their values. They should confront critical incidents and take them as opportunities to teach the importance of good behavior, shared values, and great ethics in their organizations. Leaders should also tell stories as a way to pass on lessons about common values. Stories are effective because they are timeless and simple as compared to dialogues that are often very boring. In leadership, people choose to value what their leaders reinforce. The prominent values in the organization form the culture therein.

When setting an example, leaders should begin by conducting a personal audit where they set their schedules in line with the shared values of the organization (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). They should also audit how they deal with critical incidents to ensure that they are promoting the values they believe in. Secondly, they should develop a routine for asking questions, which help them in understanding the impact of what they are teaching in the lives of their followers. They should use the tactic of telling stories because individuals often relate to the experiences of other people. As they tell the stories, the leaders should allow their emotions to surface so that they relate to their employees.

Inspire a Shared Vision

Envision the Future

Leaders should imagine a positive future and have the ability to develop an ideal and unique image for the goals of the organization (Maxwell, 2011). Leaders carry the vision, and it is their role to ensure that their followers share in their visions. When they share such visions, they attract more people into the activities of their organization. The capacity to envision the future begins by imagining the possibilities and then finding a common purpose for all the people in the organization. People can only be mobilized to achieve things they are interested in. Leaders should, therefore, listen to other people to determine what is meaningful to them. They should then make it a cause for commitment where they infuse their energy into strategies that are determined by the passions of their followers. In times of rapid change, leaders should be forward looking and look beyond the problems of current times. Employees can only believe in a vision that promises a better tomorrow.

Enlist Others

Followers expect that leaders should always inspire towards a shared vision. The achievements of goals often require the leaders to have energy and excitement, which serve as the source of energy (Maxwell, 2011). When leaders are enthusiastic about goals, they appeal to common ideals and animated visions, which are essentials in improving the capacities of their followers. Exemplary leaders should lead their constituents in taking pride in their uniqueness. The compelling nature of their visions should set the employees apart and boost their self-respect and esteem. When animating the vision, leaders should use symbolic language, use positive communication skills, speak from the heart, and express their emotions. Leaders take action in achieving their visions by recording their shared vision, breathing life into the activities, and expanding their communication and expressiveness skills.

Challenge the Process

Search for Opportunities

The essence of leadership may not be felt in times of stability and security (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). Individuals appreciate the need for their leaders when they go through adversity, challenges, and uncertainty. The people who seize such difficult times with determination and enthusiasm and desire to make things happen are exemplary leaders. Leaders cause to change; they make things happen by encouraging initiative in other people. They inspire their constituents to stretch themselves and reduce the reliance on extrinsic motivators. External motivation lowers the performance of organizations and creates an organizational culture characterized by selfishness and divisiveness. It is because extrinsic motivators diminish the inner sense of purpose in the minds of the followers.

Exercise Outsight

One way for leaders to ensure that they are effective is by remaining ahead of the innovation curve (Giuliani & Kurson, 2007). They should never lag behind even though the ideas are outside their organization. Leaders maintain this by creating effective external networks, which help them acquire fresh ideas. Leaders who are always on par with the innovation in their industry are excellent communicators. They promote both external and internal communication mainly by getting relevant information outside their places of work into the organization.

The leaders also allow the free flow of ideas into their organizations. The leader is receptive to external ideas as they assist the organization to broaden their perceptions. Such a leader inspires others to develop an inquisitive attitude, which destroys confining barriers. Challenges often locate the leaders who are always searching for great ideas. Therefore, they age able to make extraordinary decisions because the challenges present them with circumstances they did not anticipate for. The leaders who search for opportunities are proactive and when they do not see any, they create new ones. It is like an adventure, which though may get tough; it is stimulating as it sharpens the leadership skills in these individuals.

Experiment and Take Risks

Exemplary leaders have been seen to be they that create and inspire visions in their constituents (Kouzes & Posner, 2006). However, they ought to start small in their big dreams to avoid getting overwhelmed. When they teach their employees to make small wins in the direction of a win, the followers are propelled in the direction of success. The leaders ensure that this is done by making progress in steps. The big problems are broken down into small actions that take less time to complete. Leaders should also try many little things that produce results. When constituents win in these small activities, their esteem is built, and this translates into increased personal commitment that is translated into a course of action.

Leaders should also learn from experience by understanding that people never do anything perfectly the first time they try it. When an organization is testing new methods, practices, and concepts, there may be many errors. They later learn how to do things the right way. Leaders, therefore, ought to create a climate of learning where they promote patience, openness, tolerance and an atmosphere for forgiveness. Constituents, who are familiar with such an environment, are more often open to the learning process.

Leaders also ensure that they are active learners in the organization (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). They try out things that they have never done to make sure that they also gain new experiences. Such leaders perceive change as a challenge, which they ought to figure out. They foster hardiness from their constituents also by creating an environment where they develop a sense of control in them. The leaders assign them challenging tasks that are within their personal level of skills. When leaders are hardy, they inspire their followers because they know that they do not avoid stressful conditions.

Enable Others to Act

Foster Collaboration

Leaders need to create a climate of trust if they want to get extraordinary things done. They need to build and sustain social connections with people they trust and those who believe in them. Trust demonstrated by exemplary leaders is not only that which is in mind but the heart also. Leaders need to trust other people if they are to influence them to become innovative. They should also ensure that they are the first to show trust by opening up to employees, showing vulnerability and being first to let go of any control. The leaders should also open up to influence by listening to the local experts in their company. Exemplary leaders share information and resources with their employees to make them feel that they are a part of the decisions raised in the organization (Giuliani & Kurson, 2007).

Strengthen Others

Leaders enhance self-determination by giving their power away to the people they lead (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). They are the leaders who are always looking for job fulfillment and high performance in their organizations. Exemplary leaders provide choices to the people they lead and design jobs that allow discretion and choice. They are the leaders who understand that individuals and organizations only thrive if they are adaptive in this dynamic global environment. The constituents in such organizations are responsive to the changing demands of their customers. Leaders also foster accountability among their followers by giving them more freedom for the choices they make and expecting personal responsibility for the decisions that they make. Leaders who develop competence and confidence by educating their followers, fostering confidence, and acting as mentors to their constituents are exemplary. They can strengthen their employees, and they end up with very successful organizations.

Encourage the Heart

Leaders recognize the contributions of individuals to the organization (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). The leaders set clear standards that are well understood by everybody in the organization. The leaders have learned how to expect the best from their followers, and they pay attention to each one of them. The recognition that is done for each follower is usually personal, and this serves to provide a feeling of excellence for the constituents. Personal recognition fosters confidence in the lives of the employees, and this translates to the kind of job they perform at the organization. Just because individuals know how to do things does not mean that they will do them. They require enough self-confidence and commendation when they take on tough challenges. The recognition builds their inner strength and helps the employees plunge into the uncharted terrain when seeking to achieve the vision of the organization. Leaders should also offer visible support, which is demonstrated by the recognition. The employees feel that they are not taken for granted in the organization and this builds a great sense of personal power.

Exemplary leaders celebrate the values and victories of the people who follow them (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). They tell the story of their organizations by ensuring that they are not the only ones who take credit for the success of the organization. They account for the contribution of their employees towards achieving the vision of their organizations. Moreover, they create a community in the organization where the people share similar beliefs. The community is based on trust, proper relationships and shared values among the individuals. Therefore, they can celebrate the values and victories from some of the followers, leaders and the organization as a whole. The leaders can achieve a common feeling where the people understand that the success of one person means celebration for the whole community. Therefore, they promote values such as unity, tolerance, forgiveness, and understanding at the workplace. An organization that works as a community is likely to achieve high performance and exemplary service to customers.


The book by Kouzes and Posner shows that leadership is for everyone. The qualities of an exemplary leader are learned over time through continuous practice and exposure to the positions. Leaders are the people who have made up their minds to make differences in the lives of the organization. The change is first seen in their personal lives as demonstrated by their morals, communication skills, and networking ability. The book by Kouzes and Posner is an excellent revelation, as it illustrates the essentials for leadership with clear details on how to achieve each one of them. The book is necessary to have for all leaders in organizations and individuals who want to be successful in life, as they will learn the art of mastering themselves.


Giuliani, R. W., & Kurson, K. (2007). Leadership. New York: Miramax Books.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The leadership challenge workbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2006). The leadership challenge. New York: John Wiley & Sons Publishers.

Maxwell, J. (2011). The 360 degree leader with workbook: Developing your Influence from anywhere in the organization. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Incorporation.

Maxwell, J. (2011). The 5 Levels of leadership: Proven steps to maximize your potential. New York: Center Street Publishing.

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