The Leadership Challenge: Summary & Review

the leadership challenge book cover

In The Leadership Challenge Kouzes and Posner analyze and break down what the most inspiring leaders do, so that you can do the same and achieve the same results.

Bullet Summary

  • Embody the virtues you want to see in your team
  • Be dependable, and foster trust. And starting by being trustworthy in yourself
  • Develop a team vision and a team culture. Stack wins and celebrate successes

Full Summary

About the Authors: Kouzes and Posner are two popular authors of leadership training and books. They also wrote “The Truth About Leadership“.

The Most Important Leadership Role Models

Research shows that the people closest to us are the ones who have the biggest impact on us.

Even for teenagers who are in love with pop stars or sports athletes, the biggest leadership role models are still their parents.

Similarly, teachers, business bosses, and coaches are also ranked high.

We Can All Learn to Be Leaders

Kouzes and Posner say that in most fields it’s not intelligence or talent alone that determines results, but it’s effort and continuous practice.

The Five Practices

  1. Model the way (be clear about your values and embody them)
    • be clear about what you stand for: people don’t trust flip-floppers
    • show instead of saying: you must embody the virtues you want to see in your team
  2. Inspire a shared vision
    • make everyone feel responsible for behaving along the team values and goals
    • show the way and create a sense of hope
    • be forward-looking: imagine a future, inspire people with it, and draw a map to get there
    • talk to people, make them feel heard, and make them feel like they belong
    • tie big ideals in the shared vision, make people feel like they’re doing something useful
    • use symbols and figures of speech to instill a shared culture
  3. Challenge the process (overcome obstacles and stack small wins)
    • the status quo breeds mediocrity: look for new ideas to implement
    • people give their best under deadlines and challenges, and use them
    • emphasize the small wins along the way
  4. Enable others to act (get others engaged)
    • great leaders foster a great team environment where everyone trusts each other
    • develop competence
    • empower the team: give them a sense of ownership
  5. Encourage the heart (do it passionately and energetically)
    • encourage community formation
    • reward positive results: in person and unexpected positive feedback works best
    • celebrate wins

People commit to causes, not to plans

Foundation of Credibility

The best leaders have credibility.

  1. Honest
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Competent
  4. Inspiring

A great way to gain credibility is: DWYSYWL: do what you said you will do.

Vision + Challenge

Great leaders have a great vision in mind. Nobody will follow someone who is not convinced in his own dream.
The challenge is also almost a given. Few people have done their best when it was easy peasy.

Most everyone did their best when they face a challenge along the way.


Love what you do, love your life, love the people you serve.

What you do speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say

the leadership challenge book cover

Real-Life Applications

Show Up At The Party
Building community is a great way to increase team spirit, trust, and bonding. The leader however should take part in the celebration


Lots of Team Inspiration, Little Real Life Power
I find some popular leadership books like The Leadership Challenge, Leaders Eat Last, or The 21 Irrefutable Laws to all focus on behavior and values.
And that IS important.
But none of them focus on things like charisma, power dynamics, and the dynamics of dominance and submission. I’d like to read more about that -and that’s why I started this website-.

How About Leadership When Things Get Rough?
The Leadership Challenge seems to be about relatively quieter times at big companies. The monthly team meeting, the feedback slips on the boss’ desk, the employee of the month with the applause, etc.
All good things, for sure.
But there are times in smaller companies when the idea of the employee of the month seems silly and trivial.
There are times when the only goal is to ship. Or win a big customer without which you’re in trouble. Or simply surviving to fight another day.
In those cases, leadership is more based on leading the charge and snatching that victory for the team.
That type of leadership doesn’t show here.

There Is More Than One Type of Leadership
I have the impression that The Leadership Challenge makes it seem as if there were only one type of leader.
However, that’s not the case and different personalities can lead in effective -but different- ways.


Great & Deep Overview Of Being a Leader
If you have been studying psychology and communication what you read here will not break new ground.
But it really puts everything together into a big and coherent framework.

Touches On Most of What Matters
The Leadership Challenge touches upon almost all that is necessary to be a great leader.

Kouzes and Posner are to leadership a bit what Gottman is to a relationship: these guys have collected data for decades.
Now that does not guarantee they are right or know better than anyone else, and surveys can be notoriously poor formats of collecting data. However, they still give more quantitative foundations to what they say.


I listed a few major cons there, but if you have been reading around here I am often more demanding of great books than of average ones.

That’s because I raise the bar for great books and put them under heavier scrutiny.

And The Leadership Challenge is the type of book that deserves a higher bar.
Indeed it’s so good and exhaustive that it can be one of the very first reads for aspiring leader, and it can keep serving them as their go-to manual when they need some refreshing.

Check out the best leadership books or get the book on Amazon

Scroll to Top