The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner is an awesome book/manual on how to be an effective leader.
- Embody the virtues you want to see in your team
- Be dependable, and foster trust. And starting by being trustworthy yourself
- Develop a team vision and a team culture. Stack wins and celebrate successes
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 sport athletes, the biggest leadership role models are still their parents.
Similarly, teachers, business bosses and coaches are also rank high.
We Can All Learn to Be Leaders
Kouzes and Posner says that in most fields it’s not intelligence or talent alone that determines results, but it’s effort and continuous practice.
The Five Practices
- 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
- Inspire a shared vision
- make everyone feel responsible for behaving along the team values and goals
- show the way and create 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 figure of speech to instill a shared culture
- 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, use them
- emphasize the small wins along the way
- Enable others to act (get others engaged)
- great leaders foster great team environment where everyone trusts each other
- develop competence
- empower the team: give them a sense of ownership
- Encourage the heart (do it passionately and energetically)
- encourage community formation
- reward positive results: in person and unexpected positive feedback works best
- celebrate wins
Foundation of Credibility
The best leaders have credibility.
- Forward looking
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.
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 party 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 all focus on behavior and values.
And that IS important.
But none tell us the deep truth: leadership is also charisma, presence and a bit of dominant attitude too, at times.
Or the ability to impose your presence when someone gets out of order are the elements which often win over the respect of the team.
Getting The Job Done Leadership
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 where the idea of 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 type of leader.
However, that’s not the case and different personalities can lead in effective -but different- ways.
Great & Deep Overview On 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 relationship: these guys have researched, studies and measured for decades.
Now that does not guarantee they are right or know better than anyone else, but it gives a quantitative foundations to what they say. Which one might challenge with numbers and methodology at hand, of course, but it certainly makes them stand out.
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 book and put them under heavier scrutiny.
And The Leadership Challenge is the type of book which deserves a higher bar.
Indeed it’s so good and exhaustive that it can be one of the very first read for aspiring leader, and it can keep serving them as their go to manual when they need some refreshing.