Exemplary leaders are able to meet job-related demands, create higher-performing teams, boost sales and customer satisfaction levels, increase motivation, reduce absenteeism, and positively influence recruitment rates. In the newly updated 4th edition of The Leadership Challenge, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner show that the leadership practices they first uncovered in the 1980s remain true today. Their global perspective and research demonstrates that leaders in any country can use these practices.
Kouzes and Posner share what they call the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.” These include:
- Model the Way - People around the world expect credibility from their leaders. It’s not just what leaders say, but what they do that really matters, and it’s up to them to act in the way they want others to act. Leaders must determine what truly matters to them, and ensure that all their behavior is guided by those key principles. Kouzes and Posner advise doing a personal audit. Are you spending enough time on the issues that really matter to you? What appears first on the agenda when you call a meeting? How do you respond to critical situations? Does your response reinforce how you want others to behave?
- Inspire a Shared Vision - Leaders envision the future and create a roadmap for getting there. But, it’s not just the leader’s vision that matters. Exemplary leaders understand the hopes and dreams of their constituents. Using language that evokes what’s meaningful to others, leaders share this vision with everyone they work with, inspiring them to join in the effort. Valuable tools in the leaders’ arsenal are speaking from the heart, expressing their emotions, exhibiting a positive attitude, and creating clear “word pictures” of what’s to come.
- Challenge the Process - Leaders are pioneers, challenging the status quo and changing the “business-as-usual” environment. They search for opportunities to innovate, grow, and improve. This requires seizing the initiative and encouraging others to do the same. Leaders also know that innovation and change involve experimenting and taking risks. It’s almost impossible to get it right the first time when making significant change, so leaders promote learning from mistakes and moving forward one step at a time.
- Enable Others to Act - Achieving great things requires a team effort. Leaders make it possible for others to do good work by fostering collaboration and building trust. To do this, they must reveal who they really are, admit mistakes, and ask for feedback. Leaders also make people feel strong and capable, enabling them to give their all and exceed their own expectations. This requires increasing individual accountability and offering support - from individual coaching to singing the praises of team members.
- Encourage the Heart - Accomplishing extraordinary things is hard work. Leaders encourage their constituents to carry on by recognizing individual contributions and celebrating team and organizational accomplishments. Recognition and celebration aren’t about fun and games. Encouragement is serious business. Genuine acts of caring uplift spirits and draw people forward. This can come from dramatic gestures or simple actions - from handwritten thank-you notes to marching bands.
These Five Practices are then broken down into 10 Commitments of Leadership (2 per practice area), which include:
- Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared ideals
- Set the example by aligning actions with shared values
- Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities
- Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations
- Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve
- Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience
- Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships
- Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence
- Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence
- Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community
Their research over the past 20 years has also consistently shown that in order for people to listen to and identify someone as a leader, they must see that the person is honest, forward-looking, inspiring and competent. Through the stories and examples, along with the evidence-based research, Kouzes and Posner explore the 5 practices and 10 commitments in order to offer a road map for the leaders of today and tomorrow - wherever they live and work – to become an exemplary leader.