Book by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Review by Tina Von Wald
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner set out to help organizations achieve the extraordinary by providing leadership practices that enhance and create positive work environments. The authors described the five practices of exemplary leadership, five ways to make a difference and ten commitments of exemplary leadership. They defined what people look for in their leaders and listed credibility as an essential ingredient. The second half of the book divided each of the five practices: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act and encourage the heart.
Kouzes and Posner stated, “The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations. It’s about leadership that makes a positive difference in the workplace and creates the climate in which people turn challenging opportunities into remarkable successes.” The authors desired to cultivate self-motivation for the purpose of accomplishing great things through the organizations created reflective evaluations. They emphasized that leaders improve the work environment by developing the employees for change, adaptability, prosperity and growth. The authors believe, “Our ongoing aspiration is that this book contributes to the revitalization of organizations, to the creation of new enterprises, to the renewal of healthy communities, and to greater respect and understanding in the world.” They hoped to bring a fresh perspective to creating healthy work environments.
In the final chapter of the book the Kouzes and Posner surmised that leadership happens through relationships that impact how a leader leads, “Leadership is about relationships, about credibility, about passion and conviction, and ultimately about what you do. You don’t have to look up for leadership. You don’t have to look out for leadership. You only have to look inward.” The emphasis on encouraging others to speak into the leader’s life, doing life with others and learning from others demonstrates a similar model to the one that Christ illustrated while he lived on earth.
This book attests to leadership principles founded in the Truth. The authors do not write from a Christian perspective, but their practices support behaviors and actions that Christ exemplified. This reader identifies with the idea of leadership as relationship with others and self. They contend that everyone who leads has a responsibility as a role model for those they interact with on a daily basis; “Everyone-and that literally means every person-is potentially a role model for someone, and this means that leadership must be everyone’s business.” The leader has responsibility to navigate through life making personal changes to leadership while also encouraging others to follow and become better leaders. In ministry, pastors have a call to bring health to the church through self-evaluation and development of people through relationships.
At the end of the book the authors made a significant statement in regard to love. “The best-kept secret of successful leaders is love; staying in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations provide, and with those who honor the organization by using its products and services. Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.” This is a fresh perspective on leadership with a definite Christlike thrust.
This statement happens for the authors after they have studied leadership for a long time, and they determine that love is the key. This love refers to passion for the job, the people, the values and furthering of the passion and love, which resembles the similar undertones to the message of the gospel. The author’s revelation came through study, interviews and analyses. Passion about where and what is led gives great value to the individual, or employees and the organization.
Critique of Content
The books strength offers practical steps for leadership growth, providing substantial research to support the listed practices. “The Leadership Challenge is evidence-based. Analyzing thousands of case studies and millions of survey responses resulted in The Five Practices framework.” In putting these steps into practice a leader can do so with confidence that these practices come out of much research and development in work environments.
Written from a secular perspective, the book does not acknowledge these principles as biblical thus indicates a weakness. One example of a biblical perspective but a lack of recognition of Truth (Phil. 2:3), “Perhaps the very best advice for all aspiring leaders is to remain humble and unassuming-to always remain open to learning more about yourself and the world around you.” Identified throughout the New Testament, Jesus exemplified humility.
The book set out to research and provide leadership principles a leader can refer to as they continue on their leadership journey. “Think of the book as a field guide to take along on your leadership journey. Think of it as a manual you can consult when you want advice and counsel on how to make things happen and move forward.” The layout of the material makes for easy reference and suggested practices. Kouzes and Posner succeed in achieving their goal in writing this book.
This book offers practical suggestions for enhancing leadership, with proven steps to take at the end of each practice. The Leadership Challenge can provide a fresh perspective to leaders desiring self-improvement or looking for action steps to take for betterment. This material works those at entry level leadership positions up to the highest levels of leadership.
The Leadership Challenge demonstrates the importance of leadership practices through research and interviews with leaders from diverse walks of life by including practical steps to implementing practices proven successful in leadership. The material provides real world practices to reference as you lead, no matter what level of leadership.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,
Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, xiv.
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Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, xii.
Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, 308.
Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, xiii.