The Leadership Challenge

Kupu Aʻe is committed to serving the community with the best resources the world has to offer.  Today, The Leadership Challenge stands as the most comprehensive worldwide evidence based research leadership study. We are dedicated to advancing the depth of this work for every person, organization, company and community on the planet. Therefore The Leadership Challenge is embedded into every program we customize.

A History of The Work

The Leadership Challenge has its origins in a research project Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner began in 1983. They wanted to know what people did when they were at their “personal best” in leading others. They started with the assumption, however, that they did not have to interview and survey star performers in excellent companies to discover best practices. They assumed that by asking ordinary people to describe extraordinary experiences, they would find patterns of success. They were right.  After some preliminary research, Kouzes and Posner devised a personal-best leadership survey consisting of thirty-eight open-ended questions such as these:

  • Who initiated the project?
  • How were you prepared for this experience?
  • What special techniques and strategies did you use to get other people involved in the project?
  • What did you learn about leadership from this experience?
  • Collecting Data from Leaders in Every Field

By 1987, Kouzes and Posner had performed more than 550 of these surveys, each requiring one to two hours of reflection and expression. At the same time, a shorter, two-page form was completed by another group of 80 managers, and the researchers conducted an additional 42 in-depth interviews. In the initial study, they examined the cases of middle and senior level managers in private and public sector organizations. Since that time they have expanded their research and collected thousands of additional cases. This expanded coverage included community leaders, student leaders, church leaders, government leaders, and hundreds of others in non-managerial positions.

Every person they spoke with had at least one leadership story to tell—stories that seldom sounded like textbook management. They were not logical cases of planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. Instead, they were tales of dynamic change and bold action. In one case, for example, manufacturing productivity was improved more than 400 percent in one year. In another, quality improvements moved products from last to first on a customer’s vendor list in three months; in yet another, the company grew fivefold in sales and 750 percent in profits over six years. In the not-for-profit and public sectors, they learned of a school system that went from student performance in the lowest percentile to performance in the sixty-eighth percentile in two years and of an organization that fought for and won the passage of legislation to protect abused and battered children.

The Leadership Challenge Model

From an analysis of the personal-best cases, they developed a model of leadership that consists of what Kouzes and Posner call The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®:

  1. Model the Way
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enabling Others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart

This led them to write their first book, The Leadership Challenge and develop a quantitative instrument—the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI)—that would measure the leadership practices they uncovered.  The Leadership Challenge is currently in its fifth edition.

The Impact of The Leadership Challenge

Over its 25-year history, The Leadership Challenge has sold over one million copies and has been translated into 12 languages. The LPI is one of the most widely used leadership assessment instruments in the world. More than 350 doctoral dissertations and academic research projects have been based on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model. Visit theleadershipchallenge.com for its research and case studies.


The Five Practices and Ten Commitments

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® resulted from an intensive research project to determine the leadership competencies that are essential to getting extraordinary things done in organizations. To conduct the research, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner collected thousands of “Personal Best” stories—the experiences people recalled when asked to think of a peak leadership experience.

Despite differences in people’s individual stories, their Personal-Best Leadership Experiences revealed similar patterns of behavior. The study found that when leaders are at their personal best, they:

Model the Way

Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. Because the prospect of complex change can overwhelm people and stifle action, they set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action; they put up signposts when people are unsure of where to go or how to get there; and they create opportunities for victory.

  1. Find Your Voice by Clarifying Your Personal Values
  2. Set the Example by Aligning Actions with Shared Values

Inspire a Shared Vision

Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

  1. Envision the Future by Imagining Exciting and Ennobling Possibilities
  2. Enlist Others in a Common Vision by Appealing to Shared Aspirations

Challenge the Process

Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.

  1. Search for Opportunities by Seeking Innovative Ways to Change, Grow, and Improve
  2. Experiment and take Risks by Constantly generating Small Wins and Learning From Mistakes

Enable Others to Act

Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. They actively involve others. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

  1. Foster Collaboration by Promoting Cooperative Goals and Building Trust
  2. Strengthen Others by Sharing Power and Discretion

Encourage the Heart

Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.

  1. Recognize Contributions by Showing Appreciation for Individual Excellence
  2. Celebrate the Values and Victories by Creating a Spirit of Community

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