The leadership challenge book review examples

Book Review: The Leadership Challenge by Barry Z. Posner and James M. Kouzes

First written in 1987 by two authors considered to be experts in the field of leadership, The Leadership Challenge has gone to become one the most trusted voices on the subject of leadership as well as an all time best seller leadership book. One of the reasons for this is that the authors, Barry Z. Posner and James M. Kouzes, in the true spirit of leadership, have churned out regular revisions to their original work, continuously adding to and improving upon content based on the ongoing changes in the corporate environment. The classic’s fourth edition has been released and is the version that will be reviewed in this paper. Posner and Kouzes released this latest version in 2007, a little while before the global economic downturn hit corporate around the world.
The book could have been better timed as the recession brought to the fore, once again, the importance of leadership in steering an organization and its people through times of crisis. The authors have based their knowledge on extensive research and interviews with leaders in both, public as well as private sectors, employed at varied levels. Although over 50% fresh content has been added to the book, the authors insist that the basics of leadership have never changed. However, the context in which leadership is applied has changed greatly over time. They have identified five key practices that result in exemplary performance among leader, the practices being: a) Model the Way, b) Inspire a Shared Vision, c) Challenge the process, d) Enable Others to Act, and e) Encourage the Heart. Once a leader fully understands the importance of these principles and applies them practically, success is guaranteed.


Both, Posner and Kouzes are associated with the Leavey School of Business at the Santa Clara University. While Posner is the dean of the school as well as professor of Leadership, Kouzes is an executive fellow at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the school. Kouzes is also chairman emeritus at the Tom Peters Company. In addition to authoring The Leadership Challenge, the two have also collaborated to co-author books such as Credibility, Encouraging the Heart and The Leadership Challenge Planner. Further, they have created the much praised Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) as well as LPIOnline – 360 degree assessment tools based in the five leadership practices mentioned in The Leadership Challenge.
The purpose of the book has always been to develop a higher understanding of leadership concepts among modern day managers in order to boost performance and efficiency without compromising the human elements of an organization. The five main practices have also remained the same across all the revisions in the book and the authors emphasize that they are still as relevant today as they were back in the 1980s. However, in addition to the five practices, the authors had also listed ’10 commitments of leadership’ and these several of these have undergone change to adapt to modern day leadership challenges. The latest edition includes over 90% of new case studies, several of which are taken from foreign shores in keeping with the globalized nature of the corporate world. This adds a comprehensive touch to the book, incorporating leadership viewpoints from the world over.
Based on extensive and intensive research, interviews and evidences, The Leadership Challenge is a book which intends to enable modern day leaders, managers and even entrepreneurs to develop skills, attributes and traits that will help them drive exemplary performance among team members and achieve higher levels of success. The authors break the age old myth that leadership is an inborn talent or it is the inheritance of a chosen charismatic few by emphasizing that even ordinary performers can become great leaders by following a set of principles.
Organizations today need their work force to deliver optimum results at all times. This can be achieved only when every team within the company is being run by competent leaders. Leadership is not just about telling people what to do and it defers from simply managing or organizing teams. Effective leadership requires a blend of attributes such as high emotional and intelligence quotients, high technological awareness, great interpersonal and communication skills and a thorough knowledge of matters beyond their purview of work. Great leaders also share certain personality traits such as honesty and fair play, open mindedness and trustworthiness. Leaders lead by setting an example, they walk the talk, inspiring others with an ‘ If I can do it, so can you’ attitude.
The authors quote Alan Keith of Genentech ‘ Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen’ . A good leader shifts the teams focus from mechanical to creative, utilizing the trust they have built among their followers to develop a reliable system. In order to achieve this extraordinary performance, the authors demarcate five practices of exemplary leadership:
a) Model the Way: According to research conducted by the authors, people look up to those who have a set of strong principles and stand up for what they believe in . A leader cannot be successful if he or she does not practice what he or she preaches. This practice encourages leaders to not only clearly communicate their objectives and principles but also act as guides to their followers by acting on these beliefs. This leads to higher levels of trust and transparency. The leader is able to dictate the terms on which the team will function without making the guidelines too stringent to eliminate creativity.
b) Shared Vision: This practice requires a leader to set a final goal and devise an idea on how to reach that goal. The concept or vision is then shared with followers in such a way that they too start believing in its feasibility, profitability and goodness. Once the leader’s vision becomes the follower’s, it becomes easier to motivate them towards the actual process of achieving targets. In addition, when followers feel strongly about a vision, the satisfaction they attain from working towards the goal is also greater.
c) Challenge the Process: The authors say, ‘ the work of leaders is change’ . This practice encourages leaders to take a good look around for opportunities to change things for the better. The change may be associated with processes, products or beginning a new business all together. An effective leader is able to spot these change opportunities before others and then devise creative strategies to capitalize on it. Leaders are also not hesitant towards taking risks and are not discouraged by past failures, understanding that risk taking is a part and parcel of the change process.
d) Enable Others to Act: This practice involves fostering collaboration and strengthening others. The authors say that the constantly evolving nature and globalization of the markets now requires a leader to constantly form and build new bonds. This can be achieved through inspiring trust and creating an environment for string relationships. The authors lay great importance on the subject of trust. An effective leader not only makes others trust him or her but also places his or her own trust in other people. A leader does not hesitate before delegating authority to subordinates in order to strengthen them. Empowering followers does not take away from a leader’s power but, on the contrary, increases it. For this purpose, the leader needs to have tremendous self-belief and confidence. The leader would further need to develop the skills and knowledge of follower to enhance their capabilities so that they are able to carry out the responsibilities placed on their shoulders.
e) Encourage the Heart: This practice is all about rewards and recognition, identifying and felicitating achievers as well as celebrating team achievements. However, praise cannot be showered just for the sake of it. Recognition should be given only when it is thoroughly deserved, i. e. on delivering the best. Goals and expectations should high but achievable and clearly communicated. A leader should keep an eye out for team members who are going the extra mile to achieve targets as well as those who are lagging behind and motivate each accordingly. Once a follower delivers exemplary performance, the leader should take care that the recognition has his or her personal touch. Being appreciated by a leader can be a great morale booster for team members. The authors are quick to remind us that incentives should be creative and do not always have to be monetary in nature.
The above five practices further lead to ten ‘ leadership commitments’, which are basically action points derived for each of the practices after having researched over 400 sources.
While there are several concepts and strategies that are encouraged as the book progresses, the following are of particular note and have been emphasized by the authors: a) Collaboration, b) Conviction to personal beliefs and principles, c) Driving commitment in followers, and d) Rewards and recognition.


Although it might initially appear that The Leadership Challenge is a book meant for managers, existing as well as new entries, its usefulness extends far beyond this scope. The concepts and strategies held within the content can be utilized by aspiring entrepreneurs, team leaders, supervisors or anyone who would like to become a leader in their own right. The five practices of exemplary leadership can be applied across industries, functions and managerial levels.
Most of the concepts discussed in the book are based on the human element of an organization, i. e.: its people. However, it does not just tell the reader on how to manage people or make them do what the leader wants. The book goes beyond this purview and also informs the reader on the importance of winning the trust of followers as well appreciating their achievements and efforts. Further, it shows the reader how individual preferences and goals can be aligned with organizational objectives in order to attain maximum performance and satisfaction for all, the organization, the leader as well as the follower. In this sense, the book is very well balanced, making sure that all participants in the leadership function are covered.
The authors’ initiative to include global case studies as part of their research to gain evidence supporting their concepts and strategies is also highly appreciated. Businesses are becoming increasingly multinational in their external as well as internal dealings. Hence, the manner in which leaders from different parts of the world deal with leadership challenges provides a fresh insight into mindsets that vary geographically. At the same time, it helps the reader to understand that most of the principles of leadership remain the same regardless of where they are applied, although the methods of implementation may change.
The book is written in a manner that makes it more of a guide towards best practices in the leadership. It does not define processes or tell readers exactly what to do. It, instead, inspires them to use their own creativity, intelligence and experiences to devise strategies of their own to suit their individual goals and organizational objectives. The practices and commitments mentioned in the book are clear enough to warrant the understanding of the concepts being promoted by the authors, yet they are flexible enough to allow for innovation on the part of individuals who use the book as a guide. This is a plus point considering that every organization and leadership scenario varies from the other and requires personalization of techniques and principles.
In all, The Leadership Challenge has no obvious shortfalls. The effort made by its author to keep the content updated shows in the books relevance in the corporate context despite the fast paced changed that global markets are undergoing on a near day to day basis. However, considering the tremendous impact that the global economic downturn of 2008 had on corporate world wide, it would be recommended if the next version of the book could have case studies that identified the mistakes that were made by leaders of major corporate giants that did not survive the recession or faced severe setbacks. While the book emphasizes what a leader must do, it does not pay as much attention to points that leaders should be careful about in order to avoid the situations that arose during the times of the economic crisis. While the world economies may be recovering from the recession of 2008, down turn scenarios have cropped up several times since, causing panic in the corporate world. It would be highly beneficial to the leaders of tomorrow if this guide included practices to avoid the mistakes that their less successful peers made during the economic crisis. Overall, The Leadership Challenge is an excellent source of knowledge for leaders who are seeking to develop their skills and attributes to enhance their own performance as well as that of their teams.


Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007.