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The Leadership Challenge

 

Book reviews> The Leadership Challenge

 

James Kouzes and Barry Posner developed a survey (The Leadership Practices Inventory) that asked people which, of a list of common characteristics of leaders, were, in their experiences of being led by others, the seven top things they look for, admire and would willingly follow. And over twenty years, they managed ask this of seventy five thousand people.

The results of the study showed that people preferred the following characteristics, in order:

  • Honest
  • Forward-looking
  • Competent
  • Inspiring
  • Intelligent
  • Fair-minded
  • Broad-minded
  • Supportive
  • Straightforward
  • Dependable
  • Cooperative
  • Determined
  • Imaginative
  • Ambitious
  • Courageous
  • Caring
  • Mature
  • Loyal
  • Self-controlled
  • Independent

The main part of the book discusses the five actions that Kouzes and Posner identify as being key for successful leadership:

Model the way

Modeling means going first, living the behaviors you want others to adopt. This is leading from the front. People will believe not what they hear leaders say but what they see leader consistently do.

Inspire a shared vision

People are motivated most not by fear or reward, but by ideas that capture their imagination.
Note that this is not so much about having a vision, but communicating it so effectively that others take it as their own.

Challenge the process

Leaders thrive on and learn from adversity and difficult situations. They are early adopters of innovation.

Enable others to act

Encouragement and exhortation is not enough. People must feel able to act and then must have the ability to put their ideas into action.

Encourage the heart

People act best of all when they are passionate about what they are doing. Leaders unleash the enthusiasm of their followers this with stories and passions of their own.

 

Overall, it is difficult to ignore the combined views of 75,000 people. The placing of honesty first is notable and highlights the importance of telling the truth to those they would lead. The overall process identified is clearly transformational in style, which again has a strong focus on followers.

 

Buy Me

Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, Jossey Bass, 2002

The results of a long study of leadership involving more than a million people who were asked to 'describe the best leader you had'. See also the review of this book.

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