The Leadership Challenge | Notes & Review

Posted on August 15, 2009


Kouzes, James, and Barry Posner. The Leadership Challenge, 3rd ed. Jossey-Bass, 2003. (458 pages). Here are the many resources available at

leadership challenge

Preface – Everyone’s Business: Leadership for Today and Tomorrow

The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations. It’s about the practices leaders us to transform values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards. It’s about leadershi pthat creates the climate in which people turn challenging opportunities into remarkable successes. (xvii)

This new context that we are leading in includes Heightend Uncertainty and a value for People First. It means we’re Even More Connected, that hierachy has become irrelevant. It requires Social Capital, the human networks that make things happen…

How do you help leaders learn that it’s as much the human heart as the human head that makes the world go round? (xx)

We live in a Global Economy with Speed, a direct consequence of the technologies that connect us. The Changing Workforce has redefined the social contract, and there is Even More Intense Search For Meaning.

How can leaders privide a climate for people to bring their souls to work, not just their heads and hands? (xxiii)

With all these questions, there are countless opportunities to make a difference. (xxiii)

“More than ever there is need for people to seize these opportunities to lead us to greatness. The Leadership Challenge is about those who do. It is about how traditional systems of rewards and punishments, control and scrutiny, give way to innovation, individual character, and the courage of convictions…What we have discovered, and rediscovered, is that leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best from themselves and others. What we’ve discovered is that people make extraordinary things happen by literating the leader within everyone.” (xxiii)

LEADERSHIP IS A RELATIONSHIP: Whatever the time, whatever the circumstances, leadership is a relationship…Success in leadership, in business, and in life has been, is now, and will be a function of how well we work and play together.” (xxviii, 21)

“The domain of leaders is the future. The leader’s unique legacy is the creation of valued institutions that survive over time. The most significant contribution leaders make is not simply to today’s bottom line; it is to the long-term development of people and institutions so they can adapt, chagne, prosper, and grow. … We need leaders who can unite and ignite us. (xxviii)

Part One – What Leaders Do and What Constituents Expect

1: The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership:

    Model the Way
    Inspire a Shared Vision
    Challenge the Process
    Enable Others to Act
    Encourage the Heart

[VIA: I have considered using Biblical terms for these same concepts; in order: Discipleship, Revelation, Redemption, Fellowship, and Love]

MODEL THE WAY. “Titles are granted, but it’s your behavior that wins you respect.” (14) “People first follow the person, then the plan.” (15) INSPIRE A SHARED VISION. “Leaders cannot command commitment, only inspire it.” (15) CHALLENGE THE PROCESS. “All the cases involved a change from the status quoe. Not one person claimed to have achieved a personal best by keeping things the same. … Leaders are pioners — people who are willing to step out into the unknown. … It might be more accurate to say that leaders are early adopters of innovation. … As weather shapes mountains, problems shape leaders.” (17) ENABLE OTHERS TO ACT. “Leaders work to make people feel storng, capable, and committed. Leaders enable others to act not by hoarding the power they have but by giving it away.” (18) ENCOURAGE THE HEART. “It’s  part of the leader’s job to show appreciation for people’s contributions and to create a culture of celebration.” (19)

THE TEN COMMITMENTS OF LEADERSHIP. “What do peole look for ande admire in a leader? What do people want from someone whose direction they’d be willing to follow?”

1. Find your voice by clarifying your personal values.
2. Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.
3. Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities.
4. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aaspirations.
5. Search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow, and improve.
6. Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes.
7. Foster collaboration by promoting cooperatinve goals and building trust.
8. Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion.
9. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
10. Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.

2: Credibility is the foundation of leadership

“Leadership is a reciprocal process between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow.” (23) “As the data clearly show, for people to follow someone willingly, the majority of constituents must believe the leader is: *Honest, *Forward-Looking, *Competent, and *Inspiring. (The next 10 in line are Intelligent, Fair-minded, Broad-minded, Supportive, Straightfoward, Dependable, Cooperative, Determined, Imaginative, and Ambitious.) (25)

Honest. People want to know that the person is truthful, ethical, and principled. (27) “When we follow someone we believe to be dishonest, we come to realize that we’ve compromised our own integrity. Over time, we not only lose respect for the leader, we lose respect for ourselves.” (28)

Forward-Looking. “People don’t mean the magical power of a prescient visionary. The reality is far more down-to-earth: it’s the ability to set or select a desireable destination toward which the company, agency, congregation, or community should head.” (28)

Competent.Leadership competence refers to the leader’s track record and ability to get things done.” (29) “There may be notable exceptions, but it is highly unlikely that a leader can succeed without both relevant experience and, most important, exceptionally good people skills. … A leader must have the ability to bring out hte best in others — to enable others to act.” (30)

Inspiring. “Inspiring leadership speaks to our need to have meaning and purpose in our lives.” (31) “To get extraordinary things done in extraordinary times, leaders must inspire optimal performance — and that can only be fueled with positive emotions.” (31)

These key characteristics make up what communications experts refer to as “source credibility.” (32)

If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message. (33)

Leaders don’t just report the news; they make the news. (35)

A judgement of “credible” is handed down when words and deeds are consonant.” (37)

Part Two – Model the Way

3: Find Your Voice

“It’s about having a voice and about giving voice. To Find Your Voice you must engage in two essentials:
*Clarify your values
*Express your self


“If anyone is ever to become a leader we’d willingly follow, one certain prerequisite is that they must be someone of principle.” (45)

You can’t believe in the messenger if you don’t know what ht emessenger believes. (46)

Values Are Guides. “They supply us with a moral compass by which to navigate the course of our daily lives. Clairty of values is essential to knowing which way, for each of us, is north, south, east, and west.” (48) “Values also motivate. They keep us focused on why we’re doing what we’re doing and the ends toward which we’re striving.” (49)

Personal Values Clarity Makes a Difference. “Values make a significant difference in behavior at work.” (49) “People want to be part of something larger than themselves. What we’re saying is this: people cannot fully commit to an organization or a movement that does not fit with their own beliefs. Leaders must pay as much attention to personal values as they do to organizational values if they want dedicated constituents.” (51)

Explore Your Inner Territory. “Leadership begins with something that grabs hold of you and won’t let go.” (52) “Make a statement with your life that’s consistent with your heart, that gives voice to what you really feel is important.” (54)

Listen to the Masters. While individual lessons vary, “people try to model their behavior after those they admire and respect.” (54) “People burn out less from a lack of energy than from a lack of a sense of purpose.” (55) “Finding your voice is about engaging with the world.” (55)


“You cannot lead through someone else’s values, someone else’s words. You cannot lead out of someone else’s experience. You can only lead out of your own. Unless it’s your style, your words, it’s not you; it’s an abstraction.” (58)

In Your Own Words. “Words send singnals, and, if you listen intently, you may just hear the hidden assumptions about how somone vies the world.” (57)

The Three Stages of Self-Expression. 1. Looking Out. “When first learning to lead, we paint what we see outside ourselves — the exterior landscape. … We want to learn everything we can from others, and we often try to copy their style.” (59) 2. Looking In. “Somewhere along the way, you’ll notice that your speech sounds machanically rote, that your meetings are a boring routine, and htat your interactions feel terribly sad and empty. … In these moments you begin to stare into the darkness of your inner territory, and to wonder what lies inside. … But, who exactly am I? What is my voice? … Then, after exhausting experimentation and often painful suffering, there emerges from all those abstract strokes on the canvas an expression of self that is truly your own.” (60) 3. Moving On. “You become the author of your own experience.” (61)


“To commit to doing something without the capacity to perform it is either disingenuous or stupid. … Leaders must be aware of the degree to which they actually have the capabilities to do what they say. … Acquiring competence is all about being genuine. … Your value as a leader is determined not only by your guiding beliefs but also by your ability to act on them. To strengthen credibility you must continuously assess your existing abilities and learn new ones. And that takes time and attention.” (63)


Look in the mirror. “Clarification of personal values begins with becoming more self-aware. … It’s the ABCs of human action: assumptions (values) cause us to select certain behaviors, and those behaviors have consequences. By asking others to reflect back to us our behaviors, we can then better examine the assumptions that might be guiding our actions.” (64) “Feedback should be viewed as a gift, and if others offer this gift you should thank them.” (64)

Take time for contemplation. “I think people in this society need a spiritual practice.” (65)

Write a tribute to yourself. How would you like to be seen by others? “What words or phrases would you most like to hear others say about you? How would you like to be remembered? What descriptions would make you feel the proudest?” (67)

Record the lessons from the leaders you admire.  “Come up with at least six historical and personal role models and write down for each: why you selected them, what they did, how you feel about each, and the lessons you gained from them. You’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process of writing about others.” (68)

Write your credo. “Those with whom you work need to know the principles that you believe shoudl guide their actions in your absence. They need to know the values and beliefs that you think should steer their decision making and action taking.” (68)

Engage in a credo dialogue and assessment. “Read your credo aloud to some trusted colleagues. Ask them to assume that they know nothing about your values other than what you are reading to them. Ask them to listen for clarity and understanding. Then ask them to give you feedback…” (69)

Collect stories that teach values. “No matter which leader’s biography you read, you’ll find they all were influenced by the lives and stories of others. … “What books or stories made the biggest impression on you as a child? What values did these books teach? What books or stories are you reading right now? What values do they teach?” (71)

Audit your ability to succeed. “Your value as a leader and as an individual contributor is determined not only by your guiding beliefs but also by your ability to act on them.” (71) “But conpetence alone does not determine the capacity to act on your values. You must also have the confidence that you can, in a given leadership situation, apply your skills and act on your beliefs. … Audits are only as effective as the questions you ask.” (72) Max De Pree would ask some very unusual and intriguing questions: “What should grace enable us to be?” “Why does this organization need you?” Try answering that question for yourself. (72)

4: Set The Example

“Compelling words may be essential to lifting people’s spirits, but leaders know that constituents are more deeply moved by deeds. … Leading by example is how leaders make visions and values tangible. It’s how they provide the evidence that they’re personally committed. And that evidence is what people look for and admire in leaders — people whose direction they willingly follow.” (77)

“In the process of setting an example, leaders endeavor to lead their constituents from ‘what I believe’ to ‘what we believe.'”


“While credible leaders honor the diversity of their many constituencies, they also stress their common values. Leaders build on agreement.” (78)

The Power of Shared Values. “Recognition of shared values provides people with a common language. Tremendous energy is generated when individual, group, and organizational values are in synch. Commitment, enthusiasm, and drive are intensified: people have reasons for caring about their work.” (78)

What Shared Values Are Important? “Leaders must engage their constituents in a dialogue about values. A common understanding of values comes about through that dialogue; it emerges from a process, not a pronouncement.” (81) “Constituents must be able to enumerate the values and must have common interpretations of how those values will be put into practice. They must know how the values influence their own jobs and how they directly contribute to organization success.” (82) “For people to understand the values and come to agree with them, they must participate in the process: unity is forged, not forced.” (83)


“Leadership is a performing art. Leaders don’t ‘act’ in the same sense as Broadway performers, of course. However, they enact the meaning of the organization in every decision they make and in every step they take toward the future they envision.” (84) There are five essential aspects to their behavior and actions that leaders need to be conscious about…

Calendars: Spend Time and Pay Attention. “How you spend your time is the single clearest indicator, especially to other people, about what’s important to you.” (85)

Critical Incidents: Seize Opportunities to Teach. Regarding the “unexpected” and the “serendipitous,” these “critical incidents present opportunities to teach important lessons about appropriate norms of behavior.” (88)

Stories, Analogies, and Metaphors: Use the Timeless Way to Teach Virtues. “Research has shown that information is more quickly and accurately remembered when it is first presented int he form of an example or story.” (90)

Language: Choose Words and Questions Deliberately. “Leaders understand and are attentive to language. The words we choose to use are metaphors for concepts that define attitudes and behaviors, structures and systems.” (91) “When leaders ask questions, they send constituents on mental journeys — “quests” — in search of answers. The questions that a leader asks send messages about the focus of the organization, and the’re indicators of what’s of most concern to the leader.” (91)

Measurements: Recognize That What Gets Measured Gets Done. Leaders can easily influence outcome by providing the tools for measuring progress.” (93)


Create alignment around key values. “Why is an important question. Indeed, the Socratic question — ‘Why?’ — is the only teacher behavior that is effective in raising th emoral reasoning of schoolchildren. … Moreover, providing a rationale for the value helps people to remember that value and apply its logic to new and different situations and circumstances; this promotes a consistency in the interpretation and enactment of values. .. Don’t stop at creating alignment; acknowledge that even good ideas grow stale over time.” (95)

Speak about shared values with enthusiasm and confidence — even drama. “Your task is to keep epople focused by constantly affirming publicly what we all stand for.” (95) “Research has also found differences between what are perceived as confident or powerful versus powerless styles of presentation. … The powerful style…portrays the speaker as more assuming, more goal directed, and more straightforward.” (96) “These actions weren’t drama for drama sake. Instead, they were designed to draw attention to critical values and priorities. Sometimes you have to go out of your way to get a point across.” (97)

Teach and reinforce through symbols and artifacts. “Leaders are attentive to the use of ceremonies, both official and spontaneous, in the reinforcement of shared values. … The critical point is this: in the performing art of leadership, symbols and artifacts are a leader’s props. They’re necessary tools for making the message memorable and sustainable over time. Together with rituals, they’re a means of keeping the vision and values present even when the leader is absent.” (98)

Lead by storytelling. Tell “personal stories. … What we communciate in stories (and examples) is remembered by others in proportion to its ‘vividness.’ To be vivid, a story should be about a real person, have a strong sense of time and place, and be told in colorful and animated language.” (99) “Since the stories you tell should be about other people, about what they are doing to put shared values into practice and to demonstrate their commitment as ‘disciples,’ telling stories forces you to pay close attention to what your constituents are doing. Telling stories about others gives you the chance to reinforce that ‘everyone is a leader.'” (100)

Put storytelling on your meeting agendas. “Capture as many examples of exemplary behavior in your organization as you can. Think of yourself as the chief historian on your team.” (100)

Ask questions. “Every question you ask is anothe rpotential teaching opportunity. They key to good questions is to think about the ‘quest’ in your question. Where do you want to take this person with your question? What do you want this person to think about? … Questions develop people.” (101)

Keep score. “Tie your feedback direclty to financial rewards.” (103)

Do a personal audit. “Audit your daily routines. Are you spending sufficient time on matters consistent with your shared values? Use your shared values as the basis for planning your weekly schedule. Let values be your guide, not old habits or the in-basket. … Audit your daily calendar…agendas…questions…how you deal with critical incidents…internal memos, e-mail notes, and messages…in-basket…rewards and recognitions.” (103-4)

Part Three – Inspire a Shared Vision

5: Envision The Future

“When we feel passionately about the legacy owe want to leave, about the kind of future world we want for ourselves and for others, then we are much more likely to voluntarily step forward. If we don’t have the slightest clue about our hopes, dreams, and aspirations, then the chance that we’ll take the lead is significantly less. In fact, we may not even see the opportunity that’s right in front of us.” (110)


“All enterprises … begin in the mind’s eye; they begin with imagination and with the belief that what’s merely an image can one day be made real.” (111)


“No matter what the term is used — whether purpose, mission, legacy, dream, goal, calling, or personal agenda — the intent is the same: leaders want to do something significant, to accomplish something that no one else has yet achieved. … Your passion for something is an indication of what you find worthy in and of itself. [Re: extrinsic and intrisic motivation], re search is very clear. External motivation is more likely to create conditions of compliance or defiance; self-motivation produces far superior results. There’s even an added bonus. People who are self-motivated will keep working toward a result even if there’s no reward, but people who are externally controlled are likely to stop trying once the rewards or punishments are removed.” (112)


“Constituents of all types demand that leaders be forward-looking and have a sense of direction. Leaders must develop this capacity to Envision the Future by mastering these essentials: (“…we freely admit that it’s more art than science.” (114-5)


“At the beginning, leaders have a theme…concerns, desires, questions, propositions, arguments, hopes, dreams, and aspirations — core concepts around which they organize their aspirations and actions.” (115)

Express Your Passion. “Finding your vision is a process of self-exploration and self-creation.” (115) “Exemplary leaders have a passion for their institutions, their causes, their technologies, their communities — something other than their own fame and fortune. … Leaders care about making a difference in the world. If you don’t care deeply for and about something and someone, then how can you expect others to feel any sense of conviction? How can you expect others to get jazzed, if you’re not energized and excited? (116)

Explore Your Past. The “one-way-mirror hypothesis” (Janus effect) states, “We make sense of our world retrospectively, and all understanding originates in reflection and looking backward…We construct the future by some kind of extrapolation, in which the past is prologue, and the appraoch to the future is backward-looking.” (119) “In addition to identifying lifelong themes, there’s another benefit to looking back before looking ahead: we can gain a greater appreciation for how long it can take to fulfill aspirations.” (119)

Pay Attention to Your Experiences. “Visions don’t materialize magically in a sudden flash of light. They come, in part, from paying attention to what is right in front of us. … There’s another lesson from our own experience. To be able to have a vision of the future, you have to be able to see the big story: to see trends and patterns and not just one-off or one-time occurrences.” (121)

Immerse Yourself. “Direct experience is critical. It’s the knowledge gained from direct experience and active searching that, once stored in the subconscious, becomes the basis for leaders’ intuition, insight, and vision.” (122-3) It is an “iterative process.” (124)


“Leaders are possibility thinkers, not probability thinkers.

Find Meaning in the Ideal. This is about “improving on the existing situation or creating an entirely new state of existence…characterized by a dissatisfaction with the status quo and a belief that something better was attainable. They represent the choice of an ideal. … Ideals reveal our higher-order value preferences.” (126)

Take Pride in Being Unique. “Only when people understand how we’re truly distinctive, how we stand out in the crowd, will they want to sign up with us.” (127) [Edward Goeppner, of the Podesta Baldocchi chain of flower shops said, “We don’t sell flowers, we sell beauty.” (127)]

Make Images of the Future. “Just as architects make drawings and engineers build models, leaders find ways of giving expression to their hopes for the future.” (129)

Look to the Future. “Visions are statements about destinations. … The point is that leaders must think about the future and become able to project themselves ahead in time.” (130


“The most important role of visions in organizational life is to give focus to human energy.” (130)

Read a biography of a visionary leader. “Visionary leaders aren’t content to relate the existing stories; they create new ones.” (132)

Thinik about your past

Determine the “something” you want to do. “Are you in your job to do something, or are you in your job for something to do?” (133) Here are some questions you can use as catalysts in clarifying your vision:
* How would I like to change the world for myself and our organization?
* How do I want to be remembered?
* If I could invent the future, what future would I invent for myself and my organization?
* What mission in life absolutely obsesses me?
* What’s my dream about my work?
* What’s my most distinctive skill or talent?
* What’s my burning passion?
* What do I want to prove?

Write and article about how you’ve made a difference.
* What’s been your greatest contribution to your family? …to those you’ve lead? …to your organization? …to your community?
* What are you most proud of at this moment?

Write your vision statement.
* What is your ideal work community? What do you personally aspire to create?
* What is unique about your hopes, dreams, and aspirations? How is it distinctive compared to all the other visions of the future?
* When you project this into the future ten to fifteen years, what does it look like?
* How does this vision serve the common good?

“Don’t censor yourself. This is aspirational: it needs to be uplifting. Give voice to your dreams. Try drawing it, finding a picture that represents it.” (135) “Successful visions are shared…communicating a vision should be a conversation — not just a speech.” (136)

Become a futurist. “Make it your business to spend some time studying the future.” (136)

Test your assumptions. “Assumptions are mental screens that expand or constrain what’s possible.” (137)
* Make a list of the assumptions underlying your vision.
* Flesh out each assumption: ask yourself what you assume to be true or untrue about your constituents and your organization, about science and technology, about economics and politics, about the future itself.
* Ask a few close advisers to react to your assumptions. Do they agree or disagree with you? Why or why not?
* Ask peopl eyou think might have different assumptions to respond to yours.
* Test your assumptions by trying an experiment or two

Rehearse with visualizations and affirmations. “One of the most effective things you can do to help you realize your vision is mental rehearsal — mentally practicing a skill, sequence of skills, or atttude using visual imagery orkinesthetic feelings.”

6: Enlist Others