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The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations Hardcover – July 31, 2012
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Featured Guest Review by Marshall Goldsmith
Marshall Goldsmith has been recognized by almost every major business publication as one of America's leading executive educators and coaches. He is the author or co-editor of more than 32 books, including the New York Times best sellers What Got You Here Won't Get You There and Mojo.
Twenty-five years after the first edition was published, The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner is still my choice for the best research-based book ever written in the field of leadership. It is a classic, and I recommend it to all of my clients.
The Leadership Challenge is written for real leaders, who today face some of the toughest organizational challenges we've ever encountered. And, it provides practical, real-world advice based on Jim's and Barry's extensive global research that is indispensable for leaders at all levels.
I always refer leaders to this book, because although my Ph.D. is in Organizational Behavior, my undergraduate background is in mathematics. And, I respect people who gather real facts! In developing the Leadership Practices Inventory, which is possibly the world's most widely respected tool for 360° leadership feedback, Jim and Barry have thoroughly reviewed input from tens of thousands of respondents. They've then used this data to form sound conclusions about what works--and what doesn't work--in terms of leadership behavior.
The central theme of The Leadership Challenge is that leadership is for everyone. It can be learned, but, let's face it, it's not easy. The Leadership Challenge is based upon learnings from leaders at all levels--and shows how "regular people" can make a huge, positive difference in their organizations. It is written in a way that can help executives, mid-managers, first-line supervisors, project leaders--and even individual contributors--better understand how they can lead and immediately apply what they have learned in their work.
For example, Jim and Barry asked managers about their clarity around their personal values as well as around the values of their organizations. These managers were also asked about their level of commitment to the organization, their level of motivation and productivity, job satisfaction, and so on. To me, what they found is fascinating! Leaders with the highest levels of commitment are those who are clearest about their own personal values. Clarity about personal values was more prevalent in a positive workplace attitude and level of engagement than was clarity around organizational values. In doing the research for my recent book, Mojo, I found something similar to be true as well: People who find happiness and meaning at home are more likely to also find happiness and meaning at work.
Finally, for those of you reading this book now, I'd highly recommend that you put what you read here into practice. This book can help you lead in such a way that your organization will become a better place for you, your managers, employees, and colleagues-to-be. At the same time, if you implement what you learn here, you'll make a positive difference in not only your organization, but also in your own life and in the lives of those whom you lead.
'One of the most trusted sources on leadership techniques since its first publication 25 years ago. (European CEO, 1st August 2012) If you re forward-looking enough to be serious about yourself as a competent leader, you need this book (Supply Management, December 2012) .now in its fifth edition and rightly so. The book presents the issues of leadership in an easy-to-digest manner, debunking the myth that leadership is some entity that people have or don t have (Professional Manager, March 2013)
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Practice 1 – Model the Way
1. The first step to being a great leader is to clarify your values.
“You must be able to “clearly articulate deeply held belief” (44).
“To find your voice, you have to explore your inner self. You have to discover what you care about most, what defines you, and what makes you who you are” (46).
Question: What values guide your current decisions, priorities, and actions? (69).
2. The second step is to set an example by aligning actions with shared values.
“Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (37). You have to practice what you preach. Do what you say you will do. (39).
“Titles are granted, but it’s your behavior that earns you respect” (16).
“Leader’s deeds are far more important than their words” (17).
“Leading by example is more effective than leading by command” (17).
“What you do speaks more loudly than what you say” (76).
Use stories to “pass on lessons about shared values” (91).
“How you spend your time is the single best indicator of what’s important to you” (96).
Question: How are you spending your time?
Practice 2 – Inspire a Shared Vision
3. The third step is to envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities.
Vision begins with “one person’s imagination” (103).
“Leaders are dreamers. Leaders are idealists. Leaders are possibility thinkers” (105).
“Leaders need to spend considerable time reading, thinking, and talking about the long-term view, not only for their specific organization but also for the environment in which they operate” (110).
“Imagination is more important than intelligence” – Albert Einstein (112).
It is easier to drive fast when there is no fog on the road. This “analogy illustrates the importance of clarity of vision…You’re better able to go fast when your vision is clear” (123).
Question: What do you care about? What drives you? Where do your passions lie? What do you want to accomplish and why? (126). What ideas and visions do you hold in your mind of what can be? (100).
4. The fourth step is to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
“You can’t command commitment; you have to inspire it. You have to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations” (18).
“No matter how grand the dream of an individual visionary, if others don’t see in it the possibility of realizing their own hopes and desires, they won’t follow voluntarily or wholeheartedly” (117).
“The best leaders are great listeners (118).
“People commit to causes, not to plans” (121).
“People aren’t going to follow someone who’s only mildly enthusiastic about something. Leaders have to be wildly enthusiastic for constituents to give it their all” (129).
“Visions are about ideals. They’re about hopes, dreams, and aspirations. They’re about the strong desire to achieve something great. They’re ambitious. They’re expressions of optimism. Can you imagine a leader enlisting other in a cause by saying, “I’d like you to join me in doing the ordinary?” (130).
“Feeling special fosters a sense of pride” (134).
“Show people how their dreams will be realized” (138).
“Visions are images in the mind…They become real as leaders express those images in concrete terms to their constituents” (143).
Question: What common ideas are you appealing to? (152).
Practice 3 – Challenge the Process
5. The fifth step is to search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve.
“Maintaining the status quo simply breeds mediocrity” (156).
100% of the shots you do not take will miss going into the basket (166).
“Find ways for people to stretch themselves. Set the bar incrementally higher, but at a level at which people feel they can succeed” (169).
“Be on the lookout for new ideas, wherever you are” (181).
Question: What are you doing new today in order to become better than yesterday?
6. The sixth step is to experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.
“Nothing new and nothing great is achieved by doing things the way you’ve always done them. You have to test unproven strategies…break out of the norms that box you in…venture beyond the limitations you normally place on yourself” (188).
“Big things are done by doing lots of little things” (196).
“It is hard to argue with success” (197).
“Small wins produce results because they make people feel like winners and make it easier for leaders to get others to want to go along with their requests” (199).
“Learning is the master skill” (202).
Question: How are you changing, improving, growing, and innovating?
Practice 4 – Enable others to Act
7. The seventh step is to foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.
“The team is larger than any individual on the team” (21).
“‘We’ can’t happen without trust” (219).
“When you create a climate of trust, you create an environment that allows people to freely contribute and innovate” (222).
“Placing trust in others is the safer bet with most people most of the time” (223).
“People have to believe that you know what you’re talking about and that you know what you’re doing” (226).
“Once you help others succeed, acknowledge their accomplishments, and help them shine, they’ll never forget it” (234).
“Demonstrate that you trust them before you ask them to trust you” (239).
Question: Who are you willing to trust?
8. The eighth step is to strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.
“The paradox of power: you become more powerful when you give your own power away” (244).
“Feeling powerful…comes from a deep sense of being in control of your own life” (246).
“Individual accountability is a critical element of every collaborative effort” (252).
“The more freedom of choice people have, the more personal responsibility they must accept” (253).
“If your constituents aren’t growing and learning in their jobs, they’re highly likely to leave and find better ones” (261).
Question: Do the people around you feel powerful?
Practice 5 – Encourage the Heart
9. The ninth step is to recognize contributions by showing appreciation.
“The climb to the top is arduous and steep. People become exhausted, frustrated, and disenchanted, and are often tempted to give up. Genuine acts of caring draw people forward. “recognition is the most powerful currency you have and it costs you nothing.” (23).
“Say Thank You” (294).
“Spontaneous, unexpected rewards are often more meaningful than expected, formal ones” (292).
Question: Do you say “thank you” enough?
10. The tenth step is to celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community.
“Leaders never get extraordinary things accomplished all by themselves” (30).
“Celebrate accomplishments in public” (307).
“Get personally involved…leadership is a relationship” (315).
“Make celebrations part of organizational life” (323).
Question: Who are you celebrating?
For a great book on Christian leadership, check out: The Secret of Obed-Edom: An Ancient Story with Hidden Truth for Your Spiritual Journey
First, I feel it focuses so much on the inspirational side of leadership that it underplays the "sleeves-rolled-up" (getting the task done) reality of leadership in smaller firms. This feels like a big-company orientated book.
Second, it doesn't say much about how to develop leadership presence, even though the best leaders seem to have it. To me, great leadership is not just a matter of the right behaviours (which is what this book focuses on), it also depends on your presence. This, I feel, is a gap in the book.
Third, it might give some readers the impression that leaders must always be visionaries. It misses the point that a vision isn't always necessary, but a group purpose is. The purpose may be expressed as a vision, but then again it might not. It might instead be more pragmatic and short-term, especially if it's leadership of a rescue team we're talking about, not an international company.
Fourth, it says what you have to do (the five practices) to lead, but knowing what to do won't always enable someone to do it - especially if the behaviours aren't natural to them. Many leaders are stuck in old habits because of their psychology, but The Leadership Challenge doesn't address this.
Fifth, The Leadership Challenge, I feel, gives the impression that successful leaders have to be inspiring and lead from the front. But surely it is possible to put forth an inspiring idea without always being personally inspiring? Sure, it's helpful to be inspiring and a cheerleader kind of leader, but not everyone is like this. Think of Jim Collins book, "Good to Great," and the level 5 leaders he wrote about. They exuded humility and will, but were often rather low-profile. My point is that there are other ways of leading, but this book could give some people the idea that there's only one way of being a leader.
If you want a companion read that addresses these five points, the best I know of at this point is James Scouller's "The Three Levels of Leadership". This too provides a comprehensive, easily understood model of leadership, but it also gets into the leader's psychology and leadership presence, while staying practical and applicable to both large and small firms.
The second time I came into contact with this book was during a graduate level course on leadership during a Master of Arts program in Management and Leadership at Webster University. The type of leadership style discussed in this book is a perfect example of what was referred to as transformational leadership. Transformational leaders are described as those that are effective at working with people. These five practices fit quite neatly into my personal leadership style and my personality.