Summary and Review of The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner

This book summary and review of The Leadership Challenge was prepared by Thomas Casselberry while a Finance student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University.


Executive Summary

The Leadership Challenge starts off with the basics and that is how to be a good leader.  It starts off with the importance of not only talking to people, but also listening to what they have to say and the importance of allowing people to feel pride in their jobs. 

The author does a good job of pointing out how leadership opportunities are everywhere and people should strive for them.  Some practices that all leaders should do are to lead by example, inspire others with your vision, always look for ways to improve, encourage collaboration, and to show appreciation for people’s contributions. 

People should know that leadership is learned, it is not something people are born with, but something that people have to work and strive to improve at.  Being a leader is a relationship that one develops between those that want to lead and those that choose to follow.  A true leader will have the ability to see the situation from someone else’s point of view. 

Leaders have to be honest, forward looking, inspiring and competent.  No one wants to follow someone they cannot trust and because of this being honest is very important.  People want to follow someone that has a destination and has the ability to bring them along.  A leader needs to be able to inspire others to want and follow them and has to be competent in what they are doing.  For this to work, a leader needs to have credibility and a strong set of values and beliefs.  You have to know who you are as a leader, before you are able to inspire others to follow you.

A leader needs to know that they have to collaborate with others towards a common goal, and through this a unity can be forged.  It is important to recognize people and give them positive reinforcement, they have to trust others and this will encourage others to trust them. 

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from The Leadership Challenge

1.            Leadership is learned.

2.            Leadership opportunities are everywhere.

3.            Leadership is a relationship.

4.            Be able to see a situation from someone else’s point of view.

5.            Credibility is the foundation of leadership.  Do what you say you will do.

6.            Leaders have strong beliefs about matters of principles and a clear set of values.

7.            Unity is forged, not forced.

8.            You cannot lead through someone else’s value or words.

9.            Practice what you preach.

10.            The best leaders are the ones that are willing to learn.  Leadership is learning by doing, you try, fail and learn.


Full Summary of the Leadership Challenge

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

This chapter starts off telling a story of about Dick Nettell, who was over the Bank of America call center.  When he was brought in, the call center’s employees were not satisfied with the way he organization was handling things and it showed in their performance.  Mr. Dick showed how important it was to not only listen to people, but to also make them feel pride in their jobs.  He brought up the morale of the call center and their job performance went up as well.  

Then came the story of Claire, who was a small business owner and had a vision of where and what she wanted her company to be.  This story was used, to show how leadership opportunities are everywhere and to not be afraid to act upon them.  Claire had a philosophy of treating her staff well and putting them first, because she said that happy employees make a better work place that will have better production and quality.  She also believed it to be important to have employees with the same vision as her and the same values.

The five practices of exemplary leadership were tied in after these stories.  The first practice is to model the way, which basically means to lead by example.  It is very important for a leader to be able to not only have good philosophies, but to also follow through with what they are saying.  It is true that deeds done are more important than words said.  The second practice is to inspire a shared vision, which is for the leader to have a dream or vision for the organization and also have a clear path of how to get there.  Then the leader has to be able to describe to others of how they are going to get to this destination.  The job of the leader here, is to get others to buy into the vision because leaders cannot command commitment, they can only inspire it.  Third practice is to challenge the process, which states that leaders should be willing to seek out challenges and accept them.  It is important to always be looking for ways to improve yourself and the organization, that way you do not get complacent.  Fourth practice is enabling other to act, where leaders will encourage collaboration and will build trust among people.  This leads others to feel a sense of personal power and ownership.  The fifth practice is encouraging the heart, where a personal touch can go a long way.  It can be as simple as saying thank you.  Recognizing contributions and showing appreciation really inspires people and encourages them to perform better.

Leadership is a relationship and not just at the top of the command chain, it is everywhere and everyone is capable of it.  It is not a gene or something that is inherited; it is a set of skills and abilities that are available to everyone.  There is a theory that only a few great individuals are capable of leading others, this is not true.  Leadership is a relationship between those that want to lead and those that choose to follow.

Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership


In this chapter, the authors go over the importance of credibility.  Also, say how a leader must have four characteristics and they are to be honest, forward looking, inspiring and competent.  Honesty will get people to trust you and believe in what you are telling them.  Leaders have to be forward looking, and have a destination that can be described.  People want to be inspired, so they will have a sense of meaning and purpose and leaders have to be competent.  A successful leader is one that has a track record and an ability to get things accomplished.  Credibility is the foundation that leadership is built on, it is the key for employee attitudes and behaviors and their productivity will depend on it. 

Clarify Values

Distinguished leaders have a strong belief of principles and a clear set of values.  As a leader you need to know who you are, meaning your principles and beliefs.  The authors stress the importance of taking a journey to your inner territory to find out what you really care about, before you try to lead others.  The journey will also help you find your values, which are used to guide individuals like a moral compass.  There are two sets of values means and ends.  The means is a set of short term values that are more focused on the here and now, while the end is focused on the long term or a vision for the future.

As a leader you have to do things your way, you cannot lead through someone else’s values or words.  If you are just copying someone else, then you are acting and not leading.  Shared values are useful in building a solid working relationship.  For this a leader needs to have a common understanding of the people he/she is attempting to lead and they should also have an understanding of the leader.  The leader should stand for values that represent the collective thought of the group, shared values gives everyone a common language with their co-workers and company.  It is also very important because it helps people feel more attached to their work and organization and will perform better.  Remember that unity is forged and is not forced.  For values to be truly shared, they must be more than just an advertisement or a gimmick.  They should be supported beliefs that are endorsed by everyone and should be about what is important to the people who hold them.

Set the Example

The first step to credible leadership is to clarify your values.  This alone will not be enough, it should be an set of values that everyone have taken part in creating, this way everyone will not only agree with them, but will be willing to committee to them.  As a leader it is important to set the right example, and when your values are tested is when true leaders will demonstrate what commitment means.  When others see that the leader is holding true to his values, they will be more willing to stay committed.  It all comes down to leaders practicing what they preach.  There are two essentials that are necessary for setting an example.  They are personifying the shared value and teach other to model the values.  To personify the shared value focuses on the leader, while teaching others to model the values is focused on others.  How leaders spend their time, is the best indicator of what is important to them.  Leaders are always being watched, tested and talked about so it is important for them to always be setting a good example because as others see strength in them, they will become more committed. 



Enlist Others

Good leaders know that passion plus pride is what drives performance.  This is why it is important for leader to create a environment where people are have pride in what they are doing and are passionate about it.  Leaders have to be able to enlist others through two essential ways.  They have to appeal to common ideas and to be able to animate the vision.  When leaders appeal to common ideas the visions are ideals that are ambitions and are expressions of optimism.  These ideas will reveal ones higher-value preferences.  People want to know that what they are doing has a purpose and is impacting people in a positive way.  Knowing this, leaders are able to help people see that what they are doing is bigger than them, which lifts spirits and helps motivate people.  A leader will animate a vision, by breathing life into one of their ideas.  This helps others to be able to see their vision and then tie their own feeling, interest and aspirations into it.  A useful way of doing this is metaphors.

Search for Opportunities

Change requires that leaders actively seek ways to make things better and to improve.  This is done through 2 essential ways, seize the initiative and exercise outsight.   To seize the initiative is to embrace the challenge presented by shifts in industry, and then being able to committee to creating new possibilities that make a meaningful difference.  Innovation can come from anywhere at any time and a leader has to be open to these innovations.  They do not always have to come from within an organization.  Knowing this, leaders should promote internal and external communication to get other involved in trying to come up with new ideas.  Ideas should always be received in a positive way to encourage individuals to keep thinking of new ones.


Experiment and Take Risk

Leaders are active learners and are not afraid to take risk; they learn from their failures and grow from their success.  They have to trust others, because the more trusted people feel the better their innovation.  You should always be willing to share your idea first; this will encourage others and help build trust.

Foster Collaboration

Try and develop a competence and confidence so that others will see your strength and want to follow you.  Assign the correct task to the proper person, without the proper knowledge set or skill set people feel overwhelmed and disabled.  Always strive for more training and information sharing, so that people will education themselves and strive for self improvement.  You should foster shared goals that provide a specific reason for people to work together.  This will help bind people into cooperative efforts. 

Strengthen Others

There are two leadership essentials that strengthen others; they are to enhance self-determination and to develop competence and confidence.  Leaders use these to increase people’s belief in their own abilities in order to make a difference.  This helps leaders from being in control, to be able to give over control to others and allows the leader to become a coach to help develop existing skills and learn.  Leadership practices that increase another’s sense of self-determination and personal effectiveness will make that person more powerful and greatly enhance the success of that individual.  Feeling powerful comes from a sense of being in control of your own life and destination.  A leader will encourage others to express their ideas and concerns, with no negative affects and no matter how outrageous they may seem.

Recognize Contributions

Leaders understand that people want recognition and understand the importance of doing something as simple as saying thank you.  A lot of focus is put on an incentive system for people to strive, but before an incentive system there needs to be a formal recognition system.  Leaders know this and that is why they make a difference in an organization, they also know the importance of showing that they truly care and how important it is to be involved with people.




The Video Lounge

In this video, he talks about the importance of certain leadership qualities and what they can help to accomplish.  It does a good job of showcasing what is actually important for good leadership.


Personal Insights

Why I think:

·      The author is one of the most brilliant people around because they truly understand what being a leader is about.  Not just getting the job done or getting the highest production numbers, but truly getting people to see your vision and wanting to follow you because of who you are and what you stand for.

·      With business conditions today, what the author wrote is true because now more than ever people need a good leader.  Someone they can turn to or count on that will not only inspire you from what they say, but through their actions as well.

·      If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

1.            I would have been less repetitive on my points of being a good leader.

2.            I would have had more of my personal experiences as a leader.

3.            I would have had talked more about the foundation of a good leader.

·      Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

1.            What is truly important in a good leader.

2.            The steps I need to take personal to become a good leader.

3.            How important a leader is to an organization.

·      I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

1.            Leading by example.

2.            Building up my credibility as a leader.

3.            Always being open to others ideas.

·      Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

That the book is captivating and informative and easy to navigate through and that the leadership principals are true for all occupations. 




Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2007).  The Leadership Challenge, fourth Edition.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass

Louis A. Dirker “The Leadership Challenge. – Review – book review“. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin,The. 07 Nov, 2010.


Contact Info: To contact the author of this “Summary and Review of The Leadership Challenge,” please email  


David C. Wyld ( is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (, a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. Dr. Wyld also maintains compilations of works he has helped his students to turn into editorially-reviewed publications at the following sites:

·      Management Concepts (

·      Book Reviews ( and

·      Travel and International Foods (                 


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  1. Posted November 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    i like to read

  2. Posted November 8, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Great article…Thanks for sharing this one. Good post…

  3. Charles Casselberry
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I liked the report. It seems like the information in this book is timeless information about what it takes to be a good leader. I believe this information will never become obsolete. I need to work more on the “experimenting and taking risks” section.

  4. Thomas C
    Posted November 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    I have read this book and my favorite part is how the author points out that leadership is learned. It gives me hope of one day being a successful leader.

  5. Jamie Morgan
    Posted December 1, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    This book seems to have valuable information for striving leaders. Leadership is definitely learned and matures with time and experience. I like the idea of taking risk. My mindset never really considered a leader admitting failure and moving on.

  6. Michael
    Posted December 5, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    A lot of the information is basic leadership skills and tools that are found in many other leadership books. Although these tips are useful for developing any leader, I felt the book lacked a realistic side of leadership. The author should have put some emphasis on team building and accountability. I thought the most insightful part of this book was the chapter “Search for Opportunities”. This chapter can really improve a leader’s position with subordinates and create a positive environment.

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