5 Leadership Qualities

The Leadership Challenge is one of my go-to books when I am coaching with executives. Written by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, the original version was grounded in research, and first published in 1987. The current edition features insights garnered from analyzing over 3 million responses to their 30-question Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) survey. The LPI utilizes five scales of leadership qualities to create a 360-degree analysis of an individual. Those five scales include the leader’s ability to:

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

Kouzes and Posner’s premise is that when they are at their best, leaders will, “mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things done in organizations.” The Leadership Challenge is a field-guide on how to give these leaders pathways to recognize what it takes to be at their best. In fact, the book challenges individuals from all levels within an organization to take on leadership roles.  It calls on them to accept responsibility, become accountable for their actions, dig deep in reflection, access humility, and make a difference in their world.

The Authors

The authors have written several other books based on their research at Santa Clara University, where they are distinguished professors in the Leavy School of Business. In addition to his many academic awards, James Kouzes worked for the Tom Peters Company for 12 years as President, CEO, and Chairman. Barry Posner, received his doctorate in organizational behavior and administrative theory at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, before entering into his academic career. Both men have worked extensively with outside organizations, both in the private and non-profit sectors, and possess a wealth of experience to go with their academic accomplishments.

Establishing Credibility

Kouzes and Posner’s book claims that to become a leader, one must first establish credibility. It is credibility that influences employees, customers, and investors. Their research suggests that establishing credibility comes down to a simple concept, described in the book as DWYSYWD (Do What You Said You Would Do).

I found the use of the long acronym interesting, as Tom Peters also uses such acronyms in his books, including a personal favorite, The Little Big Things (Harper Business, 2010). I have been a fan of Peters, since I first read Thriving on Chaos as an up-and-coming executive in 1988. What I like about the style of Kouzes, Posner, and Peters, is that they are all direct to the point. They have a writing style that is no-nonsense and easy to understand style. The Leadership Challenge continues with this style of making simple points. Each section is laid out in a way that encourages one to stop and look inward, at his or her own actions and behaviors.

The Leadership Challenge

I believe that most leaders, and their followers, would not argue with at least three of the authors established main concepts. Every leadership book and article I have ever read calls on leadership to inspire a shared vision, empower their employees, and lead by example.

At the heart of recent leadership theory is the idea of challenging the process, and allowing others to challenge the process. I believe there are clear benefits to allowing others to have a voice and to speak truth to power. The idea of challenging the process not only fosters more loyalty, it builds trust and respect for leadership. It also potentially leads to better outcomes for the organization. Divergent ideas and opinions almost always reinforce an idea, make it better, or lead to an entirely new decision. This process reinforces the theory that no matter how smart the leader is, two heads are better than one.

Encourage the Heart

The section that has the most impact on business today is the section entitled Encourage the Heart. These two simple chapters consist of an essential life lesson that we all learned back in kindergarten. It’s important to recognize the contribution of others, and celebrate their value and victories.

According to the authors, this recognition begins when leaders express their belief in their employees’ capabilities. Leaders should have high expectations for the work that needs to be done. However, they must also clearly communicate their expectations, and the rules that govern the work. This communication is not just a top-down description of what needs to be done. The authors recommend a dialogue, which provides employees with the space to give feedback to their leaders.

Give Recognition

When things are going well, it is essential to recognize employees in ways that each of them will appreciate. This means that there may not be a one-size-fits-all public display of affection. The key is for leaders to get to know what makes each individual on their team tick, and their preferences for recognition. The authors do suggest one universal recognition technique that leaders should employ. Leaders should say thank you, and they should mean it.

The Importance of The Leadership Challenge

This book had been essential to my work in executive coaching. It provides insight into the soft skills required by today’s leaders. In an era of fast-paced and ever-changing work, within a society of me first thinking, and transitory employees, this book is a valuable resource. Developing soft leadership skills can have a fantastic impact on employee engagement, happiness, and retention. It’s important to remembering that employees don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, is a must-read for all current and emerging leaders.