Elaborate on ONE of the five practices of exemplary leadership you have experienced in your career. It could be a former or current manager who exhibited one or more of these practices. AND, then from ch. 2, provide an example of either where you have experienced a leader who was credibile or conversely, a leader who was not credible. What did they do that made them credible or not?Contents
Praise for The Leadership Challenge, Sixth Edition
Title Page
Introduction: Making Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations
What Leaders Do and What Constituents Expect
Chapter 1: When Leaders Are at Their Best
The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®
The Five Practices Make a Difference
The Ten Commitments of Exemplary Leadership
Chapter 2: Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership
What People Look for and Admire in Their Leaders
Putting It All Together: Credibility Is the Foundation
Practice 1: Model the Way
Chapter 3: Clarify Values
Find Your Voice
Affirm Shared Values
Chapter 4: Set the Example
Live the Shared Values
Teach Others to Model the Values
Practice 2: Inspire a Shared Vision
Chapter 5: Envision the Future
Imagine the Possibilities
Find a Common Purpose
Chapter 6: Enlist Others
Appeal to Common Ideals
Animate the Vision
Practice 3: Challenge the Process
Chapter 7: Search for Opportunities
Seize the Initiative
Exercise Outsight
Chapter 8: Experiment and Take Risks
Generate Small Wins
Learn from Experience
Practice 4: Enable Others to Act
Chapter 9: Foster Collaboration
Create a Climate of Trust
Facilitate Relationships
Chapter 10: Strengthen Others
Enhance Self-Determination
Develop Competence and Confidence
Practice 5: Encourage the Heart
Chapter 11: Recognize Contributions
Expect the Best
Personalize Recognition
Chapter 12: Celebrate the Values and Victories
Create a Spirit of Community
Be Personally Involved
Chapter 13: Leadership Is Everyone’s Business
Exemplary Leadership Is Local
Exemplary Leadership Matters
Learning Leadership Takes Practice
Contrasts and Contradictions
First Lead Yourself
Leading Is Doing
Remember the Secret to Success in Life
About the Authors
End User License Agreement
List of Tables
Table 1.1
Table 2.1
Table 2.2
Table 4.1
Table 13.1
List of Illustrations
Figure 1.1
Figure 3.1
Figure 4.1
Figure 5.1
Figure 6.1
Figure 7.1
Figure 7.2
Figure 8.1
Figure 8.2
Figure 9.1
Figure 10.1
Figure 10.2
Figure 11.1
Figure 12.1
Figure 13.1
Praise for The Leadership Challenge, Sixth Edition
“Now in its sixth edition, The Leadership Challenge has stood the test of time for good reason—it’s
quite simply one of the best books you’ll ever read on leadership. A must read!”
—Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The New One Minute Manager®
and Leading at a Higher Level
“How can a book celebrate its 30th anniversary and still remain relevant? Easy! It’s because the
authors never stop growing, learning from all the clients they work with, from all they read in the
literature, and from one another. They continue to fill the pages of this book with the best stories,
examples, and memorable lessons learned. This is the right resource for anyone just entering the
leadership field, or for those who read the book three decades ago!”
—Beverly Kaye, founder, Career Systems International,
coauthor, Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em, Help them Grow or Watch Them Go
“Whether you are just beginning your leadership journey, or a seasoned CEO, or a professor of
leadership, this timeless leadership classic needs to be within constant reach!”
—Harry Kraemer Jr., former chairman and CEO, Baxter International; professor of management
and strategy, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management
“The Leadership Challenge is a book that not only serves your career but more importantly it is a tool
for leading a better life. Jim and Barry have put together one of the greatest of leadership insights.
Every leader should take advantage of the gift that is The Leadership Challenge.”
—Howard Behar, president (retired), Starbucks Coffee
“I love The Leadership Challenge! This is the book on leadership that I recommend to all of my clients.
The sixth edition provides the best of all worlds: 1. It contains the timeless wisdom that Jim and Barry
have accumulated over more than 25 years—it has been and continues to be a classic in our field. 2. It
has been updated to reflect how their timeless leadership concepts can be best applied in today’s everchanging world.”
—Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author of What Got You Here
Won’t Get You There, MOJO, and Triggers
“I’ve been a fan—and follower—of The Leadership Challenge for almost 25 years, and the principles
are as relevant today as they have ever been. In this leadership classic, Kouzes and Posner have
identified and brought to life invaluable practices that are as insightful as they are practical.”
—Patrick Lencioni, president, The Table Group;
bestselling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
and The Advantage
“No book has ever chronicled the practices of true leadership better than The Leadership Challenge,
and this updated edition deftly outlines how to be a phenomenal leader in the 21st century.”
—Chip Conley, New York Times bestselling author of Emotional Equations,
and Airbnb Global Head of Hospitality and Strategy
“The Leadership Challenge is a classic, insightful and compelling book. All leadership positions come
with its own challenges, but not all leaders know how to navigate through them. If you are looking to
excel as a leader, and you need digestible and partial advice: The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes
and Barry Posner is the book for you. It will not only help you become a great a leader but it will help
mobilize your people into getting extraordinary things done. Buy this book, read this book and live this
book. Then buy this book for those who truly care about leadership.”
—Lolly Daskal, president and founder of Lead From Within,
author of The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You
and Your Greatness
“If I could recommend only one of the tens of thousands of leadership books ever written, The
Leadership Challenge would absolutely be my top choice, and by a wide margin. This sixth edition
builds markedly on the last but remains characteristically Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner—a complex
work in its underlying character, but brilliant in its simplicity and practical in design. The Leadership
Challenge is the most useful leadership book ever written; I have each and every edition, and each is
better than the last.”
—Thomas A. Kolditz, PhD, director, Doerr Institute for New Leaders,
Rice University
“The Leadership Challenge is more relevant now than ever. Jim and Barry continue to provide
compelling evidence and examples of leadership that embodies our humanity and capacity to
intimately collaborate with others. This book is important in sustaining our faith in the possibilities
inherent in institutional life, no matter what chaos surrounds us at the moment. I highly recommend
this book.”
—Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting and The Empowered Manager
“Kouzes and Posner did not invent leadership but sometimes it seems that way. As Alice Waters is to
cooking, or Paul McCartney is to music, Kouzes and Posner have developed a discipline and an
approach to leadership that sets them apart from all the others. With the sixth edition of The
Leadership Challenge they not only update their research, they make it once again, come alive. The
Leadership Challenge, 6th Edition, not only coaches us on how to make extraordinary things happen,
the book is extraordinary.”
—Richard A. Moran, Ph.D., president, Menlo College and
author of The Thing About Work, Showing Up
and Other Important Matters
“For over 25 years The Leadership Challenge has guided me to know myself and growing as a leader
and achieving better results—every time! This new edition improves on an already extraordinary and
time tested model by emphasizing the importance and value of engaging your team and those around
you. In my business, being a better leader and growing new leaders means improving the health of
people and their families. When nurses are more engaged and authentically supported, patients are
healthier! The Leadership Challenge, with this contemporary update, enables me to improve the
health of patients, their families and the communities that we serve. With so many leadership books
out there this is truly the ONLY one that you need.”
—Lori Armstrong, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, chief nurse executive,
Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center
“What appeals to me most about The Leadership Challenge, Sixth Edition is sheer enthusiasm for the
art and the practice of leadership. The art of leadership involves bringing people together for common
cause. The practice of leadership requires commitment to action for the common good. Both are easy
to address, but hard to implement. In this wonderful new edition, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner
provide real-world advice—underscored with solid research—that points us in the right direction. Good
—John Baldoni, president, Baldoni Consulting LLC;
author, Lead with Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and Lead By Example
“The Leadership Challenge is written for leaders who want to transform organizations through some of
the most turbulent times in healthcare. These case studies and research on The Five Practices and Ten
Commitments of Leadership present very practical ways to be visionary, innovative, collaborative, and
engaged with your employees. Every nurse is a leader—from the bedside to the boardroom—and all
should be competent in the works of The Leadership Challenge. I recommend it to ALL!”
—Susan Herman, DNP, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CENP,
2015 president, Assoc. of CA Nurse Leaders,
and VP Patient Care Services & CNO,
San Joaquin Community Hospital/Adventist Health
“If I could recommend only one of the tens of thousands of leadership books ever written, The
Leadership Challenge would absolutely be my top choice, and by a wide margin. This sixth edition
builds markedly on the last but remains characteristically Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner—a complex
work in its underlying character, but brilliant in its simplicity and practical in design. The Leadership
Challenge is the most useful leadership book ever written; I have each and every edition, and each is
better than the last.”
—Thomas A. Kolditz, PhD, director, Doerr Institute for New Leaders,
Rice University
“The Leadership Challenge isn’t theory. It’s insight based on rigorous and extensive research. And for
me, the most profound insight is a very simple one: the importance of defining your own personal
values and aligning your leadership style around them. As the leader of a large sales organization, I’ve
seen firsthand how powerful that type of authentic leadership can be at all levels.”
—Mark Madgett, SVP & Head of Agency, New York Life
The Leadership Challenge
Sixth Edition
How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in
James M. Kouzes
Barry Z. Posner
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Making Extraordinary Things Happen in
The Leadership Challenge is about how leaders mobilize others to want to get extraordinary things
done in organizations. It’s about the practices leaders use to transform values into actions, visions into
realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards. It’s about
leadership that makes a positive difference in the workplace and creates the climate in which people
turn challenging opportunities into remarkable successes.
The publication of this edition of The Leadership Challenge marks thirty years since the book was first
published. We’ve spent nearly four decades together researching, consulting, teaching, and writing
about what leaders do when they are at their best and how everyone can learn to become better
leaders. We’re honored by the reception we’ve received in the professional and business marketplace
and blessed that students, educators, and practitioners continue to find that The Leadership Challenge
is both conceptually and practically useful.
We persist in asking today the same basic question we asked in 1982 when we started our journey into
understanding exemplary leadership: What did you do when you were at your personal best as a
leader? We’ve talked to men and women, young and old, representing just about every type of
organization there is, at all levels, in all functions, from many different places around the world. Their
stories, and the behaviors and actions they’ve described, have resulted in the creation of The Five
Practices of Exemplary Leadership® framework described in this book. When leaders do their best,
they Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and
Encourage the Heart.
The Leadership Challenge is evidence-based. Analyzing thousands of case studies and millions of
survey responses resulted in The Five Practices framework. The hundreds of examples in this book, of
real people doing real things, document the practical nature of the model. Each chapter provides fresh
and original data on the impact that the behavior of leaders has on engagement and performance.
With each new edition, we get clearer about the leadership actions that make a difference. We reiterate
what’s still important, discard what’s not, and add what’s new. We contemporize the framework and
freshen up the language and point of view so that the book is highly relevant to current circumstances
and conditions. And, we are more authoritatively prescriptive about the best practices of leaders. The
more we research and write about leadership, the more confident we become that leadership is within
the grasp of everyone. The opportunities for leadership are boundless and boundaryless.
With each new edition, we also get to address a new audience, and sometimes even a new generation of
emerging leaders. That opportunity motivates us to collect new cases, examine new research findings,
and talk with people we haven’t heard from. It encourages us to perform a litmus test of relevance on
our results: Does this model of leadership continue to make sense? If we started all over again, would
we find new leadership practices? Would we eliminate any of the practices? In this regard, we are
aided by the ongoing empirical data provided by the online version of the Leadership Practices
Inventory.® This inventory, which assesses The Five Practices, provides more than 400,000
responses annually, and keeps us on guard and on target in identifying the behaviors that make a
We know that all of you face vexing issues that not only make leadership more urgent, but also require
you to be more conscious and conscientious about being a leader. Others are looking to you to help
them figure out what they should be doing and how they can develop themselves to be leaders. You
don’t just owe it to yourself to become the best leader you can possibly be. You owe it to your
constituents. They are also expecting you to do your best.
A Field Guide for Leaders
How do you become the kind of leader people want to follow? How do you get other people, by free will
and free choice, to move forward together in pursuit of a common vision? How do you mobilize others
to want to struggle for shared aspirations? These are only some of the important questions we address
in The Leadership Challenge. Think of the book as a field guide to take along on your leadership
journey. Think of it as a manual you can consult when you want advice and counsel on how to make
things happen and move forward.
Chapter One offers two case studies about Personal-Best Leadership Experiences. These stories took
place in dissimilar locations and industries, involving different functions, people, and styles, but they
both illustrate how The Five Practices apply whenever you accept the challenge of leadership. The
chapter continues with an overview of The Five Practices and illustrates empirically that these
leadership practices make a difference.
Asking leaders about their personal bests is important, but it’s only half the story. Leadership is a
relationship between leaders and followers. A more complete picture of leadership develops when you
understand what people look for in someone they would willingly follow. In Chapter Two, we reveal
the characteristics people value most in their leaders and share the voices of people explaining why
these are important.
The ten chapters that follow describe the Ten Commitments of Leadership—the essential behaviors
that leaders employ to make extraordinary things happen—and explain the conceptual principles that
support each of The Five Practices. We offer evidence from our research, and that of others, to support
the principles, provide examples of real people who demonstrate each practice in real life, and
prescribe specific recommendations on what you can do to make each practice your own. A Take
Action section concludes each of these chapters, suggesting what you need to do to make this
leadership practice an ongoing and natural part of your behavioral and attitudinal repertoire. Whether
the focus is your own learning or the development of your constituents—your direct reports, team,
peers, manager, community members, and the like—you can take immediate action on every one of
our recommendations. They don’t require a budget or approval from anyone. They just require your
personal commitment and discipline.
In Chapter Thirteen, we call on everyone to accept personal responsibility to be a role model for
leadership. Through six editions, we continue to champion the view that leadership is everyone’s
business. The first place to look for leadership is within yourself. Accepting the leadership challenge
requires reflection, practice, humility, and taking advantage of every opportunity to make a difference.
As we have in every edition, we close with this conclusion: Leadership is not an affair of the head.
Leadership is an affair of the heart.
We recommend that you first read Chapters One and Two, but after that there is no sacred order to
proceeding through the rest of this book. Go wherever your interests are. We wrote this material to
support you in your leadership development. Just remember that each practice and commitment of
leadership is essential. Although you might skip around in the book, you can’t skip any of the
fundamentals of leadership.
The domain of leaders is the future. The work of leaders is change. The most significant contribution
leaders make is not to today’s bottom line; it is to the long-term development of people and
institutions so they can adapt, change, prosper, and grow. Our ongoing aspiration is that this book
contributes to the revitalization of organizations, to the creation of new enterprises, to the renewal of
healthy communities, and to greater respect and understanding in the world. We also fervently hope
that it enriches your life and that of your community and your family.
Leadership is important, not just in your career and within your organization, but in every sector, in
every community, and in every country. We need more exemplary leaders, and we need them more
than ever. So much extraordinary work needs to be done. We need leaders who can unite us and ignite
Meeting the leadership challenge is a personal—and a daily—challenge for everyone. We know that if
you have the will and the way to lead, you can. You supply the will. We’ll do our best to keep supplying
the way.
James M. Kouzes
Orinda, California
Barry Z. Posner
Berkeley, California
April 2017
What Leaders Do and What Constituents Expect
Chapter 1
When Leaders Are at Their Best
For Brian Alink, the digital revolution is as profound as the Industrial Revolution.1 The way
organizations solve problems, drive innovation, and scale those innovations to millions of people so
quickly and efficiently is massively changing the workplace, the marketplace, and the community. But
as exciting as all this is, something else energizes him even more: the chance to learn how to be an even
more effective leader in this new context.2
The opportunity to do just that came when Brian was asked to help refine how the credit card business
at Capital One Financial Corporation serviced customers across all channels. This challenge was
different from others he had spearheaded because it was about “how we change the mind-sets of
leaders across the credit card business to use a digital-first approach for servicing. It was about solving
real problems that cause customers pain, anxiety, or frustration, and about how we can make it better
for them.”
When Brian moved into his current role as managing vice president at Card Digital Channels, he began
working with a newly formed team that had just come together. “This put a whole lot of uncertainty
into what we were doing,” he acknowledged, and so Brian spent the first few weeks meeting with the
executives and other leaders who owned parts of the customer experience, “just listening, learning,
getting context, and immersing myself in the situation.” He did the same one-on-one with his
immediate team. Guiding him in this initial relationship-building process was a leadership philosophy
that had served him well over the years: “At the very beginning of a journey like this,” he said, “it’s
about getting to know each other personally.”
It’s about knowing who these people are that are working with me, knowing their values, what
they love to do, what they care about, and what they stand for. I also love the opportunity to
introduce myself—not as a leader or as a strategist or as the analyst or whatever we’re trying to do
—but just as somebody who is with them as a real human trying to have a greater experience in life
and trying to make the world a better place.
Brian pulled his entire leadership team together for a four-hour discussion. He began by explaining
how he was attempting to build an environment of trust:
This is the kind of environment where we want to do the greatest work of our lives, where we want
to truly make a difference, where we’re feeling committed and we want to do something that
matters, that has meaning to us personally.
Trust comes from understanding each other’s values and understanding our experiences and what
we stand for. In order for that to happen, we’ve got to be vulnerable, and we have to be open. Then
we can build on that base of values and trust.
Brian had found that every time he’s had this conversation with a new team the experience had been
“magical.” Without exception, people opened up and shared their personal challenges with one
another. As Brian appreciates, everyone has challenges in their lives, and that it’s those hard moments
that shape who people are and what they stand for. “What drives all of us,” Brian says, “is that we want
to do something meaningful for the people we work with, where it really helps them grow and do
something better for the people around us. We want to have that same kind of impact on our
Through those early meetings, Brian and his team got clear about their shared vision and values. They
developed their core strategy and determined how they were going to operate. With this collaborative
effort, everyone on the team felt they had created their approach together and developed ownership for
Brian and his leadership team then designed and conducted an all-hands meeting that included both
his immediate team and extended teams outside the Card Customer Experience organization. They
walked everyone through the process their team had gone through together, then rolled out the new
plan and engaged everyone—the developers, the software engineers, the designers, and others—in
learning about their mission. This approach helped to dissipate much of the concern and ambiguity,
and, Brian observed, “communicated clearly that the leadership team was emotionally committed, had
each other’s backs, were here to help support our entire team, and to do something big that really
But they didn’t want this to be only a priority for the customer experience team. They needed to make
the idea of helping customers become more digital, and have effortless experiences, a shared vision
across all of the credit card business. They wanted everyone—people from product design, credit
policy, fraud, collection, credit lines, lost and stolen cards, and other functions—to see themselves in
the bigger picture. Brian’s team set up meetings with leaders from across the business, shared their
aspirations with them, showed them where customers were running into problems, provided them
with insightful data, and told them how they could work together to create painless experiences for
As essential as it is to create a vision for and to serve your own vertical team, Brian told us, it’s equally
important to do the same for your peers and those you don’t directly manage:
If we can get leaders who are adjacent to our area to come help us and then be willing to give them
the credit for the help they provide, it doesn’t take away from my leadership or my team’s
contribution at all. This is a powerful way to get a lot more intelligence and mind share and
support for something bigger that we all need to be working on. In doing so, we create a win for
Knowing that getting others to collaborate isn’t always easy, Brian offered technical resources from his
own team in order to help others help him. He operated on a compelling premise: “We are going to win
if we help others win. We’ve got to give in order to get. If we can move the whole organization, what we
are going to get is so much bigger than what we could ever have done on our own. . . . Being humble
and letting others shine comes back to you many times over.” Brian’s team created moments when
leaders from other parts of the organization would come together and showcase their work. These
forums elevated others, honored them, and gave them public recognition and credit for the
contributions they were making.
While the core of the customer experience approach to leading is elevating others, staying in the
background, and giving credit to others, Brian makes sure that those who do the giving are refueled
with the energy they need to keep on giving. Each week, he and his leadership team hold standup
meetings at which they highlight what everyone is working on and look into problems, successes,
lessons learned, and even failures they’ve had. Those who work in different geographic locations join
by video. During these meetings, the leadership team looks for “praise moments” where they can draw
attention to exemplary behaviors in front of everyone. When they hear or see something they want to
shine a spotlight on, someone will say, “Let’s pause for just a moment. That right there was a
wonderful example of what we are striving to do.” When people see the successes and hear the positive
feedback, it creates momentum.
“When working to transform a company into a customer-focused, digital organization,” Brian told us,
“it’s immensely helpful to frame the leadership scope as a mission that transcends organizational
boundaries. Customers don’t know which part of an organization they are dealing with! Limiting the
leadership model to the immediate team greatly limits the scope and speed of impact a leader can have
on transforming a complex customer journey through an organization.”
This is definitely a leadership philosophy for a new era. It’s a 360-degree view of leadership that is
more inclusive and more open than what many people have experienced in the past, and it produces
results. In less than a year, this collaborative effort at Capital One improved a multitude of customer
experiences. For example, customers saved hundreds of thousands of hours of calling time in 2016 as a
result of enhanced digital experiences and customer touchpoints. The ratio of customer calls to
accounts began a steady downward trajectory to the lowest level since being measured—a major driver
of efficiency for the business. At the same time, scores tracking the percentage of people
recommending Capital One hit all-time highs.
For Anna Blackburn, “the values match was the biggest driver” in taking her first job with
Beaverbrooks the Jewellers, Limited, a family-owned retailer in the United Kingdom. Eighteen years
later, these same values drive her as its chief executive officer—their first non-family member, and first
female, to hold that position. Honoring values is also at the heart of Anna’s Personal-Best Leadership
Founded in 1919, Beaverbrooks has a long and honored history. Today it operates seventy stores, has a
significant online presence, and employs nearly 950 people. It’s not only dedicated to offering
customers quality jewelry and watches, it’s also very proud of its dedication to a mission of “enriching
lives.” Beaverbrooks contributes 20 percent of post-tax profits to charitable organizations, and it
invests heavily in its colleagues—which has earned the company recognition by The Sunday Times
(Britain’s largest-selling national Sunday newspaper) for thirteen consecutive years as one of the 100
Best Companies to Work For.
Anna’s appointment as CEO came at an unsettled time. Her predecessor, a family member, left the
company to pursue other ventures. The company had veered away somewhat from its core strategy and
culture, and colleagues weren’t embracing the new ways. Her fifteen years with the company, however,
prepared Anna well for the challenge. Starting on the sales floor, she had served in almost every role
and function, worked in locations throughout England and Scotland, and spent five years on the
executive team.
None of that meant she could assume she knew what people wanted from her in this new position. One
of her first actions was to send out a survey inviting everyone in Beaverbrooks to say what qualities
they most wanted to see in the new CEO. At the next annual managers’ conference, Anna shared the
survey results. People wanted her to be honest, inspiring, competent, forward-looking, caring,
ambitious, and supportive, she said, and she pledged to them that she would do everything she could
to live up to these expectations.
These actions were an early signal of how Anna intended to be a collaborative and inclusive leader, and
her next steps reinforced that aspiration. For example, over the years, Beaverbrooks’s operations had
become increasingly complicated and formalized, and people had lost a sense of ownership in the
business. Instead of introducing any radical new direction, Anna initiated changes that were “always
within the context of building on our strengths,” she said.
It was back to the basics and keeping things simple. Where strategies often go wrong is that you
lose connection with the person who’s going to be making the biggest difference in your business.
They needed to buy in and understand the impact they were having.
A major disconnect that Anna observed was that even though Beaverbrooks made The Sunday Times
best company list year after year, profits were relatively low. With a firm belief “that being a great
workplace and having a great environment should absolutely pay into the bottom line,” Anna set out
“to prove that being a great workplace is actually profitable.” However, she wasn’t interested in
Beaverbrooks being profitable simply for its own sake. She told us that
Beaverbrooks is a business with a conscience. The more successful we are financially, the better
we can take care of the people who work for us and the better we can support the wider
community. The more successful we are, the more good we can do.
Part of what needed to be done, Anna believed, was to create a greater sense of shared accountability
and responsibility: “We needed to have each and every person ready to take their part in making the
culture what it needed to be. One person cannot fix, develop, or evolve a culture.” When feedback to
the executive level indicated that they worked too much in silos and were disconnected from the stores,
Anna introduced new ways to create greater collaboration and synergy. The monthly executive team
meetings, for example, became much more focused on strategy, and the quarterly senior manager and
corporate office meetings dealt more with operational decisions and with acknowledging the successes
experienced in the stores.
Anna also continued the focus group tradition that chairman Mark Adlestone had started: small group
meetings of about eight people from similar roles. Annually, she holds fourteen focus groups—six for
sales teams, and two each for managers, assistant managers, supervisors, and the office team. The
meetings last a half-day, and include discussions of what’s working and not working, as well as
acknowledgments of individual successes.
Given feedback from the focus groups, Anna devised a new framework for talking about the business, a
concept she called The Three Pillars. It is depicted as three pillars standing on a solid base and capped
by a header. Written on the base is Beaverbrooks’s purpose: “Enriching Lives.” On the header is the
company name. The first pillar is labeled “Customer Service and Selling”; the second is “Financial
Success”; and the third is “Great Workplace.” “The key thing,” Anna explains, “is that all three pillars
are in alignment and the same height. If one pillar were higher than the others, the roof would fall off.”
Another of Anna’s major initiatives was a refresh of the Beaverbrooks Way, a one-page document,
originally published in 1998, that codified the purpose and values of Beaverbrooks. It was not that the
values had changed, but that the document was incomplete and unclear. “There was nothing about
being a jeweler, and the family values were not referred to,” Anna told us. “The values were also open
to individual interpretation rather than stating what these values mean in Beaverbrooks.” Anna
wanted as many people as possible to provide input on a revised Beaverbrooks Way, and she spent
twelve months gathering information. She asked questions about it in focus groups, she talked about it
with trainee managers, and she sent out feedback forms to all the stores and departments.
She received extensive comments and, with the help of the regional managers, created a supporting
document that they introduced at the annual company meeting. In her introduction to this thirty-twopage booklet, Anna wrote:
I received a lot of feedback about what you wanted to see from the Beaverbrooks Way going
forward. You asked for clear and simple language, more explanation of our values and behaviors,
and more of a working document. This document is a result of your feedback . . . [It] includes “The
Beaverbrooks Way” (who we are, what we do, why we exist, and our values) and highlights our
behaviors—simply. Our behaviors are defined by examples to help bring our culture to life.
As much as Anna’s attention focuses on improving business performance, she also takes to heart her
constituents’ desire for a caring and supportive leader. For example, she told us, “We find as many
excuses as possible to celebrate successes. I think it’s important that people feel recognized and
rewarded and valued for the difference they make.” From quarterly business reviews with regional
managers to informal office gatherings, Anna takes the time to turn the spotlight on those who do the
right things. As they say in the Beaverbrooks Way, “When we recognize what is working well and
creating success, we are more likely to repeat the behavior that helped create the success in the first
place.” Repeating behaviors that create success is paying off. In the most recent ranking by The
Sunday Times, Beaverbrooks was the top retailer on the list. Profits were also at an all-time high,
proving that you can be both a great workplace and a profitable business.
Given her experiences, what’s the most important leadership lesson Anna would pass along to
emerging leaders? “Being a role model is absolutely key,” she says. “It’s something I’ve held very close
to me throughout my career, whether it’s on the selling floor or in the executive office. People who
model the behaviors that are crucial to business success inspire others.”
The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®
In undertaking their leadership challenges, Brian and Anna seized the opportunity to change business
as usual. And while their stories are exceptional, they are not unlike countless others. We’ve been
conducting original global research for over thirty years, and we’ve discovered that such achievements
are commonplace. When we ask leaders to tell us about their Personal-Best Leadership Experiences—
experiences that they believe are their individual standards of excellence—there are thousands of
success stories just like Brian’s and Anna’s. We’ve found them in profit-based firms and nonprofits,
agriculture and mining, manufacturing and utilities, banking and healthcare, government and
education, and the arts and community service. These leaders are employees and volunteers, young
and old, women and men. Leadership knows no racial or religious bounds, no ethnic or cultural
borders. Leaders reside in every city and every country, in every function and every organization. We
find exemplary leadership everywhere we look. We’ve also found that in excellent organizations,
everyone, regardless of title or position, is encouraged to act like a leader. In these places, people don’t
just believe that everyone can make a difference; they act in ways to develop and grow people’s talents,
including their leadership. They don’t subscribe to the many myths that keep people from developing
their leadership capabilities and organizations from creating leadership cultures.4
One of the greatest myths about leadership is that some people have “it” and some don’t. A corollary
myth is that if you don’t have “it,” then you can’t learn “it.” Neither could be further from the empirical
truth. After reflecting on their Personal-Best Leadership Experiences, people come to the same
conclusion as Tanvi Lotwala, revenue accountant at Bloom Energy: “All of us are born leaders. We all
have leadership qualities ingrained. All that we need is polishing them up and bringing them to the
forefront. It is an ongoing process to develop ourselves as a leader, but unless we take on the
leadership challenges presented to us on a daily basis, we cannot become better at it.”
We first asked people in the early 1980s to tell us what they did when they were at their “personal best”
in leading others, and we continue to ask this question of people around the world. After analyzing
thousands of these leadership experiences, we discovered, and continue to find, that regardless of the
times or settings, individuals who guide others along pioneering journeys follow surprisingly similar
paths. Although each experience was unique in its individual expression, there were clearly identifiable
behaviors and actions that made a difference. When making extraordinary things happen in
organizations, leaders engage in what we call The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®:
Model the Way
Inspire a Shared Vision
Challenge the Process
Enable Others to Act
Encourage the Heart
These practices are not the private purview of the people we studied. Nor do they belong to a few select
shining stars. Leadership is not about personality. It’s about behavior. The Five Practices are available
to anyone who accepts the leadership challenge—the challenge of taking people and organizations to
places they have never been before. It is the challenge of moving beyond the ordinary to the
The Five Practices framework is not an accident of a special moment in history. It has passed the test
of time. While the context of leadership has changed dramatically over the years, the content of
leadership has not changed much at all. The fundamental behaviors and actions of leaders have
remained essentially the same, and they are as relevant today as they were when we began our study of
exemplary leadership. The truth of each individual Personal-Best Leadership Experience, multiplied
thousands of times, and substantiated empirically by millions of respondents and hundreds of
scholars, establishes The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership as an “operating system” for leaders
In the remainder of this chapter, we introduce each of The Five Practices and provide brief examples
that demonstrate how leaders, just like Brian and Anna, across a variety of circumstances use them to
make extraordinary things happen. When you explore The Five Practices in depth in Chapters Three
through Twelve, you’ll find scores of illustrations from the real-life experiences of people who have
taken the leadership challenge.
Model the Way
Titles are granted, but it’s your behavior that earns you respect. When Terry Callahan asks, “How can I
help you?” he means it. One example was while vice president for Miller Valentine Group, a real estate
solution provider, they needed to make an important community grand-opening event happen in
record time and it required an “all hands on deck” effort. What surprised the team the most was when
Terry removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and literally got down and dirty as he started mulching
the landscape. “Terry taught me that leadership is not about titles and ranks,” said one of his direct
reports, “but about personal responsibility and setting a positive example.”5
This sentiment reverberated across all the cases we collected. “At the end of the day,” Toni Lejano,
human resources manager at Cisco, recalled from her Personal-Best Leadership Experience,
“leadership is all about how you behave that makes a difference.” Exemplary leaders know that if they
want to gain commitment and achieve the highest standards, they must be models of the behavior they
expect of others.
To effectively Model the Way, you must first be clear about your own guiding principles. You must
clarify values by finding your voice. When you understand who you are and what your values are,
then you can give voice to those values. As Alan Spiegelman, wealth management advisor with
Northwestern Mutual, explained: “Before you can be a leader of others, you need to know clearly who
you are and what your core values are. Once you know that, then you can give your voice to those
values and feel comfortable sharing them with others.”
Arpana Tiwari, senior manager with one of the world’s largest e-commerce retailers, found that “the
more I spoke with others about my values, the clearer they became for me.” She realized, however, that
her values weren’t the only ones that mattered. Everyone on the team has principles that guide their
actions and, as a leader, you must affirm the shared values of the group. This requires getting
everyone involved in creating the values. Doing so, Arpana observed, “makes it relatively easy to model
the values that everyone has agreed to.” Another benefit she realized was that “it is also less difficult to
confront people when they make decisions that are not aligned. When a value is violated, leaders have
to do or say something or they run the risk of sending a message that this is not important.” Therefore,
leaders must set the example. Deeds are far more important than words when constituents want to
determine how serious leaders really are about what they say. Words and deeds must be consistent.
Inspire a Shared Vision
People describe their Personal-Best Leadership Experiences as times when they imagined an exciting,
highly attractive future for their organizations. They had visions and dreams of what could be. They
had absolute and total personal faith in their dreams, and they were confident in their abilities to make
those extraordinary things happen. Every organization, every social movement, begins with a vision. It
is the force that creates the future.
Leaders envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities. You need to have an
appreciation of the past and a clear image of what the results should look like even before starting any
project, much as an architect draws a blueprint or an engineer builds a model. As Ajay Aggrawal,
information technology (IT) project manager with Oracle, said, “You have to connect to what’s
meaningful to others and create the belief that people can achieve something grand. Otherwise, people
may fail to see how their work is meaningful and their contributions fit into the big picture.”
You can’t command commitment; you have to inspire it. You have to enlist others in a common vision
by appealing to shared aspirations. Stephanie Capron, Ritzman Pharmacies vice president of human
resources, told us how this family business, with over twenty-five locations, asked people within each
location and every department to create a vision board of what they saw the future looking like, and
then brought all of these together to create a shared vision (and new brand). “We painted a big
picture,” she said, “and got everyone to see that picture so they could understand what great service
looked and felt like, and their part in it.”6 Too many people think that the leader’s job is to come up
with the vision when the reality is that people, like those at Ritzman Pharmacies, want to be involved
in the process. This grassroots approach is much more effective than preaching one person’s
In these times of rapid change and uncertainty, people want to follow those who can see beyond
today’s difficulties and imagine a brighter tomorrow. As Oliver Vivell, senior director, corporate
development at SAP, points out, “Others have to see themselves as part of that vision and as able to
contribute in order to embrace the vision and make it their own.” Leaders forge unity of purpose by
showing their constituents how the dream is a shared dream and how it fulfills the common good.
When you express your enthusiasm and excitement for the vision, you ignite that same passion in
others. As Amy Matson Drohan, ON24’s senior customer success manager, reflected on her PersonalBest Leadership Experience, she observed that: “You can’t proselytize a vision that you don’t fullheartedly believe.” Ultimately, she said, “The leader’s excitement shines through and convinces the
team that the vision is worthy of their time and support.”
Challenge the Process
Challenge is the crucible for greatness. Every single personal-best leadership case involved a change
from the status quo. Not one person achieved a personal best by keeping things the same. Regardless
of the specifics, they all involved overcoming adversity and embracing opportunities to grow, innovate,
and improve.
Leaders are pioneers willing to step out into the unknown. However, leaders aren’t the only creators or
originators of new products, services, or processes. Innovation comes more from listening than from
telling, and from constantly looking outside of yourself and your organization for new and innovative
products, processes, and services. You need to search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by
looking outward for innovative ways to improve.
Leaders don’t sit idly by waiting for fate to smile upon them; they venture out. Taking risks was what
Srinath Thurthahalli Nagaraj recalled about his personal-best (and first) leadership experience in
India with Flextronics. “When things did not work as expected,” Srinath explained, “we kept on
experimenting and challenging one another’s ideas. You have to make room for failure and more
importantly the opportunity to learn from failure.” By making something happen, Srinath was able to
move the project forward.
Because innovation and change involve experimenting and taking risks, your main contribution will
be to create a climate for experimentation, the recognition of good ideas, the support of those ideas,
and the willingness to challenge the system. One way of dealing with the potential risks and failures of
experimentation is by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience. Pierfrancesco
Ronzi, as the London-based engagement manager with McKinsey and Company, recalled how
successfully turning around the credit process for a banking client in North Africa meant breaking the
project down into parts so that they could find a place to start, determine what would work, and see
how they could learn in the process of moving forward. “Showing them that we were able to make
something happen,” he said, “was a significant boost to their confidence in the project and their
willingness to stay involved.”
There’s a strong correlation between the process of learning and the approach leaders take to making
extraordinary things happen. Leaders are always learning from their errors and failures. Life is the
leader’s laboratory, and exemplary leaders use it to conduct as many experiments as possible. Kinjal
Shah, senior manager at Quisk, told us how his personal best “taught me a lot. I stumbled at places,
many times, and got up, dusted myself off, learned from it and tried to do better the next time around.
I learned a lot, and the experience definitely made me a better leader.”
Enable Others to Act
Grand dreams don’t become significant realities through the actions of a single person. Achieving
greatness requires a team effort. It requires solid trust and enduring relationships. It requires group
collaboration and individual accountability, which begins, as Sushma Bhope, co-founder of Stealth
Technology Startup, appreciated, “by empowering those around you.” She concluded, just as many
others had when reviewing their personal-best experiences, that “no one could have done this alone. It
was essential to be open to all ideas and to give everyone a voice in the decision-making process. The
one guiding principle on the project was that the team was larger than any individual on the team.”
Leaders foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships. You have to engage all
those who must make the project work—and in some way, all who must live with the results. General
Wendy Masiello, director of the U.S. Defense Contract Management Agency, articulated the
importance of being “one team, one voice” to over 600 leaders at their World Wide Training
Conference. To make this point, she asked everyone who had contracts with Lockheed Martin to stand.
A third of the room stood. She said, “Look around the room at the people you need to team with during
this conference. While in sessions sit together, meet together, and share your experiences and
expertise.” She then asked those to stand who worked with Boeing, and then with Northrop Grumman,
Raytheon, and the like. Each time, she spoke the same message and you could hear the sighs as people
recognized how they had not been operating as “One Team with One Voice.” As Wendy remarked,
“This will only be achieved when we have developed greater relationships with one another.”7
Leaders appreciate that constituents don’t perform at their best or stick around for very long if they
feel weak, dependent, or alienated. When you strengthen others by increasing self-determination and
developing competence, they are more likely to give it their all and exceed their own expectations.
Omar Pualuan, head of engineering at RVision, reflecting on his Personal-Best Leadership Experience,
realized that “letting each member of the team contribute to the project plan and make it their own was
the most important tool for success.”
Focusing on serving others’ needs rather than one’s own builds trust in a leader. The more people trust
their leaders, and each other, the more they take risks, make changes, and keep moving ahead. Leaders
have to create an environment where, as Ana Sardeson, materials program manager at Nest, told us,
“individuals are comfortable with voicing their opinions, because then the team feels empowered to
take action. This level of comfort with decision making is paramount to creating a space that is
conducive to collaboration.” She explained: “When the conversation shifts from a silo to an open and
collaborative space, relationships become stronger and more resilient.” When people are trusted and
have more information, discretion, and authority, they’re much more likely to use their energies to
produce extraordinary results.
Encourage the Heart
The climb to the top is arduous and steep, and people become exhausted, frustrated, and
disenchanted, and are often tempted to give up. Genuine acts of caring draw people forward, which is
an important lesson Denise Straka, vice president, corporate insurance with Calpine, took away from
her Personal-Best Leadership Experience: “People want to know that their managers believe in them
and in their abilities to get a job done. They want to feel valued by their employers, and acknowledging
an accomplishment is a great way to demonstrate their value.”
Leaders recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence. It can be one to
one or with many people. It can come from dramatic gestures or simple actions. It can come from
informal channels, just as well as through the formal hierarchy. Eakta Malik, senior clinical research
associate with a global medical device company, realizing that many people didn’t feel sufficiently
appreciated, and lacked a sense of team cohesiveness, organized some company-sponsored happy
hours and team events, designed “for the team to unwind, get to know each other on a personal level,
and to create a spirit of a community.” She publicly acknowledged her teammates’ hard work in biweekly meetings, which, she explained, “really lightens up the mood. I used to think that having praise
on a project looks better when it comes from a director/manager, but I learned that praising someone
doesn’t have to be connected with having a title for it to be meaningful.”
Being a leader requires showing appreciation for people’s contributions and creating a culture of
celebrating the values and victories by creating a spirit of community. One lesson that Andy
Mackenzie, chief operating officer with BioCardia, learned from his Personal-Best Leadership
Experience was to “make sure that you and the team are having fun. Every day won’t be fun, but if it’s
all drudgery, then it’s hardly worth getting out of bed for.”
Encouragement is, curiously, serious business because it’s how you visibly and behaviorally link
rewards with performance. Celebrations and rituals, when done in an authentic way and from the
heart, build a strong sense of collective identity and community spirit that can carry a group through
extraordinarily tough times. As Deanna Lee, director of marketing strategy with MIG, told us: “By
bringing a team together after an important milestone, it reinforces the fact that more can be
accomplished together than apart. Engaging one another outside of the work setting also increases
personal connection, which builds trust, improves communication, and strengthens the bonds within
the team.”
Recognitions and celebrations need to be personal and personalized. As Eddie Tai, project director
with Pacific Eagle Holdings, realized, “There’s no way to fake it.” In telling us about his experiences, he
noted, “Encouraging the Heart might very well be the hardest job of any leader because it requires the
most honesty and sincerity.” Yet this leadership practice, he maintained, “can have the most significant
and long-lasting impact on those it touches and inspires.”
These five leadership practices—Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process,
Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart—provide an operating system for what people are
doing as leaders when they are at their best, and there’s abundant empirical evidence that these
leadership practices matter. Hundreds of studies have reported that The Five Practices make a positive
difference in the engagement and performance of people and organizations.8 This is highlighted in the
next section, and more of the research supporting this operating system is reported in subsequent
The Five Practices Make a Difference
Exemplary leader behavior makes a profoundly positive difference in people’s commitment and
motivation, their work performance, and the success of their organizations. That’s the definitive
conclusion from analyzing responses from nearly three million people around the world using the
Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) to assess how often their leaders engage in The Five Practices of
Exemplary Leadership. Those leaders who more frequently use The Five Practices are considerably
more effective than their counterparts who use them less frequently.
In these studies, the leader’s direct reports complete the LPI indicating how frequently they observe
their leader engaging in the specific behaviors associated with The Five Practices. In addition, they
respond to ten questions regarding (a) their feelings about their workplace, for example, levels of
satisfaction, pride, and commitment, and (b) assessments about their leader on such things as
trustworthiness and overall effectiveness. There is an unambiguous relationship between how engaged
Figure 1.1 The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership Impacts the Engagement Level of Direct
people are and how frequently they observe their leaders using The Five Practices, as shown in Figure
1.1. Nearly 96 percent of direct reports who are most highly engaged (i.e., in the top third of the
distribution) indicate that their leaders very frequently or almost always use The Five Practices. In
contrast, less than 5 percent of direct reports are highly engaged when they indicate that their leaders
seldom use The Five Practices (at best, only once in a while). The differential impact is huge.
In addition, respondents provide information about who they are and their organizational context.
Multivariate analyses show that individual characteristics and organizational context combined
explain less than 1 percent of the distribution connected with the engagement levels of their reports,
while The Five Practices account for nearly 40 percent of the variance. How their leaders behave
significantly influences engagement, and is independent of who the direct reports are (e.g., age,
gender, ethnicity, or education), or their circumstance (e.g., position, tenure, discipline, industry, or
nationality). How their leader behaves is what makes a difference in explaining why people work hard,
their commitment, pride, and productivity.
The more you use The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, the more likely it is that you’ll have a
positive influence on other people and the organization. That’s what all the data adds up to: if you want
to have a significant impact on people, on organizations, and on communities, you’d be wise to invest
in learning the behaviors that enable you to become the very best leader you can. Moreover, the data
clearly shows that how strongly direct reports would “recommend their leader to a colleague” directly
links with the extent to which they report their leader using The Five Practices.
Many scholars have documented that leaders who engage in The Five Practices are more effective than
those who don’t.9 This is true whether the context is inside or outside the United States, in the public
or private sector, or within schools, healthcare organizations, business firms, prisons, churches, and so
on. Here are just a few examples of the impact of leaders who use The Five Practices more frequently
than their counterparts:
Create higher-performing teams
Generate increased sales and customer satisfaction levels
Foster renewed loyalty and greater organizational commitment
Enhance motivation and the willingness to work hard
Facilitate high patient-satisfaction scores and more effectively meet family member needs
Promote high degrees of student and teacher involvement in schools
Enlarge the membership size of their religious congregations
Reduce absenteeism, turnover, and dropout rates
Positively influence recruitment yields
While The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership don’t completely explain why leaders and their
organizations are successful, it’s very clear that engaging in them makes quite a difference no matter
who you are or where you are located. How you behave as a leader matters, and it matters a lot.
Furthermore, evaluations of the effectiveness of the leader by their direct reports, and others, correlate
directly with how frequently The Five Practices are used.
Consider these findings at a macro level. Researchers examined the financial performance of
organizations over a five-year period and compared those that constituents rated senior leaders as
actively using The Five Practices with organizations whose leaders were significantly less engaged in
The Five Practices. The bottom line: net income growth was nearly eighteen times higher, and stock
price growth was nearly three times greater for those publicly traded organizations whose leadership
strongly engaged in The Five Practices than their counterparts.10
The Ten Commitments of Exemplary Leadership
Embedded in The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are behaviors that can serve as the basis for
becoming an exemplary leader. We call these The Ten Commitments of Exemplary Leadership (Table
1.1). They focus on behaviors and actions you need to be comfortable with engaging in. These ten
commitments serve as the template for explaining, understanding, appreciating, and learning how
leaders get extraordinary things done in organizations, and each of them is discussed in depth in
Chapters Three through Twelve. Before we go into depth on each of these commitments, let’s next
consider leadership from the standpoint of the constituent. Leadership, after all, is a relationship.
What do people look for in a leader? What do people want from someone whose direction they’d be
willing to follow?
Table 1.1 The Five Practices and Ten Commitments of Exemplary Leadership
Copyright © 1987 –2017. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge. All rights
reserved. For permission to reproduce for educational purposes, contact the publisher, John Wiley &
1. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from personal interviews, from Personal-Best Leadership
Experience case studies, or leadership reflections written by the respondent leaders. The titles and
affiliations of the leaders quoted may be different today from what they were at the time of their
case study or publication of this edition. In a few instances when leaders have asked us not to use
their real names, we have used pseudonyms for ease of discussion. All other details of the example
are the respondent’s actual experience.
2. We are grateful to Steve Coats for providing this example, expanded by further interviews.
3. We are grateful to Natalie Loeb for providing this example, expanded by further interviews.
4. More information about the myths that keep people from fully developing as leaders can be found in
J. M. Kouzes and B. Z. Posner, Learning Leadership: The Five Fundamentals of Becoming an
Exemplary Leader (San Francisco: The Leadership Challenge—A Wiley Brand, 2016).
5. We are grateful to Valarie Willis for providing this example.
6. We are grateful to Valarie Willis for providing this example.
7. We are grateful to Joseph Hines for providing this example.
8. More information about the research methodology and findings can be found in B. Z. Posner,
“Bringing the Rigor of Research to the Art of Leadership: Evidence Behind The Five Practices of
Exemplary Leadership and the LPI: Leadership Practices Inventory,”
http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/Research- section-Our-Authors-Research-Detail/bringingthe-rigor-of-research-to-the-art-of-leadership.aspx.
9. Posner, “Bringing the Rigor,” and J. M. Kouzes and B. Z. Posner, LPI: Leadership Practices
Inventory, 4th ed. (San Francisco: The Leadership Challenge—A Wiley Brand, 2012),
10. R. Roi, Leadership Practices, Corporate Culture, and Company Financial Performance: 2005
Study Results (Palo Alto, CA: Crawford and Associates International, 2006),
s=ldYUsXbBU1qzkTZI&t=/documentManager/sfdoc.file.supply&fileID=1168032065880. For a list
of hundreds of scholarly articles examining how The Five Practices impacts engagement and
performance, see Posner, “Bringing the Rigor.”
Chapter 2
Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership
The inescapable conclusion from analyzing thousands of Personal-Best Leadership Experiences is
that everyone has a story to tell. Moreover, these experiences are much more similar in terms of
actions, behaviors, and processes than they are different, regardless of context. The data clearly
challenges the myths that leadership is something that you find only at the highest levels of
organizations and society and that it’s something reserved for only a handful of charismatic men and
women. The notion that there are only a few great people who can lead others to greatness is just plain
wrong. Likewise, it is wrong to suggest that leaders come only from large, or small, or already great, or
new organizations, or from established economies, or from certain industries, functions, or disciplines.
The truth is leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities that are available to anyone. It is
because there are so many—not so few—leaders that extraordinary things happen on a regular basis in
organizations, especially in times of great uncertainty.
Another crucial truth that weaves itself throughout every situation and every leadership action is that
Personal-Best Leadership Experiences are never stories about solo performances. Leaders never make
extraordinary things happen all by themselves. Leaders mobilize others to want to struggle for shared
aspirations, and this means that, fundamentally, leadership is a relationship. Leadership is a
relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. You can’t have one
without the other. To lead effectively you have to appreciate fully the fundamental dynamics of the
leader-constituent relationship. A leader- constituent relationship characterized by fear and distrust
will never produce anything of lasting value. A relationship characterized by mutual respect and
confidence will overcome the greatest adversities and leave a legacy of significance.
That is precisely what Yamin Durrani told us about his relationship with Bobby Matinpour, marketing
manager at National Semiconductor, now part of Texas Instruments, who came aboard just after the
company had gone through a massive reorganization followed by a huge layoff. “Company-wide there
was a general lack of motivation, sense of mistrust, insecurity, and everyone was looking after their
own interest,” Yamin said. “Our group in particular was suffering from low motivation, as we didn’t
trust each other. I dreaded going to the office and there was too much internal competition leading to
breakdowns in communication.”
Bobby realized that he was going to have to get people to trust one another. His very first initiative was
to sit with individual team members to understand their desires, needs, and plans. For the first month,
he spent most of the time learning and trying to understand what each person aspired to and enjoyed
doing. He held weekly one-on-one meetings with individual team members, asked questions, and
listened attentively to what they had to say. “His friendly style and honest, straightforward approach,”
said Yamin, “led team members to open up and feel secure. He never acted as if he knew everything
and was open to learning new things from the team. Bobby understood that he couldn’t gain the
respect of the team without respecting them and allowing them the freedom to take ownership of their
projects. Bobby opened up lines of communication within the team, especially by encouraging greater
face-to-face interactions.”
In management meetings when a question was asked, even though he could have provided the answer
himself, Bobby typically referred it to one of his team members, stating, for example, “Yamin is an
expert on this topic. I will let him answer this question.” During the annual sales conference, attended
by hundreds of company employees, he let the most junior team member make the group
presentation, while the whole team stood behind the presenter to answer questions. Yamin observed
Being new to the group, Bobby could have easily fallen into the trap of trying to prove himself by
individually contributing in projects, or acting as a gatekeeper for information flow; however, he
opted to trust his team members on projects and took advice from them as for the approach to
take on a particular project. He never forced his ideas. In other words, “my way or the highway”
was not his style. He encouraged team members to take initiative and acted as an advisor on
projects, and let the ownership remain with the individual team member.
The results of Bobby’s leadership were significant. The unit’s revenue increased by 25 percent, and the
product pipeline overflowed with product ideas. Team spirit soared, people felt engaged, and a general
sense of collaboration and teamwork developed. “I personally had not felt more empowered and
trusted ever before,” Yamin told us. “From this experience I’ve realized that great leaders grow their
followers into leaders themselves.”
As Bobby so well demonstrated in the way he focused on others and not on himself, success in
leadership, success in work, and success in life are a function of how well people work and play
together. Because leadership is a reciprocal process between leaders and their constituents, any
discussion of leadership has to appreciate the dynamics of this relationship. Strategies, tactics, skills,
and practices are empty without an understanding of the fundamental human aspirations that connect
leaders and their constituents.
Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage
the Heart are the leadership practices that emerge from thousands of personal-best leadership cases.
However, they paint only a partial portrait of what’s going on because leaders don’t make
extraordinary things happen all by themselves. The full picture requires an understanding and
appreciation of what constituents expect from their leaders. You earn leadership from the people you
aspire to lead. People choose, on a daily basis, whether they are going to follow and commit completely
their talents, time, and energy. In the end, leaders don’t decide who leads, followers do.
Leadership is something you experience in an interaction with another human being. That experience
varies from leader to leader, from constituent to constituent, and from day to day. No two leaders are
exactly alike, no two constituent groups are exactly alike, and no two days in the life of leaders and
constituents are exactly alike. Great leadership potential is discovered, and unlocked, when you seek to
understand the desires and expectations of your constituents, and when you act on them in ways that
are congruent with their norms and image of what an exemplary leader is and does. What leaders say
they do is one thing; what constituents say they want and how well leaders meet these expectations is
another. Knowing what people want from their leaders is the only way to complete the picture of how
leaders can build and sustain the kind of relationships that will make extraordinary things happen.
What People Look for and Admire in Their Leaders
To understand leadership as a relationship, we have investigated the expectations that constituents
have of leaders.1 Over the years, we have asked people to tell us the personal traits, characteristics, and
attributes they look for and admire in a person whom they would be willing to follow. The responses
both affirm and enrich the picture that emerged from studies of personal leadership bests.
Our research on what constituents expect of leaders originally began by surveying thousands of
business and government executives. In response to the open-ended question about what they looked
for in a person they would be willing to follow, hundreds of different values, traits, and characteristics
were reported.2 Subsequent content analysis by independent judges, followed by further empirical
analyses, reduced these items to a checklist of twenty attributes, which we call the Characteristics of
Admired Leaders (CAL).
Using CAL, we ask people to select the seven qualities that they “most look for and admire in a leader,
someone whose direction they would willingly follow.” The key word in the preceding sentence is
“willingly.” It’s one thing to follow someone because you think you have to “or else,” and it’s another
when you follow a leader because you want to. What do people expect from an individual they would
follow, not because they have to, but because they want to? What does it take to be the kind of leader
that others want to follow, doing so enthusiastically and voluntarily?
Over 100,000 people around the globe have responded to the CAL checklist. The survey results have
been remarkable in their consistency over the years, as the data in Table 2.1 illustrates. There are some
essential “character tests” individuals must pass before others are willing to grant them the
designation leader.
While every characteristic receives votes, meaning that each is important to some people, what is most
evident and striking is that for over three decades, there are only four qualities that have always
received more than 60 percent of the votes (with the exception of Inspiring in 1987, which was valued
by 58 percent at that time). Despite all the dramatic changes in the world, what people most look for in
a leader has been amazingly stable.
Table 2.1 Characteristics of Admired Leaders
For the majority of people to follow someone willingly, they want a leader who they believe is
In addition, these same four characteristics rank consistently at the top across different countries as
shown by the data in Table 2.2. We also found that the ranking doesn’t significantly vary across
cultures, ethnicities, organizational functions and hierarchies, genders, levels of education, and age
groups (and we’ll say a bit more about this shortly).
Table 2.2 Characteristics of Admired Leaders (CAL) Around the World (Rank Order by Country)
The examination of admired leader attributes is very consistent with hundreds of interviews we’ve
conducted, asking people to tell us about the most credible leader they have ever experienced.
Compare how the characteristics of honest, competent, forward-looking, and inspiring are embedded
into what Melinda Jackson, corporate recruiter for a multinational technology company, told us about
her most admired leader: “I remember her deep knowledge of the work, clear vision for the future,
incredible support and care for those around her, and her stark authenticity. She believed
wholeheartedly in what we were doing and led with a fervor that encouraged even my most pessimistic
co-workers to follow.” Such stories and the characteristics of admired leaders mirror the actions people
describe in their Personal-Best Leadership Experiences. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership
and the behaviors of people admired as leaders are complementary perspectives on the same subject.
When they’re performing at their peak, leaders are doing more than just getting results. They’re also
responding to the behavioral expectations of their constituents, underscoring the point that the
relationship is one of service to a purpose and service to people.
As we weave the themes of being honest, forward-looking, competent, and inspiring into the text of the
subsequent chapters on The Five Practices, you’ll see in more detail how exemplary leaders respond to
the needs of their constituents. For example, being regarded as honest is essential if a leader is to
Model the Way. The leadership practice of Inspire a Shared Vision requires being forward-looking and
inspiring. When leaders Challenge the Process, they also enhance the perception that they’re dynamic.
Trustworthiness, often a synonym for honesty, plays a major role in how leaders Enable Others to Act,
as does the leader’s own competency. Likewise, leaders who recognize and celebrate significant
contributions and accomplishments—who Encourage the Heart—increase their constituents’
understanding of and commitment to the vision and values. When leaders demonstrate capacity in all
of The Five Practices, they show others they have the competence to make extraordinary things
Let’s examine why each of these characteristics is essential for creating a sustainable relationship
between those who would be willing to follow and those who aspire to lead others. We’ll also discover
in the process the foundation on which leaders must build that sustainable relationship.
In every survey we’ve conducted, honesty is selected more often than any other leadership
characteristic. Overall, it emerges as the single most important factor in the leader-constituent
relationship. The percentages vary, but the final ranking does not. First and foremost, people want a
leader who is honest.
It’s clear that if people anywhere are to willingly follow someone—whether it’s into battle or the
boardroom, in the front office or on the production floor—they first want to be sure that the individual
is worthy of their trust. They want to know that the person is truthful, ethical, and principled. When
people talk to us about the qualities they admire in leaders, they often use “integrity” and “authentic”
as synonyms for honesty. No matter what the setting, people want to be fully confident in their leaders,
and to be fully confident they have to believe that their leaders are individuals of authentic character
and solid integrity. That over 80 percent of constituents want their leaders to be honest above all else
is a message that every leader must take to heart. “After all,” Jennifer McRae, an engineer with the City
of San Jose, explained: “Why would you want to follow someone if you suspected that they were lying
or trying to trick you? Honesty is the basis of trust and you have to believe that what the leader speaks
or knows is true.”
Of all the qualities that people look for and admire in a leader, honesty is by far the most personal.
People want their leaders to be honest because a leader’s honesty is also a reflection upon their own
honesty. It’s the quality that can most enhance or most damage personal reputations. If you follow
someone who’s universally viewed as having impeccable character and strong integrity, then you’re
likely to be viewed the same. If you willingly follow someone who’s considered dishonest and
unethical, your own image is tarnished. In addition, there’s perhaps another, subtler, reason why
honesty is at the top. When people follow someone they believe to be dishonest, they come to realize
that they’ve compromised their own integrity. Over time, they not only lose respect for the leader, they
lose respect for themselves. As Anand Reddy, senior engineering manager at Intel, explained: “A
failure of honesty poisons the team, damages the trust between people, and breaks down team
cohesion. Besides, nobody wants to follow a leader who is not honest.”
Honesty is strongly tied to values and ethics. Constituents appreciate leaders who take a stand on
important principles. People resolutely refuse to follow those who lack confidence in their own beliefs.
Confusion over where the leader stands creates stress. Not knowing the leader’s beliefs contributes to
conflict, indecision, and political rivalry. People simply don’t trust leaders who can’t or won’t disclose
or live by a clear set of values, ethics, and standards. You really are only as good as your word in the
eyes of those you aspire to lead.
To enlist in another’s cause, people must believe that the leader is competent to guide them along the
path to the future. They must see the leader as capable and effective. “Competence is important,”
explained Kevin Schultz, assurance associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, “because it is difficult to
wholeheartedly follow someone who does not know what they are doing.” If people doubt the leader’s
abilities, they’re not going readily to enlist in the crusade. Studies point out that when people perceive
their leader as incompetent, they reject the individual as well as that person’s position.3
Leadership competence refers to the leader’s track record and ability to get things done. This kind of
competence inspires confidence—the leader will be able to guide the entire organization, large or
small, in the direction in which it needs to go. Another benefit, as Rebecca Sanchez, local government
budget analyst, pointed out: “I become a better follower because I have confidence that my leader
knows what she is talking about and asking us to do.”
However, as Brian Dalton, finance manager with Rocket Fuel, noted: “A leader isn’t expected to be an
expert in everything, because if they were, then why would they even need followers? Rather, a leader
is expected to have a competent understanding of the organization, and be able to recruit and ask
instructive and insightful questions to those who are experts in their fields.” When people talk about a
competent leader, they aren’t referring specifically to the leader’s abilities in the core technology of the
operation. People demand a base level of understanding of and relevant experience in the
fundamentals of the industry, market, or professional service environment, but they also know that as
leaders move up in the organization’s hierarchy they can’t be expected to be the most technically
competent in an operational specialty. Organizations are too complex and multifunctional for that ever
to be the case.
The type of competence demanded also seems to vary with the leader’s position and the condition of
the organization. For example, expect abilities in strategic planning and policymaking for those who
hold officer positions. A leader on the line, or at the point of customer or client contact, typically has to
be more product competent compared with someone less engaged in directly providing services or
making products. An effective leader in a high technology company may not need to be a master
programmer, but must understand the business implications of electronic data interchange,
networking, cloud computing, and the Internet.
For people to have confidence in the competence of their leader, they need to believe that the person
knows the business and understands the current operation, culture, and people in the company. They
need to know that the leader has had the breadth of experiences that will enable him or her to lead
through the challenges that the organization faces at the time. That is why senior leaders tend to have a
broader exposure to more functions, markets, countries, and cultures than those in early career stages.
The broader the experience, the more likely it is that they can be successful across organizations and
People expect their leaders to be excited, energetic, and positive about the future. A person who is
enthusiastic and passionate about future possibilities conveys to others a stronger belief in those
possibilities than someone who shows little or no emotion. People are most likely to believe what you
are saying because they sense that you truly believe it. “The worst kind of ‘leader’ from my experience,”
says Amber Willits, marketing specialist at Maxim Integrated, “is one who stands in front of a group of
people or an individual and gives zero life and energy into their dream. Hopelessness and negativity
follow from those kinds of messages. How can anyone feel motivated to perform their best if their
leader does not provide words of encouragement, optimism, and excitement?”
It’s not enough, then, for a leader to have a dream. A leader must be able to communicate that vision in
ways that encourage others to sign on for the duration. For one nursing supervisor, Ellen Vargas, this
took the form of being “contagiously enthusiastic.” “I infected everyone with my passion,” Ellen said,
“and because I was so keen about how this new procedure could change lives, everyone else signed up.”
People long to find some greater sense of purpose and worth in their day-to-day working lives.
Although the enthusiasm, energy, and positive attitude of the leader may not change the content of
work, he or she certainly can make the context more fulfilling. Whatever the circumstances, when
leaders breathe life into dreams and aspirations, people are much more willing to enlist in a common
cause. Inspiring leadership speaks to people’s need to have meaning and purpose in their lives.
Leaders must uplift their constituents’ spirits and give them hope if they’re voluntarily going to engage
in doing things that they have never done before. Enthusiasm and excitement are essential, and they
signal the leader’s personal commitment to pursuing a dream. If a leader displays no passion for a
cause, why should anyone else? Furthermore, being upbeat, positive, and optimistic offers people hope
that the future can be brighter.4 This is crucial at any time, but in times of great uncertainty, leading
with positive emotions is absolutely essential to moving people upward and forward.
When people are worried, discouraged, frightened, and uncertain about the present, they often
struggle to focus on the possibilities of tomorrow, and the last thing they need is a leader who feeds
those negative emotions. Fear does not persuade people to move ahead by being innovative and taking
chances, but rather it motivates them to keep their heads down, hold on to the status quo, and stay out
of the way. Fear may bring about compliance, but it never generates commitment. Instead, leaders
need to communicate in words, demeanor, and actions that they believe obstacles will be overcome
and dreams fulfilled. “Working to achieve a shared vision,” says Kathryn Trapani, administrative
coordinator for a university healthcare organization, “necessitates that leaders get people to feel at the
deepest level that by joining in the cause, their lives and those of others can be uplifted.” Emotions are
infectious, and positive emotions resonate throughout an organization and into relationships with
other constituents. To make extraordinary things happen in extraordinary times, leaders must fuel the
effort with positive emotions.
Sixty-two percent of recent respondents to our Characteristics of Admired Leaders survey, on average,
selected the ability to look ahead as one of their most sought-after leadership traits. People expect
leaders to have a sense of direction and a concern for the future of the organization. Simply put, says
first-year attorney Sarah Holden: “If leaders want to rely on others to follow them, the leader needs to
tell them where they are going, and get everyone heading in the same direction.” Compared to all the
other leadership qualities constituents expect, this is the one that most distinguishes individuals as
leaders because this expectation directly corresponds to the ability to envision the future that people
described in their personal-best leadership cases. After all, if the vision is simply same-old status quo,
then what is the purpose of that leader, anyway? Leaders are not content with things as they are today;
they focus on how things should be better in the future.
Whether you call that future a vision, a dream, a calling, a goal, a mission, or a personal agenda, the
message is clear: leaders must know where they’re going if they expect others to willingly join them on
the journey. They have to have a point of view about the future envisioned for their organizations, and
they need to be able to connect that point of view to the hopes and dreams of their constituents. Gloria
Leung told us that because her most-admired leader at Hang Seng Bank (Hong Kong) was forward-
looking, “this provided us the capacity to walk a path toward the future with great confidence, and
fostered shared values because we all knew where we were heading.” You can’t get yourself buried in
the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Leaders must have a destination in mind when asking
others to join them on a journey into the unknown.
While the other three critical leadership characteristics don’t vary much by hierarchical level, it isn’t
altogether surprising that the importance of being forward-looking does. Our surveys involving the
most senior levels in organizations indicate that nearly 95 percent select forward-looking as a requisite
leadership quality, while this percentage drops to 60 percent among people in frontline supervisory
roles. For college students, this characteristic is typically among their top seven, but not top four. This
wide gap indicates an important difference in expectations tied to the breadth, scope, and time horizon
of the job. As people move up the organizational hierarchy, their perspective on the future needs to
However, the ability to be forward-looking doesn’t mean that people expect their leaders to have the
magical power of a prescient visionary. The reality is far more down to earth. People want their leader
to have a well-defined orientation toward the future. They want their leader to communicate what the
organization will look like, feel like, and be like when they arrive at their destination in six quarters or
six years. They want to have it described in rich detail so that they’ll know themselves when they’ve
arrived, and so that they can select the proper route for getting there.
Consistency over Time and Place
These four prerequisites for leadership—honest, competent, inspiring, and forward-looking—have
stood the test of time and geography, even though there have been modest changes in emphasis. For
example, being honest remains at the top of the list, but it’s not quite as high a percentage as in earlier
times. This modest decline in honest as an admired leadership quality parallels a decline in the levels
of trust people have expressed in institutional leaders worldwide.5 People have become more cynical
about what they can actually expect from leaders, but it is important to note that honest still remains
the number-one quality people look for in a person they would willingly follow.
The biggest change in percentage numbers is in the importance of forward-looking, which has
declined in the percentage of people selecting it. Even so, it is still among the top four and clearly
ahead in relevance compared to the remaining leadership characteristics.
The modest changes in preferences underscore the remarkable consistency of people’s expectation of
leaders over a wide variety of personal, organizational, and cultural dimensions. These twenty leader
characteristics have not changed by more than a few percentage points (plus and minus) since the first
round of data collected more than thirty-five years ago. People continue to want their leaders to be
truthful, to know what they are doing and talking about, to demonstrate genuine enthusiasm and a
positive outlook, and to have a sense of direction.
At the same time, you should appreciate that context matters and the external environment may
influence what people look for and admire in a leader at any given moment or in any specific
organization or location, and in how you would demonstrate these crucial leadership characteristics.
Expectations can vary from organization to organization, function to function, group to group, and
level to level.
For example, data collected in healthcare organizations often finds caring to be more salient than in
other environments. Being loyal dramatically increases in importance when sampling people
connected with the military, while intelligent receives higher scores in academic circles, and mature
gets more votes than the norm from senior citizens. Similarly, people in management positions choose
forward-looking much more often than do those in exempt positions. Human resource professionals
select supportive more often than other functional groups, while sales people tend to select inspiring
more frequently than their accounting counterparts do. Furthermore, there are likely to be nuances
and possibly subtle differences in how leaders demonstrate these characteristics in various cultures.
Appreciating these local differences is important, even while the four qualities remain universal.
Putting It All Together: Credibility Is the Foundation
Honest, competent, inspiring, and forward-looking are the essential characteristics people want in a
leader, someone whose direction they would willingly follow. They are the “transportable” part of every
leader’s repertoire, and you need to carry them with you wherever you go. This finding has remained
constant over more than three decades of economic growth and recession, birth of the World Wide
Web, globalization of the economy, new technologies, Internet bubbles, explosion of mobile
accessibility, rise in terrorism, immigration and refugee crises, and the ever-changing political
environment. Whether you believe leaders are true to these values is another matter, but what people
would like from their leaders is unchanged.
This list of four qualities is useful in and of itself, but there’s a more profound implication revealed by
our research. These key characteristics make up what communications experts refer to as “source
credibility.” In assessing the believability of sources of information—whether newscasters, sales
people, physicians, or priests; whether business executives, military officers, politicians, or civic
leaders—researchers typically evaluate them on three criteria: their perceived trustworthiness,
expertise, and dynamism. The more highly people are rated on these dimensions, the more credible
they are perceived as sources of information.6
Notice how remarkably similar these three characteristics are to the essential qualities people want
from their leaders—honest, competent, and inspiring—three of the top four items selected in our
surveys. Link the theory to the data about admired leader qualities, and the striking conclusion is that
people want to follow leaders who, more than anything, are credible. Credibility is the foundation of
leadership. People must be able, above all else, to believe in their leaders. To willingly follow them,
people must believe that the leaders’ word can be trusted, that they are personally passionate and
enthusiastic about their work, and that they have the knowledge and skill to lead.
People also must believe that their leaders know where they’re headed and have a vision for the future.
Being forward-looking and having a vision is what truly makes leaders unique from other people in
an organization. Leaders are expected to have a point of view about the future and to articulate exciting
possibilities. People will only willingly follow when they are confident that their leaders know where
they’re going.
The consistency and pervasiveness of these findings about the characteristics of admired leaders
resulted in our development of The Kouzes-Posner First Law of Leadership:
If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.
Leaders must always be diligent in guarding their credibility. Their capacity to take strong stands, to
challenge the status quo, and to point in new directions depends upon being highly credible. Leaders
must never take their credibility for granted, regardless of the times or their positions. To believe in the
exciting future possibilities leaders present, people must first believe in their leaders. If you are going
to ask others to follow you to some uncertain future—a future that may not be realized in their lifetime
—and if the journey is going to require sacrifice, then it is imperative that people believe in you. All the
programs to develop leaders, all the courses and classes, all the books and CDs, all the blogs and
websites offering tips and techniques are meaningless unless the people who are supposed to follow
believe in the person who’s supposed to lead.
Credibility Matters
At this point you might be saying, “I know people who are in positions of power—and I know people
who are enormously wealthy—yet people don’t find them credible. Does credibility really matter? Does
it make a difference?” These are important questions, and they warrant a response. To answer them,
we decided to ask the people whose answers mattered the most—the leader’s direct reports—and we
found strong empirical su…
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