Helen Green

30 years of the Leadership Challenge

On the surface, the Leadership Challenge is a book by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, first published in 1987 and now on its 2017 sixth edition.

On another level, it’s a straightforward, practical model for leadership rooted in over three decades of ongoing research. It’s used by both established and up-and-coming leaders from all walks of life to develop their capacity to inspire and motivate those around them.

The story so far…

For us, the appeal of the Leadership Challenge model is the academic rigour and innovation in its DNA, all stemming from a chance meeting in the 80s.

Collaborating on a conference talk while working as Santa Clara academics, Kouzes and Posner found themselves speaking after fellow business expert, Tom Peters. A tough act to follow.

Rather than compete with Peters discussing successful companies, the duo contrasted that with a focus on the individuals who build success. What, they asked, were the personal qualities which contribute to exemplary leadership?

The rest, as they say, is history.

Rooted in research

From there, they set about conceiving a model for leadership based on empirical study. Thousands of case studies and millions of survey responses have influenced the genesis of the book, alongside heavyweight academic research.

For example, much is said in business about shared values, but how can you make that measurable? Drawing from the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, the Leadership Challenge draws a direct correlation between cultures with strong shared values and:

  • Better performance
  • Increased revenue
  • Greater job creation
  • Higher stock prices

Likewise, drawing on the Oxford handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, the book explores the effects of something as potentially woolly as ‘staying positive’ in concrete terms. Not just business performance is discussed, but also the beneficial impact on the mental health of leaders themselves.

These studies go into granular detail, considering differences in leadership styles and outcomes between various industry, gender, and ethnic contexts, as well as addressing the public and private sector divide.

All in all, up to 750,000 leadership observations are added to the research base each year along with – at the time of writing – more than 500 ongoing studies using the book’s contents to drive our understanding forward and keep it current.

Who can lead?

So, who is the Leadership Challenge for? Kouzes and Posner stress that leadership is not for the chosen few, it’s not something one is born with.

Leadership is a gift, one that can be given to anyone with the passion to learn. We’ve seen it happen in practice, with the model being validated for global cultures, genders, and all sorts of contexts in its illustrious history.

Over that time, it’s been interesting to see new practices introduced to serve new generations of leaders, and what no longer works in a digital-first environment. But what’s of even more interest is seeing how much remains the same despite all this.

To us, that shows a grounding in shared human experience, with ongoing research to apply it in relevant contexts, all while being intuitive and straightforward to apply. In an increasingly globalised world, it’s never been more important to consider what kind of leadership is needed to transcend national and cultural divides. The Leadership Challenge doesn’t shy away from this tricky subject.

The Five Principles

The Leadership Challenge framework rests on five practices, known as the Five Principles of Exemplary Leadership:

  1. Modelling the way: Defining, embodying, and promoting the values which drive your organisation.
  2. Inspiring a shared vision: Uniting your team around an ideal of what might be, a better future.
  3. Challenging the process: Taking risks, overcoming resistance, and aiming for better than the status quo.
  4. Enabling others to act: Building a collaborative team who understand that when they win, everyone wins.
  5. Encouraging the heart: Visibly celebrating the contributions of those who make success possible.

Each of these five qualities are illustrated with case studies and business theory to demonstrate why they matter, and we’ll be breaking each down in detail in future blogs.

Quest and the Leadership Challenge

Quest Leadership are the longest established global training partner for the Leadership Challenge framework in Europe. In that capacity, we’re proud to work with organisations in all sorts of industries, helping them apply this powerful model.

Having followed – and contributed to – its development over more than 30 years, we’re immersed in the subject matter. Our own business success is built on using it, a connection we pass on to clients.

Of the five current Europe-based Master Facilitators of the programme, three work in-house for Quest, and we trained the other two. This gives us a strong voice within the R&D community when helping Kouzes and Posner iterate new editions.

Best of all, we’ve spent years fine-tuning the book’s message to the specific needs of UK and European markets, putting a personalised spin on a global phenomenon.

Want to feel the benefit for yourself and your organisation? Contact us today.