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  • Steve Nguyen, PhD

Book Review: The Leadership Challenge, 7th Edition



In this book review of The Leadership Challenge (7th ed.) by James (Jim) Kouzes and Barry Posner, I'll compare the 7th edition (2023) to the 6th edition (2017) and highlight areas of improvements and point out what's new in the 7th edition. I'll provide an overview of The Five Practices framework (Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart) via the use of direct quotes* from the book. Finally, I'll share some leadership themes and lessons that Kouzes and Posner have learned.


* The direct quotations and citing of passages from The Leadership Challenge (7th ed.) is done to preserve the skilled writings and gifted storytellings of Kouzes and Posner.

I wrote a book review of The Leadership Challenge (6th ed.) back in 2017. I can't believe it's now six years later (2023) and I'm reviewing the seventh edition!

When I worked for an auto collision repair company from 2018 to 2020, we adopted The Leadership Challenge book and model and ordered 200 copies of The Leadership Challenge (6th ed.) to hand out to our workshop participants. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (or MICEE model as we called it) is still talked about today.

The seventh edition (Kouzes & Posner, 2023) offers:

  • Incisive commentary on the shift toward team-oriented and hybrid work relationships

  • Key insights into how to break through a new and pervasive level of cynicism amongst the modern workforce

  • Strategies for leveraging the electronic global village to deliver better results within your team, in your department, and across your organization

Steve Nguyen's Critiques:


1) Although the 7th edition is advertised as providing incisive commentary on hybrid work, in reality "hybrid work" was mentioned on just 2 pages. Also, it was not "incisive," but instead more of a posing of rhetorical questions or providing statements with a mention of "hybrid work."

2) Kouzes and Posner does a better job providing insights about dealing with cynicism. And while the word "cynicism" was also only mentioned on 2 pages, the authors do a better job sharing insights and connecting personal stories of leaders who effectively dealt with cynicism. However, the example of Stephen Ravizza in the 7th edition (2023) is the EXACT same example shared in the 4th edition (2007). Likewise, the story about John Doyle in the 7th edition is the one previously used in the 4th edition.

3) As for the 7th edition including "Strategies for leveraging the electronic global village to deliver better results within your team, in your department, and across your organization" — I did not see anything substantively new or different from what was already discussed in the 6th edition.

The Leadership Challenge


"The Leadership Challenge has its origins in a research project we [Kouzes and Posner] began over forty years ago. We wanted to know what people did when they were at their “personal best” in leading others. These personal bests were experiences in which people set their individual leadership standards of excellence. They were, so to speak, their Olympic gold-medal-winning performances" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 304).


"Leadership challenges never cease, and leadership opportunities will always be there for those who choose to greet them. That is precisely why, from the beginning, we [Kouzes and Posner] titled this book The Leadership Challenge" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. xix).

"The study of leadership is how people guide others through adversity, uncertainty, and turbulence; triumph against overwhelming odds; take initiative when there is inertia; and activate individuals and institutions in the face of stiff resistance. This book describes what leaders did under challenging circumstances and what you can do to put their leadership behaviors into practice and make a difference" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. xix-xx).


"The Leadership Challenge is evidence-based. We [Kouzes and Posner] derived The Five Practices from rigorous research, and we illustrate them with examples from real people doing real things. With each new edition, we continue to update the stories, cases, and examples of exactly what real people do when they are at their best. Their names are real, as are their experiences and quotations. However, for two reasons, we do not mention their organizations. First, most people are not still connected with that organization or in the same position. Second, the cases and our focus are about what individuals do, and not about their organizations, functions, or positions" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. xx).


Steve Nguyen's Critiques:


Although not including the names of the organizations is new to the 7th edition, Kouzes and Posner attached names of the organizations to the names of specific individuals in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th editions. To be fair, there are plenty of new/fresh stories, like the ones of Blaze Silberman, Maureen Collins, Rob Field, and many others in the 7th edition.


One explanation for not including the names of the organizations in the 7th edition may be so that the authors can continue to use leadership stories from older editions, as in the case of Stephen Ravizza [4th & 7th editions], John Doyle [4th & 7th editions], Michael Ryan [4th & 7th editions], and Arlene Blum. In fact, the example of Arlene Blum dates back to the 1st edition (and continued to be used in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th editions) and came from a 1980 book — which was 43 years ago!


Now don't get me wrong. Leadership stories are timeless. My wish is that the authors would more clearly state just how old some of these stories actually are.


That said, I found this focus on what individuals do interesting and quite true. So many of the business and leadership books that mention individuals almost always also include the organizations that they work for. However, with the passage of time, it's inevitable that some or many of these individuals were no longer associated with those organizations. In fact, there are even instances in which those organizations no longer exist.

Challenge Is The Crucible For Leadership And The Opportunity For Greatness


In the 5th edition of The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner wrote: "Challenge is the opportunity for greatness" (2012, p. 156). In the 6th edition of The Leadership Challenge, they wrote: "Challenge is the crucible for greatness" (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 16). In the 7th edition of The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner provide an amalgamation of what they wrote in 2012 and 2017 to now say: "Challenge is the crucible for leadership and the opportunity for greatness" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 304-305).


Challenge Is the Opportunity for Greatness

"Challenge is the crucible for leadership and the opportunity for greatness. This is the critical lesson we have learned from reviewing thousands of Personal-Best Leadership Experiences over forty years. Challenge inspires us, shapes us, and requires us to open doors and chart new paths" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 304-305)


"When we [Kouzes and Posner] reviewed the Personal-Best Leadership Experiences, it became evident that every single case involved some kind of challenge. We didn’t ask people to tell us about challenging times. We asked them to tell us about times when they did their best. It just turned out that whatever the situation, all the cases we’ve studied involved overcoming great adversity. It was the context in which people said they did their best. In other words, challenge is the common denominator in all the stories about personal-best leadership" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 304).

Your Leadership Matters


"You don’t have to look up for leadership. You don’t have to look out for leadership. You only have to look inward. You have the potential to lead others to places they have never been. But before you can lead others, you have to believe that you can have a positive impact on others. You have to believe that what you do counts. You have to believe that your words can inspire and that your actions can move others. And you have to be able to convince others that the same is true for them. In these turbulent times, there is no shortage of opportunities to lead, and the world needs more people who believe they can make a difference and who are willing to act on that belief" (Kouzes & Posner, 2017, p. 295). [Note: I like the 2017 version better than the 2023 rewording].

"The bottom line empirically is that the more frequently the people who work with you observe you engaging in the behaviors associated with The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, the more likely it is that you’ll have a positive influence on them and the organization. The more likely it is that people will want to work with you" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 306).

The Leadership Challenge & The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

"While the context of leadership has changed dramatically over the years, the content of leadership has not changed much at all. Leaders’ fundamental behaviors and actions have remained essentially the same, and they are as relevant today as they were when we [Kouzes and Posner] began our study of exemplary leadership. The truth of each 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 everywhere" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 5).


"The study of leadership is how people guide others through adversity, uncertainty, and turbulence; triumph against overwhelming odds; take initiative when there is inertia; and activate individuals and institutions in the face of stiff resistance. This book describes what leaders did under challenging circumstances and what you can do to put their leadership behaviors into practice and make a difference" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. xx).

The Leadership Challenge has always been about how people go about mobilizing others to want to make extraordinary things happen. It’s about the behavioral practices used to transform values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards. It’s about leadership that creates the climate in which challenging opportunities open the door to remarkable successes” (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. xv).

"It’s not about your title, position, function, age, gender, educational level, country of origin, or any other demographic variable. It’s about how you behave. We [Kouzes and Posner] firmly believe that exemplary leadership is within the grasp of everyone and that the opportunities for leadership are boundless and boundary-less" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. xxi).

The Five Practices and Ten Commitments of Exemplary Leadership


Practice 1: Model the Way


Commitment 1. Clarify values by finding your voice and affirming shared values.

Commitment 2. Set the example by aligning actions with shared values.


Practice 2: Inspire a Shared Vision


Commitment 3. Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities.

Commitment 4. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.


Practice 3: Challenge the Process


Commitment 5. Search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve.

Commitment 6. Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.


Practice 4: Enable Others to Act


Commitment 7. Foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.

Commitment 8. Strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.


Practice 5: Encourage the Heart


Commitment 9. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.

Commitment 10. Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.


At the heart of The Leadership Challenge is The Five Practices framework, which resulted from analysis of thousands of Personal-Best Leadership Experiences and millions of survey responses (Kouzes & Posner, 2023). Kouzes and Posner illustrate The Five Practices framework with examples of what ordinary people (leaders from all walks of life) do when they are at their best. The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are the core leadership competencies that emerged from Kouzes & Posner’s analysis of thousands of Personal-Best Leadership Experience cases.


“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. There’s abundant empirical evidence that these leadership practices matter. Embedded within The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are essential behaviors that serve as the basis for becoming an exemplary leader. We [Kouzes and Posner] call these the Ten Commitments of Exemplary Leadership” (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 13).

"The inescapable conclusion from analyzing thousands of personal-best leadership experiences is that (a) everyone has a personal-best leadership story to tell, and (b) leadership is an identifiable set of skills and abilities available to anyone" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 3).


After closely examining thousands of personal-best leadership cases, Kouzes and Posner continue to find that "individuals who guide others along pioneering journeys follow surprisingly similar paths irrespective of the times or settings. Though each experience was unique in its expression, there were identifiable behaviors and actions that made a difference" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 4).

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Model the Way; Inspire a Shared Vision; Challenge the Process; Enable Others to Act; Encourage the Heart) "are not the private property of the people we [Kouzes and Posner] 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 guiding people and organizations to places they have never been before. It is the challenge of moving beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 4).


Practice 1: Model the Way


"The very first step on the journey to exemplary leadership is clarifying your values—discovering those fundamental beliefs that will guide your decisions and actions along the path to success and significance" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 56).

"One of the most challenging parts about being a leader is that you’re always on stage. People are always watching you, talking about you, and testing your credibility. That’s why setting the right example is so important and why it’s essential to use all the tools you have available to do it" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 82).

Practice 2: Inspire a Shared Vision


"The most important role of vision in organizational life is to give focus to human energy. To enable everyone to see more clearly what’s ahead of them, you must have and convey an exciting, ennobling vision of the future. The path to clarity of vision begins with reflecting on the past, moves to attending to the present, and then goes to prospecting into the future" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 109).

"Leaders appeal to common ideals. They connect others to what is most meaningful in the shared vision. They lift people to higher levels of motivation and continuously reinforce that they can make a difference. Exemplary leaders speak to what is unique and singular about the organization, making others feel proud to be a part of something extraordinary. Exemplary leaders understand that it’s not their personal view of the future that’s important; it’s embracing the aspirations of their constituents that matters most" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 135).

Practice 3: Challenge the Process


"Leaders dedicated to making extraordinary things happen are open to receiving ideas from anyone and anywhere. They are adept at using their outsight to survey the landscape of technology, politics, economics, demographics, art, religion, and society in search of new ideas. They are prepared to search for opportunities to address the constant shifts in their environment. They seize the initiative and address the changes they see. Moreover, because they are proactive, they don’t just ride the waves of change; they make the waves that others ride" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 163).

"[C]hange can overwhelm, frighten, and immobilize some people. Exemplary leaders believe, and get others to believe, that change is a challenge they can successfully address and that individuals can control their life and influence outcomes. They make sure that everyone clearly understands the meaning and purpose of change, and they create a strong sense of commitment to the mission" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 188).

Practice 4: Enable Others to Act


"You can’t make extraordinary things happen by yourself. Collaboration is what enables organizations, communities, and even virtual classrooms to function effectively. Sustain collaboration by creating a climate of trust and by facilitating effective long-term relationships among your constituents. Promote a sense of mutual dependence — the feeling that everyone in the group knows they need the others to succeed. Without that sense of “we’re all in this together,” it’s impossible to keep effective teamwork going, stimulating people to look out for one another and do what they can to make the whole team successful" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 217).


"Strengthening others is essentially the process of turning everyone into leaders—making people capable of acting on their own initiative. Create a virtuous cycle by extending more power and responsibility to others as they respond successfully. Leaders strengthen others when they make it possible to exercise choice and discretion, design options and alternatives to how work and service are conducted, and foster accountability and responsibility that compel action" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 244).

Practice 5: Encourage the Heart


"Exemplary leaders have positive expectations of themselves and their constituents. They expect the best of people and create self-fulfilling prophecies about how ordinary people can produce extraordinary actions and results. Exemplary leaders’ goals and standards are unambiguous, helping people focus on what needs doing. They provide clear feedback and reinforcement. Maintaining a positive outlook and providing motivating feedback stimulates, rekindles, and focuses people’s energies and drive" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 272).

"Celebrating together reinforces the fact that extraordinary performance results from many people’s efforts. Visibly and publicly celebrating accomplishments creates community and sustains team spirit. By basing celebrations on acting congruently with fundamental values and attaining critical milestones, leaders reinforce and maintain people’s focus" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 300).

What People Look For and Want from Their Leaders


"What people are looking for in a person whom they would willingly follow is someone who they believe is honest, competent, inspiring, and forward-looking. For all the dramatic changes in the world over these past four decades, what people look for has remained amazingly stable" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 20).

What I Like:


At the end of each of the Commitments of Leadership chapter (two chapters for each practice [10 Commitments total; 2 for each Practice]), there’s a really useful and actionable “Take Action” section that tells you “what you need to do to make these leadership behaviors and practices an ongoing and natural part of your behavioral and attitudinal repertoire” (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. xxiii).


What I absolutely love about The Leadership Challenge book and model is how easy it is to teach and how simple it is to learn The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (Model the Way; Inspire a Shared Vision; Challenge the Process; Enable Others to Act; Encourage the Heart). Whether it's a room full of high-school educated, blue-collar leaders or college-educated executives with MBAs, the "MICEE" model is extremely intuitive and participants latch on to the leadership model right away! Even more importantly — they're able to explain, demonstrate, and teach back the model to others!


A Quick Comparison Between The 6th and 7th Editions:


There are 12 chapters in the 7th edition vs. 13 chapters in the 6th edition. Kouzes and Posner moved the chapter titled "Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership" (Ch. 2 in the 6th edition) under the first chapter (Ch. 1 in the 7th edition).


The authors also renamed the final chapter — from "Leadership Is Everyone's Business" (in the 6th edition) to "Treat Challenge as an Opportunity" (in the 7th edition) — but it remains essentially unchanged.


In the 7th edition, Kouzes and Posner have further refined the second half of the “Take Action” section at the end of each behavior chapter. The authors provided more nuanced suggestions to help readers more effectively make use of each important leadership behavior (Kouzes & Posner, 2023).

Here's a sample comparison between the 6th and 7th editions for the “Take Action” section in the “Foster Collaboration” chapter.


The actionable suggestions to Foster Collaboration in the 6th edition (2017, p. 218):


Exemplary leaders Foster Collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships. This means you must:


1. Extend trust to others, even if they haven't already extended it to you.

2. Spend time getting to know your constituents and find out what makes them tick.

3. Show concern for the problems and aspirations others have.

4. Listen, listen, and listen some more.

5. Structure projects so that there is a common goal that requires cooperation, making sure that people understand how they are interdependent with one another.

6. Find ways to get people together face to face and increase the durability of their relationship.


The actionable suggestions to Foster Collaboration in the 7th edition (2023, p. 218):

We [Kouzes and Posner] suggest that you foster collaboration by taking these actions to build trust and facilitate relationships:

• Increase both the quantity and quality of informal interactions among people who need to work more effectively together.

• Make sure that you use “we” at least three times as often as you use “I.” You can’t do it alone. “We” is an inclusive word that signals a commitment to teamwork and collaboration. • Be open to admitting that matters don’t always go as expected and focus your attention on making sure that the lessons from experience are widely shared. Never shoot the messenger.


In addition, regular conversations about leadership will let people know it’s important. Use the opportunity in every interaction to direct people’s attention to aspects of leadership that you think are important to focus on. Find opportunities to talk with others about these questions:


• To get extraordinary things done, what can be done to better connect you with those with whom you need to collaborate? • What are we doing to ensure that people around here feel included and are involved in decisions that affect the way they do their work?

Summary: The Leadership Challenge (7th ed.) continues to be a compelling, evidence-based, practical, and delightful masterpiece. The 7th edition of The Leadership Challenge provides new and refreshed contents and is an incredible and worthwhile update to a timely leadership classic.

Leadership isn't a mystical quality that only a select few have. Nor is it a preordained blessing. Rather, "leadership is an observable pattern of practices and behaviors, and a definable set of skills and abilities" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 314) and it can be learned, strengthened, honed, and enhanced.

"You don’t have to look up for leadership. Nor do you need to look out for leadership. You only have to look inward. You have the potential to lead others to places they have never been" (Kouzes & Posner, 2023, p. 306). The Leadership Challenge (7th ed.) provides an amazingly simple and memorable blueprint and outlines the actionable steps you can take to make this happen.


Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Organizational & Leadership Development Leader

References

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1987). The Leadership Challenge. Jossey-Bass.


Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1995). The Leadership Challenge (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.


Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The Leadership Challenge (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass.


Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The Leadership Challenge (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.


Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th ed.). Jossey-Bass.


Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The Leadership Challenge (6th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.


Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2023). The Leadership Challenge (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.


Nguyen, S. (2017, July 2). Book Review: The Leadership Challenge, 6th Edition. https://www.workplacepsychology.net/post/book-review-the-leadership-challenge-6th-edition

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