The best leadership book ever written?

The Leadership Challenge spells out exactly what it means to be a leader while dispelling many leadership myths

The Leadership Challenge

Leadership is a slippery word. By that I mean that it’s often bandied about without a clear understanding of what it means and what it implies. The term is badly misunderstood, too often mythologized and frequently abused. We are not quite sure what leadership entails and if you disagree, try this experiment: ask ten people in your organization to define exactly what leadership is and see what their responses are.

My guess is that you’ll get a wide variance of assertions and only general agreement on what the term signifies.

Some debates about leadership seem to go on forever:

  • Who is a leader?
  • Are leaders born or are they made?
  • Does leadership require a title or formal authority?
  • Does leadership vary by situation?
  • What exactly does a leader do?
  • Do leaders really eat last?
  • Are leaders servants or power brokers?

We’re not quite sure.

Enter professors James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

In 1987, their landmark work, The Leadership Challenge did about as much as any book can do to dispel mistaken notions and put many of these debates to rest, at least for those who have read the book.

Grounded in research conducted with thousands of leaders from all over the world, this book finally gave the term leadership the traction it deserved.

Kouzes and Posner made it clear that anyone can commit to becoming a leader by following 5 simple practices.

  1. Model the Way
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enable Others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart

The authors not only delve into the actionable steps involved in each practice, they also site countless examples of real-world challenges faced by leaders in organizations from around the globe. The situations are immediately recognizable and this has the effect of clarifying and hammering home the message: you are not alone, other leaders are facing similar situations and here’s how you can be effective as well.

This is the missing manual of leadership and arguably the best book on leadership ever written. I have devoured it, shared it with others, and studied it with many leaders in different organizations around the world.

I know that there are scores of great books on leadership but if you can only read one, choose The Leadership Challenge for its comprehensiveness and practicality. Kouzes and Posner have done a great job of updating the book since its original publication and their ideas remain as fresh and urgent as always.

In a world of globalization, outsourcing, appification, and increasingly ubiquitous robots, the work that will remain is the work of a leader.

Leadership cannot be outsourced, coded into a mobile app, automated by software or done by some funny-looking robot. We’ll still need humans for the vital work that remains. We need YOU. A leader.

What leadership book has inspired you?