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Book Review
The Leadership Challenge

The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes, Barry Z. Posner has been around in various editions for almost twenty years now. One reason for that is that it is an excellent overview of leadership in organizations and how you can do it yourself.

The book's structure follows its basic recommendations. The authors recommend five fundamental practices, each of which has two commandments, for a total of ten. In general, these are both straightforward and insightful. "Challenge the Process" talks about searching for opportunities, experimenting, and taking risks. "Modeling the Way" talks about setting the example and planning small wins. There is also material on "Enabling Others to Act."

Then there are a couple of weaker sections. Sections on inspiring and encouraging simply are too fluffy and lack the support that is given to other points.

Even having said that, this is a book that's worth reading if you are responsible for leadership in an organization of any size. The reason is the way the book came together.

The authors used two different kinds of research to develop their recommendations. They looked at over five hundred leaders, but they looked at them in a particular way.

In each case, they had asked the leader to talk about his or her actions as a leader when they were doing excellent work. In other words, they looked for excellent examples of leadership and tried to draw lessons from them.

They also went to the other side and talked to followers about what they wanted in leaders. When they put those two kinds of research together, you get recommendations that are both practical and, for the most part, behavioral.

Warren Bennis' recent book, Geeks and Geezers, is an excellent companion for this book. In that book, Bennis talks about crucibles of leadership or experiences, which provide intense stress and learning of leadership that form leadership values.

On the plus side this is good, practical, behavioral and helpful if you're responsible for a group of any kind or size. On the downside, some of the language can be fuzzy and simplistic, and some of the concepts, like "Encourage the Heart" sounds just a tad too New Age for my taste.

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