The Leadership Challenge

If you could only recommend two leadership books to someone, which books would they be? I’d like to know what they are, and I’m sure the other readers would too, so please jump into the discussion and share your recommendations. This week we’ll look at our best recommendations for a leadership book written from a non-faith perspective. In next week’s post, we’ll consider the best books written about Christian leadership.

My #1 Leadership book recommendation

When I get asked to recommend a leadership book, there is one that I never fail to mention: The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner. Here’s why.

  • I think of leadership on three levels (organizational, team and personal) and this book covers the whole territory.
    • Organizational leadership is primarily about culture-setting, vision-casting and change management, which the book addresses under the headings Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision and Challenge the Process.
    • Team Leadership is about empowerment and encouragement, which the book discusses as Enable Others to Act and Encourage the Heart.
    • Personal leadership is about you being sure of what you stand for and acting accordingly. Model the Way starts out with a chapter called Find Your Voice, in which the leader clarifies his or her personal values and then expresses them in their actions.  Leadership will be seen as authentic when their actions align with their stated values.
  • While there are a lot of things a leader needs to do (see my post on this topic), if you did nothing but these leadership practices, you would provide extremely well-balanced leadership. Five practices. That’s it.
  • The Leadership Challenge is based on the fact that leadership is not about position, but about relationship.  Christians will relate well to this basic premise because Christianity is at its core a religion of relationships, with God and with each other.
  • The book makes the case that leadership can be learned, so it is possible to grow and mature in your leadership role.
  • Kouzes and Posner have spent more than twenty-five years studying leadership and this book is grounded in their solid, credible research. The first edition came out in the late 1980’s and their research has stood the test of time. Now in its fourth edition, the five leadership practices have been validated over and over again.
  • The book is full of grand concepts of leadership, but always provides the nuts and bolts of how to apply the key ideas. There are plenty of real-world illustrations.
  • But the book is more than just a book. If you want, you can go online and complete a 360° leadership evaluation, the Leadership Practices Inventory. You can sign up at no cost and then buy a one-off assessment, or you can have your whole leadership team do the assessment. The report is an inexpensive way of evaluating how your leadership is perceived and will help you design your own professional development plan. The senior leader will probably not do a 360° review unless the board chair works closely enough with the leader to see the leader at work on a regular basis. So the senior leader will just have team members reporting.
  • There are no gimmicks to leadership the Kouzes and Posner way, but neither are the leadership practices particularly difficult. There is hope for any person in leadership that they can do better than they are now. The five key leadership practices are all common sense and therefore anyone can do them.
  • The book is extremely readable. I bought the book at the Gordon-Conwell bookstore in Charlotte during a residency there and opened it up while waiting for my flight home. I had the book finished by the time I got back to Waterloo. It was an easy and fun read.
  • Kouzes and Posner have written several other books for those who want more of the quality of leadership development that this book provides.

So now it’s your turn. What is your favourite recommendation for a book on leadership from a non-faith perspective? Why do you recommend it so highly?

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