On the Sentergroup blog, we’ve talked a lot about The Leadership Challenge, a book by James Kouzes and Barry Posner about the five practices of exemplary leadership. We listed five ways association leaders can meet the leadership challenge. We described how we used the principles to partially create the curriculum for our leadership retreat, Lantern, co-hosted by Plenty.

You might say we’re a little obsessed with the leadership challenge.

For those seeking an even deeper dive into the book and its five practices, our own Director of Education, Moira Twitty, has put together a complete analysis of the book, with a summary and key takeaways for each of the five practices.

Practice 1: Model the Way


The most important personal quality people look for and admire in a leader is personal credibility. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message. Titles may be granted, but leadership is earned. Leaders ‘Model the Way’ by finding their voice and setting an example.

Modeling the way begins with the clarification of personal values and involves building and affirming shared values that all can embrace.

Modeling the way includes emotional modeling. A leader who is positive and encouraging models this behavior so that others will do the same. “Do what you say you will do” (DWYSYWD)! You have to reinforce behavior that you want repeated and to publicly ask for feedback from others. It is very important to celebrate small wins. A simple high five can do the trick.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Keep your promise
  2. Follow through on your commitments
  3. Ask for feedback and make changes based on that feedback
  4. Repeat phrases you want to create in the workplace; create a positive environment
  5. Reinforce behavior you want to see repeated

Practice 2: Inspire a Shared Vision

There are four steps to inspiring a shared vision.

Step #1: Be Clear About Your Desired Destination

The first step in creating a solid shared vision is to be clear about what you hope to achieve. Your vision is your destination. The strategy that you follow to reach it is your journey. Without clarity, your team will become unproductive and inefficient. With a clear destination, they can be focused and inspired to imagine the possibilities and find a common purpose.

Pay attention to the little things around you to recognize that those may be patterns that form the future.  Think about what is next. Even after a big accomplishment with a large project, keep thinking ahead as to what can be done next, and what can you improve upon.

Listening to what your team has to say and how they feel allows you to become a good leader. When you listen, you find out what matters to that person, what drives them and their motivation. Your team’s vision becomes clearer the more we communicate, share and inspire one another to communicate.

Step #2: Dream Big

For people to be truly inspired, the vision needs to be big. It needs to be something that seems challenging, so that it will call your team to draw on their best selves to be able to achieve it.

Enlist your team members so they are excited about your dream. Speak about it and this will show meaning. This will enable them to share their dreams.

Step #3: Communicate a Strong Purpose

The driving force behind your shared vision is your purpose. When you know and understand the “why”, you’ll be more motivated to focus on the “how.”

Step #4: Set Strategic Goals

Once you have settled on a shared vision, the next step is to set strategic goals. Remember, the vision is the destination, and the strategy helps to determine the path to get there.

Make sure the goals are aligned with the vision. If you notice your team straying from your main vision when setting goals, then bring them back to the vision.

  1. Remind your team about the vision on a regular basis. You should be communicating it so often that everyone knows it by heart. For the vision to be useful, people must know it!
  2. Have your team members break down the larger goals into smaller time-limited objectives (and provide help, if needed). This will help to keep them on task and moving forward appropriately.
  3. Create systems that enable everyone to keep track of your goals and progress. This contributes to a sense of accountability around the goals that have been set.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Reflect on the past, attend the present, and prospect for the future
  2. Keep in touch with what moves you, what you care about and what you are passion about
  3. Be curious; ask what works and what doesn’t
  4. What is next? What project will we work on next?
  5. Listen to others. Communicate – get the entire team on the same page about where we are going, what is next

Practice 3: Challenge the Process


Leaders need to be innovative and proactive. Search for opportunities that will be challenging, allow mistakes, and learn from them. “Challenges find leaders and leaders find challenges.” Change requires leaders to look at ways in which they can make things better, to grow, innovate and improve process/procedures.

Leaders are experimenters. They venture outside the constraints of normal routine and experiment with creative and risky situations. When things seem to be falling apart, leaders show their teams an exciting new world they can create.

Encourage initiative in others. Instead of asking “what isn’t working,” start by asking “what is working?” Turn this into a positive. When you build yourself up with positives, you then can help others do the same. Encourage team members to speak up, offer suggestions and improvements on processes and be straightforward with criticism.

Continue to train team members. Team members need continuous training, so they can deliver and provide results. Encourage your team with these simple words: I know you can do it!

Leaders look at ways in which they can make idea gathering part of their weekly schedule of meetings.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Always ask “what’s new, next, better?”
  2. Take on new projects
  3. Ask for external input
  4. Design work that is interesting
  5. Encourage team to talk to others outside your department and regular vendors

Practice 4: Enable Others to Act


A leader must foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships within their team.  Allow team members to provide their feedback, so they feel there is a climate of trust and a sense of collaboration. Without trust, leaders cannot lead. Without trust, you cannot get people to believe in you or your ideas. So, you must trust in yourself and in others. Teams will be successful if there is a level of trust amongst all team members; collaboration and innovation will follow.

Leaders must demonstrate that they are competent to their team members. This is vital in gaining their trust. You must actively share your ideas of experiences so that your team feels they can do the same. When you trust one another in a work environment, asking for help and sharing information will then follow naturally.

Treat others the same way you want to be treated. Reciprocate. The power of group effort is endless and reaching your common goals will be achievable.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Let your team know you trust them by saying it
  2. Share things about yourself that make you YOU!
  3. Listen, and listen more
  4. Clearly state the goals
  5. Reciprocate; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

Practice 5: Encourage the Heart


Leaders must have courage and encourage. They must have heart! Encouragement boosts performance, strengthens our resolve and improves our health. We need enthusiasm from others to do our best.  Leadership is all about people and if you’re going to lead people, you must care about them.

Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence. Encouragement increases productivity. Provide recognition and celebrate the values and victories. As a leader, you need to be sure your team has the energy and commitment to get to the end of a journey and you must recognize their contributions and wins.

To recognize contributions, a leader must expect the best and personalize recognition. Leaders must provide feedback to their teams, since without feedback, your team cannot learn. Encouragement is the highest form of feedback.

An Action Plan for Encouraging Others:

  1. Set clear standards. Take pride in your work.
  2. Expect the best. High expectations = High performance.
  3. Pay attention. Show care just by walking around. Ask, “how are you doing?”
  4. Personalize recognition. Give it consistently (employee recognition/feedback card)
  5. Tell the Story. Teach, inspire and motivate.
  6. Celebrate Together. This fills us with energy.
  7. Set the Example. Every morning, encourage yourself.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Set expectations
  2. Communicate your own experiences
  3. Create a comfortable environment; let people know you believe in them
  4. Connect with people, don’t take people for granted
  5. Make saying “thank you” part of your weekly routine with your team members