I first read this book in 2002 before proceeding to James Kouzes and Barry Posner's more recently published Encouraging the Heart. I highly recommend both and suggest that they be read in the order in which they were written. What we have here is the latest edition, recently published. As Kouzes and Posner explain in their Preface, "we did decide we needed to go on a diet. Each succeeding edition tended to put on a little weight -- feature creep, as they say in the technology business." For those who are curious to know, nothing in the co-authors' continuing research since the first edition has as yet revealed a "magical sixth practice that will revolutionize the practice of leadership."
Those of us who presume to review books such as this one can merely suggest their breadth and depth of substance as well as their stimulation of thought about the material presented. For example, Kouzes and Posner identify what they call "five leadership practices common to successful leaders" and then suggest ten "behavioral commitments" among those leaders studied. Here they are:
Practice: Challenge the process
Commitments: (1) Search for opportunities and (2) Experiment and take risks
Practice: Inspire a shared vision
Commitments: (3) Envision the future and (4) Enlist others
Practice: Enable others to act
Commitments: (5) Foster collaboration and (6) Strengthen others
Practice: Model the way to the desired objectives
Commitments: (7) Set the example and (8) Plan small wins
Practice: Encourage the heart of everyone involved
Commitments: (9) Recognize individual contribution and (10) Celebrate accomplishments
Those who conduct "360 Feedback" programs could do much worse than to base evaluations on criteria suggested by these practices and commitments. They provide the thematic infrastructure of the material which Kouzes and Posner present within seven Parts. The first introduces key concepts and terms: "Knowing What Leadership Is Really All About." Each of Parts Two-Six is devoted to one of the five Practices. Kouzes and Posner conclude with Part Seven, "The Beginning of Leadership', followed by two appendices which enable the reader to complete "The Personal Best Questionnaire" before reviewing "The Leadership Practices Inventory."
There are dozens of outstanding books on leadership and this is one of the best. I am especially impressed by the balance Kouzes and Posner maintain throughout between theory and practice. More specifically, they introduce and explain various core concepts and then draw upon real-world situations to illustrate those concepts. Obviously, "Encouraging the Heart" (Part Six) introduces ideas which Kouzes and Posner develop in much greater depth in a sequel volume which bears the same name. They conclude this book as follows: "We have said that leaders take us to places we have never been before. But there are no freeways to the future, no paved highways to unknown, unexplored destinations. There is only wilderness. If you are to step into the unknown, the place to begin is with the exploration of the inner territory." Those who agree (as do I) with these final remarks are urged to check out David Maister's Practice What You Preach, Tim Sanders' Love Is the Killer App, David Whyte's The Heart Aroused, and Larry Davis' Pioneering Organizations.