Although there has been a more recent edition of The Leadership Challenge published (in 2007) since this Workbook appeared (in 2003), the core concepts remain the same, guiding and informing the series of exercises provided in it. Specifically what James Kouzes and Barry Posner characterize as "The Five Practices" of exemplary leadership, requires two commitments. For example, Challenge the Process by searching for opportunities (i.e. seek innovative ways to change, grow, and improve) and experimenting with calculated risks (i.e. constantly generate "small wins" and learn from every mistake). As Kouzes and Posner have by now clearly indicated in their collaborations, they are relentless empiricists and diehard pragmatists. Their observations and suggestions are driven by more then 30 years of rigorous research that includes hundreds of interviews of leaders and several million responses to various surveys. After briefly identifying the "what" of effective leadership, they devote most of their attention to its "how."
How did Don Bennett, the first amputee to climb Mt. Rainier (elevation 14,410 feet), get to the top on one leg and two crutches? "One hop at a time." Kouzes and Posner suggest that the same process be followed by those who aspire to be exemplary leaders.
They note that work tends to be organized in terms of projects because projects "create the context for our goals, determine with whom we work, and set our schedules." That said, on pages 6 and 7, they offer several guidelines for completing this workbook. Depending on the reader's given project or situation,
1. "If you're just starting, we recommend that you begin with Chapter 4...and work your way through Chapter 8."
2. "If your project has been underway for some time, we recommend that your first step be to read through this Workbook quickly, without completing all the activities. Then go back and start with those worksheets that address immediate concerns."
Digression: Why are so few workbooks and field guides based on business bestsellers designed to include space within the narrative on which to complete exercises, record notes, etc.? Credit someone (the authors, their publisher, or both) with enabling the reader to do so in this workbook. As a result, each person who accepts "the leadership challenge" will want to have her or his own copy. Also, many more copies will be sold.
I appreciate the fact that, from the beginning, Kouzes and Posner establish a direct, personal rapport with their reader. The tone is informal, in fact cordially conversational. In effect, they seem to be saying "After all these years of research, here's what we've learned about exemplary leadership. We want you to focus on specific issues and we will explore them with you. We realize that not everything in this workbook is directly relevant to your current or imminent circumstances. That's OK. Let's proceed through the material together and then you decide which activities will be most helpful to you."
Kouzes and Posner devote a separate chapter to each of the five practices of exemplary leadership. In my opinion, the term "exemplary" has at least three separate but related associations: first, with the most effective leaders whom Kouzes and Posner have interviewed over the years; also, with the example that the most effective leaders set for their colleagues; and finally, with initiatives to develop effective leadership in others, at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. It may be helpful to think of this workbook's potential value in terms of what it can help to accomplish within these three dimensions organizational transformation.
As I worked through the material, I was again reminded of Peter Drucker's observation: "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all." Also, of something Thomas Edison once asserted: "Vision without execution is hallucination" to which I presume to suggest a corollary: "Execution without vision is expediency." This workbook will help those who absorb and digest the material, complete the various exercises, and then apply what they have learned to reach the "summit" of exemplary leadership and then lead others to do so.
James Kouzes and Barry Posner duly acknowledge the difficulty of completing that journey, deferring to Don Bennett to suggest the best approach to take: "One hop at a time."