on 20 August 2004
Kouzes and Posner have conducted 20 years of research; they have amassed a huge database about leadership; and from this they have distilled the five beautifully simple principles and 10 elegant commitments of leadership.
This is a fine achievement and "The Leadership Challenge" seeks to illustrate the principles and commitments through numerous stories, anecdotes and ideas. Some of these work better than others, and there are so many of them, that the overall feeling is one of meandering through the foothills of leadership rather than scaling the heights.
I would have liked this book to focus much more on developing leaders - practical approaches and techniques that can be used in organisations. Instead it leaves us to make up our own minds from a plethora of anecdotes. (The Leadership Challenge Workbook does offer more of a structure for leadership development and is recommended, but it still lack clear activities, approaches and techniques that can be used to develop leadership skills in a structured programme, particularly for a management team).
Overall then, I do recommend "The Leadership Challenge", if only for the elegance of the leadership principles and commitments. And it does also contain many good ideas. I just wish it was a bit more focussed on how to develop leadership skills in a structured and planned way.
on 14 January 2006
This book is an inspiring read with lots of good examples. The main strengths of the book are its passion and advocacy of integrity, values and taking people with you when you manage major change. Otherwise it is now very dated as a theory of leadership. It came out originally in the late 1980's when management was made the scapegoat for US industry's lack of success against the Japanese, hence management is never mentioned in the book. At that time, everyone was calling for leadership to replace management without asking whether management could be upgraded to be less controlling and stifling of initiative. Ever since then, management has been consigned to the bad guy role - Theory X, transactional and initiating structure while leadership got all the good guy work - being Theory Y, transformational and showing consideration for people. The result is a bloated, unfocused concept of leadership with the leader as hero who has to do everything. Their top-down conception of leadership is also old fashioned as it makes no allowance for bottom-up leadership which, because it is limited to challenging the status quo, has nothing to do with managing people. We really need a reinvented concept of management that allows it to be facilitative, supportive and inspiring too as it is in sports for example, but that's another story. The fact that this book is still so popular is revealing because it shows we have not moved on in leadership theory over the past 25 years.