Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership essay paper

Exemplary Leadership

“Leaders inspire a shared vision by exciting and energizing others…they hold up a mirror to help mentees see something more in themselves — the possibilities of their future…”

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(Zachary, et al., 2010).

The five practices of exemplary leadership were developed by James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner in 2002, and there have been a number of publications (in book form) put out by Kouzes & Posner to promote their list of five practices, the most recent being the book they published in 2010, A Coach’s Guide to Developing Exemplary Leaders: Making the Most of the Leadership Challenge and the Leadership Practices Inventory. This paper delves into the five practices that Kouzes & Posner have developed including other authors’ viewpoints vis-a-vis the Kouzes / Posner innovations in leadership.

The Five Practices

The first of the five is “Model the Way,” which Kouzes & Posner illustrate with a story about Les Cochran, whose job as president of Youngstown State University called for him to innovate. Immediately after he took the position as president, Cochran used university money to purchase “…an abandoned building on the edge of campus”; once the property was purchased, Cochran spent his available weekends “…working with construction crews” to remodel the building and make it suitable for a residence for Cochran’s family (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 17).

There was nothing particularly unique about a new university president purchasing property (with the approval of the trustees of course) so that the president and his family can be located close to the physical plant of the university. But in this particular case, Kouzes & Posner point out that the neighborhood was a rough one so local people thought that Cochran was “…literally putting his life on the line.” In fact gangs and drug peddlers — the genesis of a great deal of street crime and violence — had taken over the buildings near the university. When Youngstown’s steel mill went out of business and those jobs were lost in the early 1980s, the area abandoned became home for gangs and drugs, Kouzes & Posner explain (17).

Clearly the university itself had suffered and had experienced the “…fear, hopelessness, apathy, and mistrust” that had “paralyzed” the neighborhood. Hence, by boldly going into that area for a clean-up vis-a-vis the university president’s residence, Cochran was living up to the Kouzes & Posner practice of “Model the Way.” Cochran adopted the slogan, “Together we can make a difference” which, to the authors, showed that the university president not only talked the talk but he also “walked the talk” (Kouzes & Posner, 17). In the judgment of the authors, Cochran was able to “…authentically communicate” his beliefs, and show he meant what he said. Moreover, Cochran was able to show an “unwavering commitment” to his values (19).

Meanwhile in the Organizational Development Journal (Mancheno-Smoak, 2009) the authors take the Kouzes & Posner practices and place them in the context of this article’s emphasis on “Transformational Leadership.” In fact the definition for transformational leadership is simply leadership that insists on finding “new ways of working” as opposed to “maintaining the status quo” (Mancheno-Smoak, 12-13). Mancheno references the first Kouzes & Posner practice (“Model the Way”) by explaining that the leader shows the way to change and success “…by example” and by planning “small wins”; that is, the leader grabs onto every available opportunity to keep team members “motivated” — and arriving at “small wins” sets a positive example and opens the door for optimism (Mancheno-Smoak, 13).

As to Mancheno-Smoak’s approach to Kouzes & Posner, the author references the practice of “Inspiring a Shared Vision” which has two main themes. Strong leaders have in their minds “…a vision for optimal functioning of their organization”; and secondly, a leader’s hope for a better future can be communicated through the “passion” that the leader exhibits towards the people in the organization. In other words, the leader’s passion motivates the quality people within the organization to get out there, roll up sleeves, and “…make a difference” (Mancheno-Smoak, 13).

Mancheno-Smoak takes the Kouzes & Posner third practice, “Challenging the Process,” and breaks it down into her own narrative. There are two key components in this practice, the authors explain, and they are: a) search for opportunities; and b) always be willing to experiment and take risks. Smart leaders are familiar with these recommendations because they understand the importance of a search for opportunities because from that search new products, new services, and new processes are developed (Mancheno-Smoak, 13).

The fourth practice, “Enable Others to Act,” means that the leader has to make “full use” of his or her “intuitive knowledge” in order to “…breathe life into the dream” and the vision. Moreover the vision must embrace the “aspirations of the followers” as well (Mancheno-Smoak, 13). The two components linked to “Enable Others” are: a) bring about a thorough sense of collaboration within the talent available; and b) “strengthen others…” (Mancheno-Smoak, 13). Clearly a leader can have great vision and innovative skills, but without the ability of that leader to get others to work together, those visions are for naught.

Regarding the Kouzes & Posner fifth practice, Mancheno-Smoak simply explains that “Encourage the Heart” refers to: a) recognizing contributions made by individuals each time people experience success on a project; and b) there should be a regular celebration when the team accomplishes a goal, even a simple goal (14).

In their book that offers challenges to student leaders, Kouzes & Posner suggest that leaders in colleges and universities must have “beliefs” to begin with otherwise they will have a hard time getting others to stand up for their beliefs (Kouzes & Posner, 2009). That seems very obvious but these authors leave no stone unturned in their narrative; and indeed, leaders everywhere (including on campus) “model the way” to success. It may not be the easiest thing for a student leader to “Challenge the Process,” but whether it is “turning around a losing season,” or redesigning a “failed rush program,” or “designing an honor code” or “constructing an invigorating campaign to get adolescents to join an environmental program” — getting the idea and strategy across challenges existing processes.

The authors have a suggestion for student leaders that cuts to the heart of the matter: innovation often comes from listening to others. “Student leaders have to constantly be looking outside of themselves and their organizations for new and innovative programs, processes, and services” (Kouzes & Posner, 16). That phrase, “small wins” appears to be a favorite of the authors, and when it comes to student leadership, they suggest that one sure way to deal with the “potential risks and failures of experimentation” is to take “incremental steps” and seek “small wins” and “little victories” (Kouzes & Posner, 16). The student leader’s “mantra” should be “Try, fail, and learn,” the authors continue on page 17. They repeat that phrase three times, emphasizing that they need to learn from failures before they can rack up successes.

In their 2010 book, A Coach’s Guide to Developing Exemplary Leaders, Kouzes & Posner pose long lists of questions that coaches and their assistants should answer. For example, here are four of the questions which, if presented properly, should draw out ideas that are innovative (assuming the head coach is on board with the program): a) “Do my team members understand what our organizational goals and objectives are?” b) “Do my team members know how these goals and milestones help enact our shared vision?” c) “Do my team members understand the role they play in the attainment of our team’s goals?” And d) “Do I involve my team members fully in decisions that relate to them and their work?” (Kouzes & Posner, 69).

In their book The Leadership Challenge, the authors make certain readers understand that when leaders challenge the status quo — or the way things have always been done — they aren’t just challenging for the sake of shaking things up “…just to keep people on their toes” (Kouzes & Posner, 2010, 173). The challenge coaches (and others who wish to learn leadership) face is about giving meaning to an issue; “It’s about challenge with passion”; and it’s about “…living life on purpose” in order to get through the “…tough times, the scary times, the times when you don’t think you can even get up in the morning or take another step” (Kouzes & Posner, 173).

True coaching leaders don’t just tap into wallets, they tap into “…people’s hearts and minds” and moreover, coaches with vision keep “…the doors to the outside world open” so that “ideas and information can flow freely into the organization” (Kouzes & Posner, 180). Innovation cannot happen without “Outsight” (which is the sibling of “Insight”). An example of how tapping into new ideas and information can help the process is given on page 181. Chef Allen in North Miami Beach believed he could improve his business by sending his cooks and servers out into the North Miami Beach community to sample what other restaurants with similar cuisine to Chef Allen’s offerings. “He gave servers and cooks $50 each to dine at any restaurant with cuisine similar to Chef Allen’s” and the employees returned to him “…short written and oral reports on what they had learned” (Kouzes & Posner, 181). The reports apparently gave Chef Allen the ammunition he needed to stay competitive; in particular, one cook reported to Chef Allen that even in an elegant restaurant, food was “…being served on cold plates,” which ruined the meal.

The authors emphasize in many instances how experimentation and risk-taking is part of leadership, and people wanting to be leaders should be willing to take risks. As an example of risk-taking, Kouzes & Posner relate the story of Patricia Maryland, who became president of Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit; the staff at the hospital was “distrustful” and “angry” at the recent cuts made to the hospital following a merger with another hospital. Moreover, by listening to her staff and instituting dramatic changes (cleaning the building, putting staff in uniforms rather than street clothes, cutting the wait from 8 hours in the emergency room down to a far more acceptable wait), Maryland totally reorganized the facility and one-by-one she achieved small wins. In effect, Maryland was an “active learner” and the successes that were achieved served as motivation for employees, who were impressed with the new leadership.

Every leader — whether coach, CEO, administrator or middle manager — should clarify his or her values often. And the leader should “…tighten his own belt before asking others to cut back on expenditures” (Simpson, et al., 2011, p. 505). As to Inspiring a Shared Vision, Simpson and colleagues suggest that prior to creating support from staff, a leader should ‘Envision an uplifting and ennobling future” and not worry too much about “…crafting the perfect words for a vision or mission statement” but be more urgent when it comes to “communicating” that mission statement (Simpson, p. 3). Regarding the practice of “Encouraging the Heart,” Simpson and colleagues urge the leader to carefully review the last initiative to determine if was “dull and safe” or “exciting” (Simpson, p. 3).

In conclusion, there is no doubt that Kouzes & Posner have stuck gold with their five practices of exemplary leadership. That is, in addition to the wealth they have realized from the sale of their books and their seminars, they hit the nail on the organization head and they have helped myriad organizations become more successful. It is also important to note that the five practices are not limited to business enterprises; they apply to any organization whether a football team, a Rotary club or a major corporation.

Works Cited

Kouzes, James M., and Posner, Barry Z. (2003). The Jossey-Bass Academic Administrator’s

Guide to Exemplary Leadership. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Kouzes, James M., and Posner, Barry Z. (2009). The Student Leadership Challenge: Five

Practices for Exemplary Leaders. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Kouzes, James M. And Posner, Barry Z. (2010). The Leadership Challenge. Hoboken, NJ:

John Wiley & Sons.

Mancheno-Smoak, Lolita, Endres, Grace M. Polak, Rhonda, and Athanasaw, Yvonne. (2009).

The Individual Cultural Values and Job Satisfaction of the Transformational leader.

Organizational Development Journal, 27(3), 9-21.

Simpson, Joyce Nesamani, Downe, Alan Giffin, and Ahmad, Rohiza. (2011). Proceedings of the International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management & Organizational

Learning. Retrieved September 16, 2012, from EBSCO / Business Source Complete.

Zachary, Lois J., and Fischler, Lory A. (2010). Those Who Lead, Mentor. T+D, 64(3), 52-57.


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