How The Leadership Challenge Began
The Leadership Challenge has its origins in a research project Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner began in 1983. They wanted to know what people did when they were at their “personal best” in leading others. They started with the assumption, however, that they did not have to interview and survey star performers in excellent companies to discover best practices. They assumed that by asking ordinary people to describe extraordinary experiences, they would find patterns of success. They were right.
After some preliminary research, Kouzes and Posner devised a personal-best leadership survey consisting of thirty-eight open-ended questions such as these:
Collecting Data from Leaders in Every Field
By 1987, Kouzes and Posner had performed more than 550 of these surveys, each requiring one to two hours of reflection and expression. At the same time, a shorter, two-page form was completed by another group of 80 managers, and the researchers conducted an additional 42 in-depth interviews. In the initial study, they examined the cases of middle and senior level managers in private and public sector organizations. Since that time they have expanded their research and collected thousands of additional cases. This expanded coverage included community leaders, student leaders, church leaders, government leaders, and hundreds of others in non-managerial positions.
Every person they spoke with had at least one leadership story to tell—stories that seldom sounded like textbook management. They were not logical cases of planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. Instead, they were tales of dynamic change and bold action. In one case, for example, manufacturing productivity was improved more than 400 percent in one year. In another, quality improvements moved products from last to first on a customer’s vendor list in three months; in yet another, the company grew fivefold in sales and 750 percent in profits over six years. In the not-for-profit and public sectors, they learned of a school system that went from student performance in the lowest percentile to performance in the sixty-eighth percentile in two years and of an organization that fought for and won the passage of legislation to protect abused and battered children.
The Leadership Challenge Model
From an analysis of the personal-best cases, they developed a model of leadership that consists of what Kouzes and Posner call The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®:
The Impact of The Leadership Challenge
Over its 20-year history, The Leadership Challenge has sold over one million copies and has been translated into 12 languages. The LPI is one of the most widely used leadership assessment instruments in the world. More than 350 doctoral dissertations and academic research projects have been based on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model.