Learning Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner


Learning Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

Read the summary below and get the key insights in just 10 minutes!



[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]Frequent leadership authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner will convince you that exemplary leaders make themselves great – not because of their DNA or “natural talent” – but because they work hard. Kouzes and Posner back up their claims with extensive references to current research. Their manual aims mostly at helping you on your journey to effective leadership. The authors lay out five fundamentals of leadership supported by about a dozen practices culled from their rich experience. They constantly repeat these fundamentals – self-belief, reliance on others, lifelong learning, servant leadership, authenticity and practice – to drive their message home.[/text_block]

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why “exemplary leadership” makes an enormous difference to organizational success and people’s lives, and
  • What five fundamental practices you must perform to become an exemplary leader.


[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]

Everyone Leads

Today, millennial workers entering the workforce will find scant corporate commitment to their development. This lack of training will worsen the current worldwide shortage of exemplary leaders who can create “shared values” and “vision.” Such leaders take risks, seek challenges and seize the initiative. They rally others to their cause by creating trust, helping people develop and recognizing good work. Wise executives at the top of today’s firms worry about having enough exemplary leaders to meet their corporations’ demands.

Lower trust in leaders adds to the current leadership crisis. But anyone, at any level or rank or with any title, can learn to build trust, gain followers and lead effectively. Everyone leads, and most leaders use at least some of the best practices and core principles associated with “exemplary leadership.” The consistency as well as the frequency of that usage marks the difference between adequate leaders and brilliant ones. Sadly, most individuals lead tentatively and sporadically.

People achieve leadership greatness by wanting it badly enough and by digging into “deliberate practice,” constant learning and sheer determination. The misguided notion that you don’t have the “talent” or personality to lead gets in the way of actually becoming a better leader.

The workplace and the world need more people to step up to the challenge of leadership and “make a difference.” People who inspire confidence and drive others to achieve top performance make their organizations – and the world – a better place.

If you want to become a great leader, remind yourself frequently that you can learn to lead brilliantly. Start a “Leadership Journal.” Write about what you want to achieve as a leader and the difference you want to make for other people. Think about a time in your life or career when you experienced your “personal-best leadership experience.” Describe it in detail in your journal, including the actions you undertook that make this incident a special success.

“The Five Fundamentals of Exemplary Leadership”

Begin your study and determined practice of the Five Fundamentals of Exemplary Leadership. Record your progress in your journal daily.

1. “Believe You Can”

Belief in yourself starts with knowing yourself. Consider what you value, what drives you, and what excites you and “challenges you.” Understanding these aspects of yourself also will show you how to draw them out in others.

Commit to constant learning and make learning a “way of life.” Before anything and everything else, develop learning skills. Learning means leaving your comfort zone, so take on challenging, “stretch assignments.” Forget about playing to your strengths: Work on your weaknesses, too.

At first, imitate great leaders whom you admire; practice their ways and learn from them. When you start to feel uncomfortable mimicking others, move to the next stage, experimenting with different managerial styles that align with your leadership beliefs and values.

Gradually, you’ll develop an “authentic” leadership style of your own. It will retain the best elements of others’ methods, but it will come from your unique individuality – your background, experiences, values and beliefs.

To accelerate your path to authentic leadership, use your journal to record the “patterns” that reappear in your life – what discourages and inspires you. Record your high and low experiences, and what made them good or bad, along with how you got yourself out of the lows, or “valleys.”

2. “Aspire to Excel”

Define your values and principled beliefs so you can communicate them clearly. People trust and will follow leaders whose beliefs they understand. The strongest and most enduring principles and motivations have nothing to do with money and prestige. They come from your “intrinsic” desire to change things for the better and to help others.

Don’t practice better leadership for its external rewards. Let your interests and “internal” motivation to improve other people’s lives and careers guide you. In your journal, write the message you would leave your team or colleagues if you were leaving to spend six months on a desert island. How should they act toward each other? How should they resolve issues and conflicts? Base your advice on your beliefs and philosophy.

Process and consider what goes on around you. Listen to everyone, but don’t heed just what people talk about; be aware of what they’re silent about. Notice what isn’t said. Use what you learn to imagine the future, so you can plan ahead instead of reacting to change and disruptions. Then you can lead your team in creating a compelling shared view of the future, an outlook with “purpose and meaning.”

Learn to serve others and to enlist other people’s support. No leader does anything remarkable alone. You cannot lead without followers. Recognize your employees’ good work and make sure your vision of the future resonates with them. Understand what your people want, and show them how your vision and shared purpose align. Help people understand “what’s in it for them.”

In your journal, write what you’d like people to say about you as a leader when you retire. Reflect on what you would like them to remember.

List the people you rely on most. Next to each name, record the values, “aspirations” and purpose you believe each person holds. Meet with them one-on-one to learn their answers. Find common themes emerging among those people whose support you need the most.

3. “Challenge Yourself”

You cannot excel by staying the same. Seek new and uncomfortable challenges. Taking on a challenge helps you achieve “flow,” a state in which you perform at your peak and find the greatest satisfaction. Don’t avoid risk or live tentatively. Be willing to commit errors, fail and learn. When you fail at first, stick with your goal. “Grit” always beats “talent.” Know your priorities and go after them. Think long term.

You have courage; everyone does. Use it to manage your fears and draw on your strengths. Exercise your bravery. Speak up when you disagree. Use fear to motivate you, to learn, to rise to the occasion and to persist in the face of adversity.

In your journal, list the traits and abilities you need to develop as a leader. Choose a challenge that will take you outside of your comfort zone, like joining Toastmasters to face your fear of speaking in public. Recall a major loss or failure in your past. Consider what you did to bounce back. How could you have come back faster? Use these lessons going forward.

Write about your proudest, most courageous acts, in whatever context. Think about what those events taught you. Draw on them when necessary.

4. “Engage Support”

Have you noticed that whenever people receive recognition or win an award, they thank all of the people who helped them. Nothing great happens when you act solo without asking for help. Your relationships drive your achievements as a leader. Reach out to those around you – including your employees – for advice. Learn to understand other people better and to enlist their support.

In your journal, write down the names of the people who help you the most. List others who could or would support you if they knew you better. Meet with the people on both lists, tell them what you need and ask for their help. In addition, make a list of the half dozen or so most important people in your network – your “personal board of directors.” Ask them for guidance and assistance whenever you need inspiration.

Observe and connect with other people, especially the exemplary leaders you admire. Don’t wait for them to come to you – they never will. They’re too busy responding to those who showed courage by asking for their support. Ask to connect with them. Schedule appointments to speak with the people in your network and build the relationships you need. Don’t be shy about learning their top skills and most effective behaviors so you can communicate with them knowledgeably.

Give and seek sound, thoughtful feedback. Employees consistently cite the offering and asking for feedback as the skill that most leaders sadly lack. Drop your defensiveness and fear of criticism. Regard advice from others as a crucial learning opportunity, and make sure everyone knows that you welcome and value their counsel.

To build trust give people attentive, detailed, practicable feedback. That ensures that you will receive worthwhile feedback from them in return. Start by asking someone you trust to observe you interacting at work, in a meeting or elsewhere. Have them coach you afterward. Thank them for their observations and record their insights in your journal.

“Practice Deliberately”

Practice is the reason top professionals perform their arduous tasks with apparent ease. That ease inspires people to believe mistakenly in natural leadership talent. No such thing exists. Only “deliberate practice” leads to greatness. Structure your leadership practices, think about what you do, set goals, devise techniques, build “muscle memory” and form healthy, disciplined habits – especially the habit of constant learning.

Practice and improve every day. Only you can make and sustain positive change in your life. Create time for practice by making your work itself into leadership practice. For example, develop a “process” you consciously repeat, such as listening attentively. For instance, decide that you will try not to interrupt other people. Make a deliberate habit of reflecting on what the other person is saying, and of avoiding the urge to think ahead of him or her to plan your own response.

In your journal, describe your progress daily and reflect on what you could have done better.

Don’t fall for the popular notion that you should focus only on your strengths. As a leader, you can’t delegate your weaknesses, so work on them as well. Use your journal to list the skills you want to improve. Choose one – for example, telling stories – break it into its component parts, and practice each one. Set a goal for improving this skill, and consciously practice it. Find a person who will observe you and give you feedback along the way.

Try to choose the right context for your leadership development. You’ll do much better in an organization that values the process of building leadership, engaging in “lifelong learning” and collaborating. Seek a company that rewards risk, rather than one that fears it. Look for or create an environment of trust and a culture of curiosity.

In your journal, track your progress on practicing these five fundamental leadership development activities. Every day, answer these questions: “Did I do my best to” seek challenges, keep positive, consider the long term, get help from others and practice?

Grit, Determination and Action

Exemplary leadership doesn’t come from your genetic makeup or any aspect of your background. It only comes from hard work, constant learning and commitment. Make a decision to pursue it, announce your decision publicly and create obstacles to make retreat difficult.

Act, practice and learn. Take small, meaningful steps. Make progress every day toward your goal of becoming an exemplary leader.[/text_block]

About the Authors

[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner teach business at Santa Clara University. They co-wrote The Leadership Challenge, a business leadership classic.[/text_block]
[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]Get key insights from 15,000+ non-fiction books at GetAbstract.com.[/text_block]