In The Student Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner—today's premier leadership experts—demonstrate how any student can be a leader, regardless of age and experience. Grounded in over 30 years of extensive research, they have identified The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® that are common when leaders are able to make extraordinary things happen.
Model the Way
The most important personal quality people look for and admire in a leader is personal credibility. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message. Titles may be granted but leadership is earned.
Student leaders Model the Way by finding their voice and affirming shared values.
As captain of his volleyball team, Mark Almassy talked about
the critical importance of leading by example: “I always showed up early to
practice and oftentimes stayed late. There was nothing I wasn’t willing to do.
I was not too good to mop the floor or too cool to shout words of encouragement
to a freshman. I knew that my actions spoke louder than my words, so I made
sure to show people what to do rather than tell them what to do.”
Leaders are supposed to stand up for their beliefs, so
they’d better have beliefs to stand up for. Leaders must be clear about their
guiding principles. They must find their own voices, and then they must clearly
and authentically give voice to their values. Yet leaders can’t simply impose
their values on others and expect commitment. They have to engage others in
common aspirations. Modeling the Way begins with the clarification of personal values and involves building and
affirming shared values that all can embrace.
Eloquent speeches about common values are not nearly enough.
Exemplary leaders know that it’s their behavior that earns them respect. The
real test is whether they do what they say—whether their words and deeds are
consistent. Leaders set an example and build commitment through simple, daily
acts that create progress and build momentum.
The personal-best leadership case studies we examined were
distinguished by the fact that all of them required relentless effort,
steadfastness, competence, and attention to detail. It wasn’t the grand gesture
that had the most lasting impact. Instead it was the power of spending time
with someone, of working side-by-side with colleagues, of telling stories that
made values come alive, of being highly visible during times of uncertainty, of
handling critical incidents with grace and discipline, and of asking questions
to get people to focus on values and priorities.
Inspire a Shared Vision
When students described their personal-best projects, they
told of times during which they imagined an exciting, highly attractive future
for their organization.
Leaders are driven by their clear image of possibility and
what their organization could become.
Student leaders Inspire a Shared Vision
by envisioning the future and enlisting others in a common vision.
“I soon found myself responsible for leading all these
people in a controversial program at our school that had never been attempted,”
explained Kyle Ozawa. “I needed to inspire my peers with the vision I had. In
order for this to work out, every one of the upperclassmen involved in the pro-
gram needed to share the same vision. . . . I explained why our help was needed
and how we had the ability to really make an impact on their lives. I learned
that leaders are not the people who set the goals; they are the ones who help
people envision them as their own.”
Leaders gaze across the horizon of time, imagining the
attractive opportunities that are in store when they and their constituents
arrive at a distant destination.
Leaders passionately believe that they can make a
difference. They have a desire to make something better than it is today,
change the way things are, and create something that no one else has ever
produced. Yet visions seen only by leaders are insufficient to create an
organized movement or a significant change in a product, let alone in an
organization. A person with no constituents is not a leader, and people will
not follow until they accept a vision as their own. Leaders cannot command
commitment; they can only inspire it. What may begin as “my” vision emerges as
To enlist people in a vision, leaders must get to know their
constituents and learn to speak their language. Other people must believe that
leaders understand their needs and have their interests at heart if they are to
sign up for journeys into the future. Leaders forge a unity of purpose by
showing constituents how the dream is for the common good. Leaders breathe life
into visions—through vivid language and an expressive style. Their own
enthusiasm and excitement are contagious and spread from the leader to
constituents. Their belief in and enthusiasm for the vision are the sparks that
ignite the flame of inspiration. Leaders uplift people’s spirits with an
ennobling perspective about why they should strive to be better than they are
Challenge the Process
Leaders venture out. Those who lead others to greatness seek
and accept challenge. Every single personal-best leadership case we collected
involved some kind of challenge. Not one person said he or she achieved a
personal best by keeping things the same.
Student leaders Challenge the Process
by searching for opportunities and by experimenting, taking risks, and learning
Leaders are pioneers—they are willing to step out into the
unknown. The work of leaders is change, and the status quo is unacceptable to
them. They search for opportunities to innovate, grow, and improve. But leaders
need not always be the creators or originators. In fact, it’s just as likely
that they’re not. Sometimes a dramatic external event thrusts an organization
into a radically new condition. Therefore, leaders must remain open to
receiving ideas from anyone and anywhere. The leader’s primary contribution is
in recognizing and supporting good ideas and in being willing to challenge the
system to get new products, processes, services, and systems adopted.
“No one was willing to take the time to try and make our
idea work,” Patricia Hua explained, “because everyone thought that the chances
for success were too slim and hence not worth the time. Through my willing-
ness and persistence to challenge the process and do something that had never
been thought of or done before, we were able to put on an unforgettable prom. .
. . I also needed to make certain that everyone on the committee had this same
attitude, and that together, one hurdle at a time, we could make anything
Leaders are early supporters and adopters of innovation.
Leaders know well that innovation and challenge involve experimentation, risk,
and even failure. Experiments don’t always work out as planned. People often
make mistakes when they try something new. Instead of trying to fix blame for
mistakes, leaders learn from them and encourage others to do the same. Leaders
understand that the key that unlocks the door to opportunity is learning,
especially in the face of obstacles. As weather shapes mountains, problems
shape leaders. Leaders are learners.
Change can be stressful, so leaders must also create a
climate in which people are psychologically hardy—in which they feel in charge
of change. Part of creating a psychologically hardy team is making sure that
the magnitude of change isn’t overwhelming. Leaders provide energy and
generally approach change through incremental steps and small wins. Little
victories, when piled on top of each other, build confidence that even the
greatest challenges can be met. In so doing they strengthen commitment to the
long-term future. Extraordinary things don’t get done in huge leaps forward.
They get done one step at a time.
Enable Others to Act
Leaders know they can’t do it alone. Leadership is a team
Student leaders Enable Others to Act by fostering collaboration and
In the cases we analyzed, student leaders proudly explained
how teamwork, trust, and empowerment were essential to strengthening everyone’s
capacity to deliver on promises. Collaboration is the master skill that enables
teams, partnerships, and other alliances to function effectively. So leaders
engage all those who must make the project work and, in some way, all those who
must live with the results. Cooperation can’t be restricted to a small group of
loyalists. Leaders make it possible for everyone to do extraordinary work.
“Being a camp counselor for a group of fi sixth-graders,”
Will Cahill explained, “taught me that a good leader is a team player; and to
become a team player, one must offer encouragement and be willing to listen to
others’ ideas. Working with others and getting everyone to participate actively
requires trust and expanding capabilities. For example, we gave each kid the
chance to lead the group to meals and during nature hikes, and also listen to
each boy’s ideas. Decisions were made as a group. Another key to success is
that in order to gain respect you must also show respect for others.”
At the very heart of cooperation is trust. Leaders help
create a trusting cli- mate. They understand that mutual respect is what
sustains extraordinary efforts. When leadership is understood as a relationship
founded on trust and confidence, people take risks; make changes; and keep
programs, organizations, and movements alive. Without trust and confidence,
people do not take risks. Without risks, there is no change.
Creating a climate in which people are involved and feel
important is at the heart of strengthening others. It’s essentially the process
of turning constituents into leaders themselves—making people capable of acting
on their own initiative. Leaders know that people do their best when they feel
a sense of personal power and ownership. Commitment-and-support structures have
replaced command-and-control structures.
The work of leaders is making people feel strong, capable,
informed, and connected. Exemplary leaders use their power in service of
others; they en- able others to act, not by hoarding the power they have, but
by giving it away. When people have more discretion, more authority, and more
information, they’re much more likely to use their energies to produce
extraordinary results that serve everyone’s best interests.
Encourage the Heart
The climb to the top is arduous and long; people can become
exhausted, frustrated, and disenchanted. They’re often tempted to give up.
Genuine acts of caring uplift the spirits and draw people forward.
leaders Encourage the Heart by recognizing contributions and celebrating values
Exemplary leaders set high standards and have high
expectations of their organizations. Leaders also expect the best of people and
create self-fulfilling prophecies about how ordinary people can produce
extraordinary results. By paying attention, offering encouragement,
personalizing appreciation, and maintaining a positive outlook, student leaders
stimulate, rekindle, and focus people’s energies.
“I felt that many of
my coworkers probably felt as underappreciated and poorly respected as I did,”
Ken Campos told us, but he explained that, as a shift supervisor, he could help
to turn around this attitude. “I would constantly extol and commend them for
their actions, and more important, I tried to make it clear that we were making
a difference as a team. I looked for ways to make our work fun, and whenever
anyone did something special, we all stopped to give that person a high-five or
a chorus of ‘way-to-go’ chants.”
Part of the leader’s job is to show appreciation for
people’s contributions and to create a climate of celebration. Encouragement
can come from dramatic gestures or simple actions. In the cases we collected,
there were thousands of examples of individual recognition and group
celebration—including marching bands, ringing bells, T-shirts, note cards, and
personal thank-you’s. Leaders know that, in a winning team, the members need to
share in the rewards of their efforts. Public celebrations let everyone know
that “We’re all in this together.”
Yet recognition and celebration aren’t simply about fun and
games. Neither are they about pretentious ceremonies designed to create some
phony sense of camaraderie. Encouragement is a curiously serious business. By
celebrating people’s accomplishments visibly and in group settings, leaders
create and sustain team spirit; by basing celebrations on the accomplishment of
key values and milestones, they sustain people’s focus. Encouraging the Heart
is how leaders visibly and behaviorally link rewards with performance and
behavior with cherished values. Leaders know that celebrations and rituals,
when done with authenticity and from the heart, build a strong sense of
collective identity and community spirit that can carry a group through
turbulent and difficult times. Caring is at the heart of leadership.