The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership


Model the Way     Inspire a Shared Vision     Challenge the Process     Enable Others to Act     Encourage the Heart

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 “our” vision.

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 today.

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 from mistakes.

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 happen.”

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 effort. 

Student leaders Enable Others to Act by fostering collaboration and strengthening others.

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.

Student leaders Encourage the Heart by recognizing contributions and celebrating values and victories.

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.

What they are saying...

"Why wait to learn leadership in the workplace? Students can learn how to lead by using Kouzes and Posner's five proven leadership practices. [This] is the perfect guide for...[those] seeking to develop themselves for leadership."
– Howard T. Prince II
University of Texas, Austin

What they are saying...

"I've been teaching leadership classes for twenty years, and The Five Practices are, hands down, the best tool for helping students see both their inherent strengths as leaders as well as to further develop their skills."
– Britt Andreatta
University of California, Santa Barbara

What they are saying...

"[The Student Leadership Challenge] (book) is a gift to university educators who teach leadership courses or develop trainings. workshops, and retreats."
– Laura Osteen
Florida State University

What they are saying...

Corey Hill "The greatest part about being in the virtual community was being able to hear the instructors, talk about the material we were discussing, as well as having our own discussion as a class with our other classmates over chat. You got a lot of interaction with the material, a lot of takes and nuances on what other people were taking away from the material that I don’t think you would get in a traditional classroom setting."
– Corey Hill
Oklahoma State University

What they are saying...

"The Student Leadership Practices Inventory is the best tool I have used to help students assess their leadership effectiveness because it translates the concept of leadership into actions and relationships. By defining and measuring specific leadership behaviors, the Student LPI allows students to see how they are doing as leaders and to determine how they can improve."
– Cathy Early
National Interfraternity Conference

What they are saying...

"The student examples inspire the reader and show us that running into bumps along the way is not only normal, but that you can approach the challenges with confidence and practical solutions."
– Amanda Crowell Itliong
Stanford University

What they are saying...

"The authors set out to teach college student leaders to understand what it takes to be an effective leader, to inspire them to find their own unique skills and abilities, and to explore and discover where their leadership will make the most difference in the lives of others and in the success of their organization.  I believe they have succeeded."
– William L. Kibler
Mississippi State University
NASPA Journal, 2009, Vol. 46, no. 4

What they are saying...

"The experience of the Certified Leadership Training left me feeling more confident and equipped to provide better leadership training to my student leaders."
– Erica Lara
Nyack College, NY

What they are saying...

"The 5 practices are a must!  Demonstrating and understanding the [concept that] 'leadership is an art' that must be taught to our students was incorporated throughout the training."
– Jerry Alva
Texas A&M International University

What they are saying...

"This is a great opportunity for any person looking to develop a program that involves The Student Leadership Challenge."
– Miguel Trevino
Texas A&M International University

What they are saying...

"I am more equipped to develop a leadership program that will have a positive impact on the students at my institution."
– Andrew Moyer
Delaware Valley College, PA

What they are saying...

"Employers are looking for students who have content knowledge and practical experience working in teams and leading others. The Student Leadership Challenge is an excellent example of the behaviors needed to accomplish extraordinary tasks that can get you noticed by a potential employer."
– Kevin Bailey, vice president for student affairs
University of West Florida

What they are saying...

"Beth and Gary are so personable that I was totally comfortable asking anything. For a program with such vigor, these two facilitators do an amazing job of creating a safe, fun, and functional learning environment."
– Certified Facilitator Training participant

What they are saying...

"The Student Leadership Challenge is a gift to university educators who teach leadership courses or develop trainings, workshops, and retreats."
– Laura Osteen
Florida State University

What they are saying...

"Developing transformative learning environments for leadership education begins when we embrace the use of emerging technologies and social media to enhance student learning."
– Todd Foley, assistant director for the Student Involvement Center
Saint Louis University

What they are saying...

"Leadership is a journey of personal and organizational discovery… understanding that the best way to learn is to teach, we decided to take on the challenge of having our students teach others.
"
– Vince Bellafiore
Marmion Academy

What they are saying...

"We know that The Student Leadership Challenge is making a difference. Through continuous coaching and intervention, with the use of the Student LPI, we are helping to keep our young people engaged in the pursuit of exemplary leadership.
"
– Melvin Chia
Lifeskills Enrichment, Singapore

What they are saying...

"The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are everywhere. And as important as it is to exhibit those qualities yourself as a leader, it is just as critical to see them in others, and to be driven and inspired by other people’s leadership.
"
– Nina Vasan and Jennifer Przybylo
authors of Do Good Well

What they are saying...

"Consider the college campus as a leadership laboratory—a place where students have multiple opportunities to practice their leadership skills and explore and develop their leadership identity.
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– Marcy Levy Shankman
Cleveland Leadership Center

What they are saying...

"I am so passionate about leadership and making a difference and I truly, honestly, wholeheartedly believe in The Student Leadership Challenge model. It is complete, yet simple enough, for all to understand. SO very excited to share this model with others, both on-campus and in the community.
"
– Suzanne Von Behren, RN, BSN, University Wellness Services
Northwest Missouri State

What they are saying...

"I feel that a program like this could really work in helping to eventually change our culture within our schools, homes, and businesses. Although I am not a supervisor, I plan to implement the model fully in our office and look forward to sharing it with coworkers. I love The Student Leadership Challenge model and am so excited!
"
– Suzanne Von Behren, RN, BSN, University Wellness Services
Northwest Missouri State

What they are saying...

"The Student Leadership Challenge is one of the most robust teaching and learning opportunities we have as educators. The Five Practices are identifiable and learnable skills allowing an individual to improve by receiving feedback and observation and by setting goals.
"
– Jason R. Pierce, director of education
Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity

What they are saying...

"And so again [leadership development] becomes foundational, it becomes a foundational understanding of living your values, of challenging the process to make things better, enabling others to act. It’s not just delegating, it’s about giving people the passion and the power to it themselves.
"
– Matt Baker, Vice President of Student Affairs
Northwest Missouri State University

What they are saying...

"Within the academy, we are constantly seeking additional tools to assist us in teaching the valuable lesson of leadership development for students. The Student Leadership Challenge is an excellent resource to assist in the important goal of helping students to become better leaders and, ultimately, stellar citizens in the communities of the world.
"
– Victor K Wilson, vice president for student affairs
The University of Geogia

What they are saying...

"Student leadership challenges are quite similar to adult challenges, and yet they differ as wel­­l– in scale and in the power of peer perspective. Kouzes and Posner have constructed a wide and sturdy bridge across these worlds. My college students will find relevant lessons and great inspiration in the diverse and compelling stories that are retold. We’d have a lot less adult leadership problems if more teachers and students used this great book.
"
– Dan Mulhern, Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Business
University of California, Berkeley, and author Everyday Leadership: Getting Results in Business, Politics and Life

What they are saying...

"Kouzes and Posner provide a comprehensive, research-based, and values-driven resource that is packed with real-life examples. This book makes leadership highly accessible to college students and is sure to empower the next generation to tap into their potential as leaders and social change agents.
"
– Jennifer R. Keup, director
National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition

What they are saying...

"The Five Practices has provided a framework for students to reflect on their leadership experience and restructure their philosophy and theories relating to leadership as they challenge themselves through these five practices.
"
– Amy Kuo, Somchanhmavong, associate director
Service-Learning, Public Service Center, Cornell University

What they are saying...

"As a Student Leadership Challenge Certified Facilitator I am excited about using these books to further aid me in developing curriculum and giving our students a tool to acknowledge and reflect on the concepts as they pertain to their own capacity to lead effectively."
– Deborah Mann, Student Leadership Challenge Certified Facilitator
BOLD Leadership Program, Cornell University

What they are saying...

"In our public service leadership programs and courses we will be able to easily use the many relevant and engaging activities and reflection exercises provided in this workbook. It will enable our students to better engage with and benefit from The Student Leadership Challenge, and will also help foster their personal leadership development journeys."
– Jon McConnell, associate director,
Haas Center for Public Service, Stanford University

What they are saying...

"Every young person dreams of doing something extraordinary. The Student Leadership Challenge provides everything this generation needs to turn a dream into reality."
– Brian C. Warren Jr., executive director
Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity

What they are saying...

"A book of genuinely effective activities for enagaging students at all levels, turning the novice facilitator into a pro. It includes easy-to-use concepts that readily apply to life as a leader, and is a real difference maker that fosters success!"
– Randy D. Grimes, human resources director
Duke University

What they are saying...

"A fantastic resource for leadership educators looking to further develop students’ understanding of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership in a tangible, hands-on way! It offers engaging activities that are sure to make an impact on your student leaders. This activity book is a great supplement to The Student Leadership Challenge, bringing the original concepts off the page and into the real world.
"
– Kimberly Piatt, coordinator of leadership development
The College at Brockport.

What they are saying...

"An excellent one-stop resource for activities to engage student of different learning styles. Students will find the experiential nature of the activities easy to comprehend and most importantly be able to see the relevance and application of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership."
– Melvin Chia, principal consultant
Lifeskills Enrichment

What they are saying...

"From what, to so what, and now what, this guide helps take educators on a journey of not only understanding The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership but also specifically on how to apply, practice, and teach the nuances of these exemplary leadership ways of being."
– Laura Osteen, professor of higher education, Florida State University
and director, Florida State’s Center for Leadership and Civic Education

What they are saying...

"The Facilitation and Activity Guide would have helped me not only to develop a better leadership program but to be a better leader myself. For those administering The Five Practices, this guide ‘Models the way’ and will be one of your best coaches.

"
– Sam Eriksmoen, former director, Emerging Leaders Program
University of North Dakota

What they are saying...

"Educators working at all levels will benefit from [The Facilitation and Activity Guide]. It is practical, applicable to diverse sectors, and works."
– Katie Burke, assistant director, L.E.A.D, (Leadership Education & Development)
Florida Atlantic University