If you asked a leader what makes them the most effective leader they could be, what would you want to know? That’s basically the question renowned leadership authors, researchers, and experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner began asking leaders around the world more than 30 years ago.

The Student Leadership Challenge has its origins in a research project that Jim and Barry 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 organizations to discover best practices. They asked thousands of leaders from students to executives in all types of organizations about what they did when they thought they were leading at their very, very best. They assumed that by asking ordinary people to describe extraordinary experiences, they would find patterns of success. They were right.

After some preliminary research, Jim and Barry devised a Personal-Best Leadership survey that began with asking students and young leaders to think about a time when they set their individual standard of excellence as a leader. Where was this experience?  It could have been in a classroom, a student club or organization, or a sports team. Perhaps it was in a community service project or a part-time job. Possibly your very best was when you were involved in a religious or spiritual organization or experience, in the scouts, or on a school field trip.

The survey consisted of various open-ended questions such as:
  • Who initiated the “thing” you were working on or leading?
  • When was it and who was involved?
  • How were you prepared for this experience?
  • What special techniques and strategies did you use to get other people involved in the project?
  • What did you learn about leadership from this experience?
  • What would you tell other leaders based on what you learned?
  • What, perhaps, did you learn from other leaders in this experience?
From all of these thousands of stories, they developed a model of leadership that consists of what Kouzes and Posner call The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.


This led them to write their first book, The Leadership Challenge, and develop a quantitative instrumentthe Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI)that would measure the leadership practices they uncovered. In time, Jim and Barry developed the Student Leadership Practices Inventory (Student LPI) and then published The Student Leadership Challenge in 2008. Today, this work is considered the most comprehensive student leadership development program available.

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