Learning Leadership by James Kouzes & Barry Posner
The Learning Leadership book by James Kouzes and Barry Posner focused on five fundamentals of becoming an exemplary leader. Kouzes and Posner’s earlier title, The Leadership Challenge, published 30 years ago, has contributed to the creation of this book and is widely regarded as one of the books worth reading on the subject of leadership. The authors are among “the respected leadership gurus” as stated by Stefan Stern (2016) of the Financial Times Ltd.
This article is about the summary and the definition of the five fundamentals, the points that influence me as a reader, and if I will or will not apply the learning’s from the book. I will also give my opinion if I highly recommend this book to people who’s learning leadership.
The authors focused on the five fundamentals of becoming an exemplary leader which are the “believe you can”, “aspire to excel,” “challenge yourself,” “engage support”, and “commit to becoming the best.” It was similar to the five core leadership practices they set in their earlier work The Leadership Challenge. Those five core leadership practices are the “model the way”, “inspire a shared vision”, “challenge the process”, “enable others to act”, and “encourage the heart”.
The author believes that leadership can be learned just like skills and behavior. They wrote (Kouzes & Posner, 2016) that “leadership is not some mystical quality that only a few people have, and everyone else doesn’t,” (p. 4) which then lead us to the argument that leaders were made and not born. Leadership is not a gene that is only available to a talented few (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 29).
The authors five fundamentals in becoming an exemplary leader, guides and encourage individuals with the steps. The first step is “Believe [that] You Can!”, Believing in oneself is one of the essential steps in developing and learning leadership. Next is “Aspire to Excel”, people have to determine what they care most and why they want to lead. Third is “Challenge Yourself”, leaders should continually challenge themselves to seek new experiences and tests. The fourth is to “Engage Support”, it is essential to get support, mentoring and coaching to achieve excellence. Whether it is family, managers at work, or professional coaches, leaders need the advice, feedback, care, and support of others (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 22). Lastly, is to “Practice Deliberately”, exemplary leaders spend more time practicing than ordinary leaders. In achieving mastery of any skills, just like leadership, leaders must set improvement goals, participate in designed learning experiences, ask for feedback, and get coaching. They also put in the time every day and make learning leadership a daily habit (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 22).
Leadership can be Learned and Continually Challenge Oneself
The two points that influence me as a reader are the realization that leadership can be learned, and the continues learning from experiences from work, school, and in communities would help an individual to become an exemplary leader. The authors emphasize the need to learn new information and skills, which they said that “the best leaders know that they have to learn constantly — that learning leadership is a lifelong endeavor. No matter how many summits they have ascended, they know that they need to take a step” (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 204).
Learning leadership and acquiring new skills is good if the person reinforces it as a habit, as the authors say, “No one can put leadership into you. You have to bring it out of yourself,” (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 60). Implementing the things that a leader learns throughout his or her career will improve how to manage the different situation in any environment. Leaders constant learning includes building relationships, problem-solving, and decision-making.
Applying the Points Learned
The authors said that the best leaders are learners, and they cannot achieve mastery until and unless they truly decide that they can make a difference and learn to be a better leader than they are right now (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 60). Showing and allowing myself to lead by example is also one of the approaches that I think would work in bringing a positive impact to my organization. There will be inevitable setbacks and failures along the way that require curiosity, grit, courage, and resilience to persist in learning and becoming the best.
Having the motivation to excel and knowing what kind of leader I want to be and the image that I want to portray to others are the things I still need to explore. The authors said that “leadership makes a significant difference in levels of engagement and commitment and is perhaps the most valuable asset in every organization” (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 46). Bringing the best that I can in my organization, community, and to the people, is one of the fulfilling achievement as a leader.
Recommended in Learning Leadership
The book is good in learning the foundation of becoming a leader, and would inspire others to become leaders too. The authors said that there’s a global concern in the shortage of leaders, and the world needs more exemplary leaders to promote high-performing workplaces and inspire feelings of greater self-worth and meaningfulness (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 19 – 20). The book encourages people same as I who’s starting to learn the basics of leadership and how can I contribute to my organization, positively.
Leaders do have a tremendous amount of influence on every organization, and that influence can be positive or negative, depending on the skills of the person at the helm (Morin, 2015). Learning the skills that the book suggest could define the readers view on leadership. There are so much to learn, but this book defines the core needs in becoming a leader.
The book brings the fundamental things in learning on how to be a leader, but the authors did not state where and when to apply leadership and how to manage the negativity in an organization. It focused on how an individual leader performs and to become an exemplary leader, but it does not state on how leadership works with different people in an organization. They say that “leadership is a relationship and not simply about the leader’s personal aspirations” (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 22) which I agree. Leaders build a relationship throughout the organization, and it may be positive or negative.
There’s a statement in the book that we as leaders should always remember and it is “believing that you can lead is essential to developing leadership skills and abilities. If you don’t believe this. it’s unlikely that you will make any effort at all let alone a sustained effort to become a better leader.” (Kouzes & Posner, 2016, p. 60).
- Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2016). Learning Leadership: The Five Fundamentals of Becoming an Exemplary Leader. San Francisco, CA: Wiley
- Morin, L. (2015). Here Are 3 Unorthodox Techniques for Learning Leadership Skills. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/243411
- Stern, S. (2016). Review – Learning Leadership, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/24875afe-2688-11e6-8ba3-cdd781d02d89.html#axzz4G1qWXRou