Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge | Kouzes & Posner

Authors: James Kouzes & Barry Posner
Authors: James Kouzes & Barry Posner

Main Theme: Leadership, Christianity
For People Who: Are interested in a Christian perspective of leadership.

Kouzes and Posner’s book The Leadership Challenge is, in my opinion, the bible of leadership. For decades they have gathered information from studies and surveys across the world to find out what leadership is and what people look for in a leader. After being approached by John Maxwell to take their leadership information and apply it directly to people of faith, Kouzes and Posner gathered together a world class collection of leaders to contribute to the project. Each of these leaders was tasked to write about the relationship between leadership and their Christian faith. I must say, as a Christian pastor, I find many Christian books to be sorely lacking in quality content. Often Christian writers have more stories than substance. I was pleasantly surprised by Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge. And why not!? It’s an all-star cast of writers from Patrick Lencioni to John Maxwell to Ken Blanchard. It’s clear, concise, and provides some great take-aways for Christian leaders. My final thoughts are in the conclusion of this post.

When all is said and done, meeting the leadership challenge is a personal – and a daily – challenge. At the end of our days, the legacy we leave is the life we lead. –Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, pg. 6

Take-Aways

  • When challenging the process, leaders must ask themselves two important questions: Who am I doing this for? and Am I ready to suffer?
  • The key to servant leadership is humility.
  • Encouraging others is not the same across the board. Leadership is a relationship. So cultivate that relationship by finding out what unique encouragement each individual requires for maximum encouragment.
  • Credibility is doing what you say you will do. If you lack credibility you will never be as effective of a leader as you would have been. Be consistent across the board.

Brief Summary

To keep hope and determination alive, exemplary leaders recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence. –Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, pg. 34

Chapter 1: Leadership Is Everyone’s Business (James Kouzes & Barry Posner)

Kouzes and Posner’s original work, The Leadership Challenge, is currently in it’s fifth edition! It is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it as one of my top leadership reads. In this opening chapter they begin with the importance of leadership. “Everyone had a story to tell” (pg. 1) about leadership when they surveyed and interviewed people on every continent inhabited by human beings. No matter the religion, race, nationality, gender or age – everyone has a story to tell of superb leadership or poor leadership. They then go on to introduce all the contributors who wrote for the book so you’re familiar with them and their work.

Chapter 2: The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership (James Kouzes & Barry Posner)

If you’re unfamiliar with the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership which are the basis of Kouzes & Posner’s research, here is where you will receive a crash course in those practices. From all the data received from their surveys over the decades, these practices consist of:

  1. Model the Way: Leaders find their voices by clarifying their values and purpose. They set the example by personally living by their values and showing others they are willing to do what it takes to succeed.
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision: Leaders “have a desire to make something happen, to change the way things are, to create something that’s never existed before.” (pg. 16) Leaders envision a preferred future and enlist others to share in it.
  3. Challenge the Process: Leaders are always looking for ways to improve and get better. Sometimes this is a challenging step because most people don’t like change, nor do they like to be challenged. This is the risk of leadership.
  4. Enable Others to Act: “Trusting leaders give people the freedom to innovate and take risks. They nurture openness, involvement, personal satisfaction, and high levels of commitment to excellence.” (pg. 28)
  5. Encourage the Heart: Recognizing the contributions of others and celebrating victories lets everyone in the organization know that “we’re all in this together.” (36). And not everyone needs to receive the same kind of encouragement – it’s as different as each person’s personality.

Chapter 3: Reflections on Model the Way (John Maxwell)

John Maxwell is certainly a leadership guru. If you are unfamiliar with his work, you’ll certainly want to familiarize yourself with him. Maxwell lays out five important principles when it comes to modeling the way in leadership:

  • Work on yourself before you work on others
  • Work on yourself more than you work on others
  • It is easier to teach what is right than to do what is right
  • People do what they see
  • The example of others profoundly impacts our lives

As you seek to model the way for others, remember that your life is a beacon, not just to those you lead but to a watching world. –Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challengepg. 52

Chapter 4: Reflections on Inspire a Shared Vision (David McAllister-Wilson)

Wilson certainly speaks to church leaders in this chapter. “Articulating this shared vision isn’t all about preaching…Preachers can often spend their whole ministry in the pulpit…having no idea whether their ideas are on-target. They can come to think that they are themselves the source of divine wisdom, substituting their vision for God’s.” (pg. 60) Church leaders must learn to listen to people and allow others to help create and fashion the vision.

Leadership that is spiritual takes seriously that there is a force at work in every organization. The energy for change is not a function of how hard the leader pushes. There is something else at work that transcends the time-management chart and the performance indicators. It’s the difference between the job and the vocation – the calling. –Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, pg. 88

Chapter 5: Reflections on Challenge the Process (Patrick Lencioni)

This was probably one of my favorite chapters in the book. Lencioni lays out two very compelling questions when it comes to challenging the process. We all want to change the world and make a difference, but why? Who am I really serving? and Am I ready to suffer? are the two big questions to ask. Jesus was the greatest leader to ever live and He demonstrated tremendous humility and willingness to suffer to accomplish His purpose. Are we interested in serving ourselves, our egos, our pride, our own wishes and dreams? When you are faced with risk and the potential (or the reality) of suffering it will immediately bring to the surface your true motivations for “changing the world.” He quotes from The Leadership Challenge:

The way that leaders handle crises says more about what they stand for than how they deal with stable, easy situations. -Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, pg. 80

Chapter 6: Reflections on Enable Others to Act (Nancy Ortberg)

Leaders can’t move forward alone. They empower others, release others and enable others to achieve the goals and dreams for their own lives. Jesus’ model of leadership was to enable others to act. In fact, each of these five principles is directly modeled by Jesus throughout the gospels! He was duplicating his teaching and philosophy in the lives of his disciples – He had to! Can you imagine the amount of trust Jesus had in His disciples? In order to build your trust in others you must develop those around you. “Character and competence are developed over time, and there’s no way to microwave it.” (pg. 95)

The degree to which you are able to build trust and give your power away directly affects the kind of organization you grow. –Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, pg. 97

Chapter 7: Reflections on Encourage the Heart (Ken Blanchard)

If you have done all four of these principles of effective leaders but forget to encourage the heart, you’ll be a leader until things get difficult – because people will quit. People grow tired. People lose motivation. People forget the vision. If you fail to encourage the hearts of those you lead, they will drop like flies. Blanchard says that if we are to encourage the heart like Jesus did, we have to examine two internal domains and two external domains:

  • The Heart (Motivation or intent)
  • The Head (Beliefs and leadership point of view)
  • The Hands (Behavior and action)
  • The Habits (Discipline and commitment)

Blanchard also draws a line between being a servant leader and a self-serving leader. The key, Blanchard says, to being a servant leader is humility. A servant leader takes all the blame when things go wrong and gives all the credit when things go right. Maintaining position and control is the domain of the self-serving leader. But when you lead like Jesus, you will serve others and encourage their hearts to move forward.

Chapter 8: Leadership Is a Relationship (James Kouzes & Barry Posner)

In this final chapter, Kouzes and Posner draw an interesting contrast between the leadership of Jesus and the leadership of the Roman emperors. If Jesus had been a leader like them, do you think Christianity would have survived? Here is how the authors summarize all the contributors’ messages:

  1. Credibility is the foundation of leadership.
  2. Leadership is personal.
  3. Leaders serve.
  4. Leaders sacrifice.
  5. Leaders keep hope alive.

Conclusion

The most impactful portion of this book was bleeding with my red pen I use to underline takeaways. It reads as follows:

Self-development is not about stuffing in a whole bunch of new information or trying out the latest technique. It’s about leading out of what is already in your soul. It’s about liberating the leader within you. It’s about setting yourself free. –Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge, pg. 122

So set yourself free Leader! Be who God has called you to be: serve, love, encourage, modal, challenge, enable, motivate. Be a leader like Jesus, the greatest of us all!

Information and Personal Rating

General Information:

Personal Ratings (1-10)

  • Applicability: 9
  • Readability: 8
  • Originality: 8
  • Recommendation: Yes – Absolutely! Put it on your reading list.
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