Practices of Exemplary Leadership - Kouzes and Posner

An overview of Kouzes and Posner's 'Five practices of exemplary leadership'.

Table of contents

Exemplary Leadership [edit]

James Kouzes and Barry Posner offered a notable version of a functional leadership model in their book, The Leadership Challenge (1987). It is more prescriptive than Adair's model and aimed more at high-level leaders like CEOs, but it's a significant contribution to the thinking on effective leadership.

Kouzes and Posner's earlier Trait-Theory leadership model, which led them to develop their Five Leadership Practices model, is explained earlier in the Trait-Theory sub-section of leadership models.

Like some other leadership theorists they developed a modular theory into a proprietary product, in this case a program for leadership development.

This model is also known as Kouzes and Posner's Leadership Challenge Model.

Kouzes and Posner summarise their program about what leadership is, and what they believe leadership means to people as follows:

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®

  1. Model the Way
  2. Inspire a Shared Vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enabling Others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart

Kouzes and Posner created their Five Leadership Practices model after researching people's personal experiences of excellent leadership. From this, they claimed that "...good leadership is an understandable and universal process..." involving five practices and, within each of those, two key behaviours.

Here is an outline of the Kouzes and Posner model:

Five Leadership Practices - Summary

Key Behaviours


Model the Way

Set the example by behaving in ways that reflect the shared values. 

Achieve small wins that build confidence, commitment and consistent progress.

The leader sets an example. Define the shared behavioural standards and then exemplify them. Kouzes and Posner also believe it is essential to achieve some small wins to build momentum.

Inspiring a Shared Vision

Envision an uplifting, exciting, meaningful future. 

Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes and dreams.

Leaders should begin work on their vision before enlisting others to refine it and make it theirs. Emphasis on visualisation and the use of powerful evocative language to capture the vision to inspire others.

Challenge the Process

Search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate and improve. 

Experiment, take risks and learn from any mistakes.

The leader is an agent for change - questioning, challenging and seeking new ideas. Taking risks, experimenting, learning from and allowing for mistakes. Importantly, encouraging new ideas to flourish.

Enabling Others to Act

Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. 

Strengthen people's ability by delegating power, developing their competence and offering visible support.

Building a spirit of trust and collaboration. Encouraging people to share information. Kouzes and Posner believe that leaders must disclose what they believe and care about and, when necessary, show some vulnerability. This also entails delegating power, believing in others, and investing in followers' training and education.

Encourage  the Heart   

Recognise individual contributions to the success of the project. 

Celebrate team accomplishments regularly.

Praise and celebration.

Kouzes and Posner's model is well researched, and much work by the pair continues to extend the theory, and also the suggested means of adoption and implementation across large organizations.

Kouzes and Posner's theory is in the 'leader-as-hero' tradition. It therefore largely ignores more recent ideas about sharing leadership. It is also fair to say that a more naturally low-profile, contemplative leader would probably find it harder to adopt these behavioural practices than a gregarious visionary leader, so the model may not work for everyone.