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Are 2007’s “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” Relevant Today?

Business team

In 2007, James M Kouzes and Barry Z Posner created a deceptively simple leadership development system. They called it the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership,” and it was part of what was called “The Leadership Challenge.” While it obviously wasn’t a full leadership development course, it provided a nice set of general principles which could be used to develop one.

The first practice is to “model the way.” The second is to “inspire a shared vision.” The third is to “challenge the process.” The fourth is to “enable others to act,” and the fifth is to “encourage the heart.” Together, they comprise what Posner and Kouzes called an “evidence-based leadership model.”

When they polled executives who had enacted the five practises in their workplaces, the executives reported improvements in their workplaces. The practises were reported to have increased team spirit, motivation, productivity, pride in the workplace, trust in the management team, and clarity regarding job descriptions and responsibilities.

While the survey was anecdotal, it was concluded that applying the five practises had a positive effect on financial indicators such as return on investment, net income growth, and stock price growth of the companies who would adhered to them.

We teach a much more comprehensive system, but we find that much of what we teach can be connected to these principles. For example, the first practise, “model the way,” refers to leadership by example, which is essential in this day and age. The second practise, “inspire a shared vision,” is a way of saying that leaders should inspire everyone on the company to work for a common goal.

“Challenge the process,” which is the third practise, is also essential in any workplace. We teach plenty of methods for assessing and improving production and performance. The fourth practise is to “enable others to act.” This is an essential skill for anyone who aspires to become an effective leader. The final practice, “encourage the heart,” is not as mechanically important as the others, but we see it as a very important emotional component and morale booster which can increase productivity.

Are the “five practises” relevant today? Yes: the five practices provide the philosophy, but a full leadership development program provides the details.


Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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