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October 10, 2023

The Five Practices of Leadership

Categories:  Leadership
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“Leadership is not about being in charge.
Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”
~ Simon Sinek, Author of Start with Why

Great leaders can accomplish a wide range of positive outcomes for their organizations, teams, and communities. Although leadership styles differ, effective leaders often possess specific qualities and employ particular practices that enhance their impact and influence.

According to a recent survey by Zippia, only 48% of employees view their company's leadership as 'high quality,’ so we know there is work to do. Over the years, we have seen the positive changes that come when leaders learn and engage in the Five Practices of Leadership, as defined by Kouzes and Posner in their book, "The Leadership Challenge."

The Five Practices of Leadership

Kouzes and Posner are renowned leadership experts known for their influential work in leadership development. They outlined five practices of exemplary leadership in their book "The Leadership Challenge." These practices are fundamental to effective leadership and widely used in leadership training programs. Here are the five practices of leadership according to Kouzes and Posner:

1. Model the Way

Great leaders set an example through their actions. They clarify their values and principles and then live by them. By aligning their actions with shared values, leaders earn credibility and gain the trust and respect of their team members.

Key aspects of "Model the Way" include:

  • Clarifying personal values and setting the example.
  • Aligning actions with shared values and beliefs.
  • Inspiring a shared vision based on values.

Additional tips for Modeling the Way through action:

  • Clearly articulating your values and principles.
  • Making decisions consistent with your values, displaying integrity and authenticity.
  • Demonstrating the behavior you expect from others.
  • Showing commitment, dedication, and a strong work ethic.
  • Being transparent in your communication.
  • Sharing your thought processes and decisions and explaining how they align with the organization's values and goals.

2. Inspire a Shared Vision

Effective leaders envision the future and enlist others in a common vision. They imagine exciting and ennobling possibilities and communicate them to others, inspiring them to join in the pursuit of shared goals.

Key aspects of "Inspire a Shared Vision" include:

  • Envisioning the future by imagining exciting possibilities.
  • Enlisting others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
  • Fostering collaboration and teamwork to achieve the vision.

Additional ways to Inspire a Shared vision:

  • Painting a vivid picture of the future.
  • Clearly communicating your vision and showing enthusiasm for what can be achieved.
  • Showing genuine excitement about the vision.
  • Letting your passion inspire others and create a sense of purpose.
  • Encouraging team members to contribute to the vision, then listening actively to their ideas and incorporating valuable suggestions into the vision.

3. Challenge the Process

Exemplary leaders are willing to innovate and take risks. They experiment, learn from failures, and encourage their team members to do the same. They seek out opportunities for change, growth, and improvement, challenging the status quo to make things better.

Key aspects of "Challenge the Process" include:

  • Searching for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking for innovative ways to improve.
  • Experimenting and taking risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience.
  • Learning from successes and failures to make necessary improvements.

Additional ways to Challenge the Process:

  • Embracing innovation by encouraging creativity and being open to new ideas.
  • Supporting experimentation and not punishing failures (which should be treated as learning opportunities).
  • Making informed decisions that involve risks when necessary. (Don’t be afraid to explain the rationale behind your choices and the potential benefits).
  • Fostering a learning culture by promoting continuous learning within your team through training, workshops, and skill development initiatives.

4. Enable Others to Act

Empowering others is a crucial aspect of effective leadership. Leaders foster collaboration and build trust by promoting a culture of mutual respect and creating an environment where people feel capable and powerful. They strengthen others by providing opportunities for growth and development.

Key aspects of "Enable Others to Act" include:

  • Fostering collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships.
  • Strengthening others by sharing power and discretion.
  • Developing competence and confidence in team members.

Additional ways to Enable Others to Act:

  • Empowering your team by delegating responsibilities and authority and trusting your team members to make decisions within their areas of expertise.
  • Cultivating collaboration by fostering a collaborative environment. This means encouraging teamwork and facilitating open communication among team members.
  • Ensuring your team has the necessary resources to accomplish their tasks effectively, whether it's time, tools, or training.

5. Recognize and Celebrate (Encourage the Heart)

Exceptional leaders recognize and celebrate the contributions of others - Kouzes and Posner call this “Encourage the Heart”, but we feel that “Recognize and Celebrate” are the best fit for this practice. Great leaders show appreciation for individual and team achievements, making people feel valued and supported. Leaders strengthen the team's spirit and commitment by acknowledging people's efforts.

Key aspects of "Recognize and Celebrate" include:

  • Recognizing contributions by showing appreciation and expressing gratitude.
  • Celebrating victories, both small and large, to create a spirit of community and achievement.
  • Making celebration a part of the organization's culture to reinforce shared values and goals.

Creative ways to recognize and celebrate employees*:

  • Say thanks more often
  • Give sincere compliments
  • Send a thank you card
  • Have a company thanks feed
  • Host company town hall meetings
  • Create award certificates
  • Provide additional time off (late start / early finish, team walks, time to work out, nap, or meditate).
  • Give personalized gifts
  • Offer lunch with a company leader
  • Provide snacks or treats

* Source: Jason Harney, “65 employee recognition ideas – the ultimate list”, workstars,, accessed on 10/5/2023.

These five practices provide a comprehensive framework for effective leadership and have been widely embraced by leaders and organizations seeking to enhance their leadership capabilities. Leaders create a positive and empowering work environment by consistently embodying these actions. Their actions speak louder than words, reinforcing the values and practices they want their team to adopt. Modeling these behaviors fosters a solid organizational culture and inspires team members to emulate these practices, creating a ripple effect throughout the organization.

Ready to Drive Positive Organizational Change?

When your leaders transform, so does your organization. The Leadership Circle Profile is the only 360 assessment that measures both creative competencies and reactive tendencies. Schedule a meeting with us today to get started.


Lori and James

Lori Heffelfinger & James Jackman

Cultivating leaders & aligning teams to drive sustainable, scalable results.


James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (J-B Leadership Challenge: Kouzes/Posner), 7th Edition. San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass, January 5, 2023.

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