History & Background

History & Background

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® framework has its origins in an intensive research project, begun in 1983 by James M Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Ph.D., to determine the leadership competencies that are essential to getting extraordinary things done in organizations. They wanted to know what people did when they were at their “personal best” in leading others. They started with the assumption, however, that they did not have to interview and survey star performers in excellent companies to discover best practices. They assumed that by asking ordinary people to describe extraordinary experiences, they would find patterns of success. They were right.

The conceptual portion of the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® framework grew out of the collection and analysis of thousands of case studies of personal-best leadership experiences, the experiences people recalled when asked to think of a peak leadership experience. After some preliminary research, Kouzes and Posner devised a personal-best leadership survey. The Personal-Best Leadership Experience questionnaire was twelve pages long and consisted of thirty-eight openended questions.

Every person they spoke with had at least one leadership story to tell—stories that seldom sounded like textbook management. They were not logical cases of planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling. Instead, they were tales of dynamic change and bold action. In one case, for example, manufacturing productivity was improved more than 400 percent in one year. In another, quality improvements moved products from last to first on a customer’s vendor list in three months; in yet another, the company grew fivefold in sales and 750 percent in profits over six years. In the not-for-profit and public sectors, they learned of a school system that went from student performance in the lowest percentile to performance in the sixty-eighth percentile in two years and of an organization that fought for and won the passage of legislation to protect abused and battered children.

The Reach of The Leadership Challenge

Over its 30-year history, The Leadership Challenge has sold over two million copies and has been translated into 12 languages. The LPI is one of the most widely used leadership assessment instruments in the world. More than 350 doctoral dissertations and academic research projects have been based on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model.