In The Beginning

It happened in June 1987. Back then, The Cosby Show and Cheers were top programs on TV, and bulky, crash-prone, green-screen PC’s were invading the workplace. There were no cell phones or internet services, and music came on cassette tape. The Leadership Challenge, a promising new book by authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, was still three months away from book store shelves. And a Cincinnati-based leadership company, International Leadership Associates (ILA), first opened its doors for business.

It happened in the beautiful woods of Southwest Ohio, about 40 miles north of Cincinnati. The place was the 315-acre home of a non-profit organization called The Joy Outdoor Education Center. Camp Joy’s primary mission was serving at-risk kids. They provided summer camping experiences for inner city children, and experience-based learning programs for local school systems. At the time, housing was a handful of “fashionably rustic” cabins, and there was a single pay phone for accessing the world.

What happened was the beginning of something spectacular. It was in this setting that The Leadership Challenge® Workshop was offered for the first time, outside of the limited CA public programs by the authors. International Leadership Associates, formed with the specific mission of bringing The Leadership Challenge to the marketplace, pioneered this first in-company program for a group of adventurous managers from AT&T. Inspiring material, outdoor challenges, a noisy slide projector and an occasional bee in the seminar room were all part of what made this week long retreat a rousing success.

Jim Kouzes joined us as the program leader. His plush accommodations included a single room cabin called the Swamp, stylishly furnished with one unmade bunk bed, a night stand/table, a chair and a private bath. A set of folded sheets and towels were neatly placed near the foot of the bed. There was even a chocolate pillow mint, which unfortunately ended up as dessert for an intruding field mouse.

Nearly twenty-five years later, much has changed. The book is now in its 4th edition, with worldwide sales of over a million copies. The Leadership Practices Inventory is on-line and has had over one million users. Camp Joy has added some upscale adult cabins, Wi-Fi, state of the art experiential learning opportunities, and specialty camps for kids suffering from cancer, sickle cell, amputations, and the loss of loved ones.

And after over two decades of working with hundreds of organizations around the world, we at ILA are still in love with The Leadership Challenge. We absolutely relish the moments we have with aspiring leaders, bringing the leadership practices to life for them, and helping them become the leaders they seek to become – and others need them to be. And we know that our work has contributed to a much greater number of difference-making leaders in the world today, and through those leaders we continue to touch people in ways we could never have imagined back in 1987. Today and tomorrow, your work with The Leadership Challenge will do the same for you.

Thank you for joining us on the leadership journey. Leaders make the world a better place, and we at ILA look forward to helping you develop the leaders who will in turn make your organization a better place.