The Leadership Challenge for Church Leaders, Conclusion

Part 3 of this series explored the first of Kouzes & Posner’s exemplary leadership practices: Model the Way.

Part 4 concerned the second practice: Inspired a Shared Vision.

In Part 5, I wrote about the third exemplary practice: Challenge the Process.

Last time, the focus was the fourth exemplary practice: Enable Others to Act.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s work, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, has been one of the most influential leadership studies/books in a variety of professional fields. I recommend it as a book for understanding leadership as well as for teaching others.

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The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership are those behaviors that the most effective leaders actually do – and they practice them regularly. They were developed over years of leadership best practices study. The final practice affirms the fact that leadership, above all, is about relationships. You can’t lead and others won’t follow apart from a real human relationship.

And what sustains the leader? From what source comes the leader’s courage? The answer is love. Leaders are in love – in love with the people who do the work and what their organizations produce… (p. 272)

That brings us to the fifth and final exemplary leadership practice: Encourage the Heart.


One reason I prefer The Leadership Challenge as a book and model to teach and understand leadership is because I believe it presents a Christian model even though it is not an overtly Christian book. (Kouzes and Posner do make that direct connection in their book, Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge.) The fifth of the five exemplary leadership practices makes that even clearer.

Leadership is about love. And there’s no place that’s more true than when leading a church, Sunday School class, or small group. In fact, after pursuing your own intimate discipleship relationship with Christ, loving those you lead is your most important task.

It’s your job to make sure that your constituents feel that their work matters and that they make a difference. It’s your job to recognize their contributions to success by showing your appreciation for individual excellence. (p. 275)

Their are four fundamental elements involved in encouraging the heart:

  • Expect the best – This involves talking as if those you lead already are winners, using words that convey your faith in them (even when that’s risky) and providing them with challenging responsibilities and clear “rules,” expectations and feedback. Make it clear that your ministry is a shared one and that you are happy about that.
  • Personalize recognition – When recognition is predictable, routine and impersonal, it actually has a negative impact on performance. On the other hand, recognition that is personal, precise, visible and creative has the greatest impact on future performance.
  • Create a spirit of community – Celebrations, meals together, learning about each other, praying with and for one another, all build a sense of New Testament community. A ministry should feel like a family. Sometimes you spontaneously interrupt what you have planned in order to attend to the needs of an individual or the group. Oh, and if you’re not having fun, something’s wrong.
  • Be personally involved – There are limits to the amount of encouragement you as the leader can delegate. It must come from you personally. Too many leaders, especially the introverts, become busy and inaccessible to members of their congregations, classes or small groups. Peter Drucker’s old idea of “management by walking around” still holds true.

Some make the assumption that The Leadership Challenge is primarily for people who are taking a leadership role for the first time or early in their ministries. And, while that works well, I have actually used it more often with experienced leaders. As I mentioned in the first post of this series, we use it as a text for an executive level leadership program (for experienced leaders) in the university where I work. It helps experienced leaders assess themselves and learn fresh ways to think about the art of leading.

Finally, there are several very helpful and practical tools associated with the Leadership Challenge.

The Leadership Practices Inventory is an easy-to-use assessment tool by which you can score yourself (and others) on each of the five practices.

The Leadership Challenge Workbook is a very practical guide that can be used as a self-coaching tool and, of course, to teach the Five Exemplary Practices to others.

The Leadership Challenge Poster is a easy-to-use reminder display of the five practices. It’s a great gift for those  you lead who are leaders themselves.

Suggested Leadership Books

Ken Blanchard and Colleen Barrett/Lead with LUV: A Different Way to Create Real Success

Kouzes & Posner/Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge (J-B Leadership Challenge: Kouzes/Posner)

Patrick Lencioni/The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Cynthia Montgomery/The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs

George Barna/The Power of Vision: Discover and Apply God’s Vision for Your Life & Ministry

Robert Greenleaf/Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness 25th Anniversary Edition


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