By James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner; Hoboken, NJ: Wiley (2016); Reviewed by STEFAN DINU
Learning Leadership is a compelling, practical and excellent guidebook for anyone who is in leadership, who is considering leadership, or who is afraid to get involved in leadership, regardless of their age or experience. The authors have summarized, in an engaging and comprehensible way, the fundamentals of what it takes to become an exemplary leader, putting at the reader’s disposal the results of more than 30 years of research in the field.
The central theme of this great book orbits around the message that leadership is everyone’s business, pulverizing the five myths that keep people from boarding the vessel of leadership: talent, position, strengths, self-reliance, and it comes naturally. “Leadership potential isn’t something that some people have and other people don’t” (p. 1).
Through this book, Kouzes and Posner create a strong bridge between the ideological concept of leadership and leadership practice by providing at the end of each chapter self-coaching actions to guide readers in reflection and practice. Leadership makes a difference. Everyone has a leadership story to tell; because of this, Learning Leadership describes five practices that tell it well—model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable and encourage others (p. 26).
Learning Leadership reminds professionals that education does not stop with graduation:
The very first step to become a better leader is to acknowledge that I can improve my leadership skills and remind myself that I can make a difference. All I need is a positive mindset to look for opportunities and a willingness to take initiative. (p. 39)
One of the benefits of the book is described in the preface:
[It provides] great value to leadership developers, internal and external trainers, and coaches who are focused on building the next generation of leaders in their client organization—as well as those who have a responsibility to help people be the best they can be. This includes supervisors and managers at all levels. The next generations of leaders need your wisdom and experience if they are going to excel and take your organization to the next level. (p. xxi)
Learning is a cyclic process with a formula: TRY—FAIL—LEARN— REPEAT. “As weather shapes mountains, problems shape leaders” (p. 107). There is no such a thing as learning without failing. The truth is, the best leaders are the best learners.
This book will not just provide insights regarding leadership; it will also shape/enhance readers’ leadership view and along with it, change their lives. Kouzes and Posner adopt a perfect combination of facts and analysis, resulting in a conversational and optimistic tone. For example, “You have to believe in yourself” (p. 35).
Mastery of the art of leadership comes from the mastery of self. Leadership development is self-development. “Authentic leadership flows from inside out” (p. 55). It does not come from the outside in. Inside out leadership is about discovering who you are, what values compel you to do what you do, and what gives you credibility to lead others. Readers are urged to take initiative in their own development and start connecting to a network of resources to further their progress with support and helpful feedback.
Learning Leadership is a jewel, a fabulous book that responds to the needs of those who are committed to becoming better leaders, to staying positive and influential during difficult times, and to leading people in a way that brings out the best in them. I give this book my highest recommendation.
STEFAN DINU serves a preaching and teaching ministry for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.