Challenge Yourself and Grow With the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership

Though a great leader is certainly in charge, not everyone who is in charge is certainly a great leader. As with all skills, some have an inherent aptitude for leadership, others pick up on it through experience. By utilizing the five practices of exemplary leadership, anyone can work towards excelling at it. But, what are they?

The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner researched thousands of stories of people about their peak leadership experience. After accounting for age, culture, gender, and other variables, there were similar behavior traits among the stories. Jim and Barry compiled these behaviors and dubbed them “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®”: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. 

Model the Way

The base of “leader” is “lead”, so it should be no surprise that a key component of being an exemplary leader is to lead by example. The best leaders know how each job functions independently as well as in tandem with the others in order to achieve a desired goal. A person who expects high standards of excellence of subordinates must demonstrate that they are also capable of high standards of performance. A leader must be an example of how to get something done.

Inspire a Shared Vision

Outstanding leaders induce internal drive in their followers. They have a vision, and involve their team with such motivation that everyone wants to be on the same page to achieve the goal. They give a vision some life and create an intrinsic desire in others to get the job done and done well.

Challenge the Process

Almost every economic system already has an established process that most go buy. Leaders often get noticed for carving out their own paths. They always seek better ways to accomplish a task, finding little tweaks that can result in more efficiency. Effective leaders find a way to circumvent bureaucracy and do not allow for it to impede important action. Because this does involve a lot of risk taking, it filters out a lot of complacent followers who think they want to be leaders as few are willing to take the disappointments that come from the system occasionally winning.

Enable Others to Act

“There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’”, and all of the best leaders know that. Leaders know that to get the most out of their team, it is imperative to draw out the strengths of each individual in a cohesive environment. This means ensuring that others are actively involved on projects, allowing everyone’s contributions shine, and encouraging the participation of all involved.

Encourage the Heart

“Praise in public.” A monumental project can consume a lengthy portion of time in someone’s life. To keep forward momentum from dying out, leaders must find ways to encourage the team. Recognizing contributions that are made by the members of the team motivates everyone to continue making progress. Showing tangible appreciation of efforts made goes a long way to making people feel like they are an important member of the team.

While each of these cover a lot of the modern favorite buzzwords, there is rationale behind each of these when examined deeper by looking at the action verbs. 


It should be no surprise that the greatest leaders are known for walking the walk. The greatest generals were once soldiers, the greatest politicians were once laborers, and the greatest teachers were once doers. There is no amount of information that can be bought that beats what experience provides.  Similarly, nothing costs credibility quite like a “Do as I say, not as I do” person in charge.

What are some of the ways to model the appropriate actions for your team?


As the leader isn’t always an expert in every field of each subordinate, it can often be necessary to learn to listen to each of the team members to get an appreciation of their perspective on where they fit in the equation. Listening is a key component to understanding the team.

Do What You Expect of Others

Whatever standard you ask your team to maintain, you must also maintain. If team members are expected to be at meetings no later than five minutes prior to the meeting, the leader can not expect to maintain respect expecting such promptness while the leader is routinely tardy to meetings. If team members are expected to dress at a minimum of business casual, a leader in relaxed clothing is not only dressing unprofessional compared to the others, but is behaving unprofessional. Nothing positive comes of hypocrisy.


Similar to expecting others to follow through, leaders must deliver on all declarations. To do otherwise will only create an image of a boss with hollow words rather than a trustworthy leader. To say that someone will do something and not do it is nothing short of a lie, and the team will interpret it as just that.


The greatest leaders have a way of getting people to want to do their best. The team isn’t operating out of fear, but from a genuine desire to perform well. Which, of course, leads to better performance. There are several leadership gestures that have been proven to induce this in others.


Leaders do not micromanage. They offer enough support and preparation to trust team members to perform their duties. It’s preferred that untrustworthy people not be on the team rather than attention be diverted from the task to micromanage an individual.


Leaders acknowledge the contributions of their team. Knowing that doing well is appreciated encourages continued excellence.


Leaders do not unnecessarily withhold information, nor do they create a need-to-know environment unless it is critical. They know success comes from clearly relaying the details of expectations. They also ensure the communication is prompt.


NOT conflict, just to be clear. Leaders encourage members of the team to push themselves to the next level. They know that the right challenge brings people to their best performance.


While a leadership position might be a higher rank than the rest of the team, no leader considers themselves above any of the rest. They know that there is no benefit to demeaning another person.


While Standard Operating Procedures have been refined as best they can, leaders often try to skirt the technicalities of established ideas in exchange for a better method. They don’t necessarily rebel against the rules for the sake of rebelling, but they foster an atmosphere wherein suggestions for improvement are encouraged rather than discouraged


Leaders enable their team to succeed. They understand that in order for everyone to succeed, they must set the team up as best as possible to avoid failure, which can include not being in the way. Leaders understand that for there to be success, everyone in the team must be offered:


Frequently mentioned in communication, leaders know the importance of providing adequate information to the team can not be understated. 


Just as with information, leaders ensure that their teams have the necessary tools to perform their duties. 


Though not in the way, leaders are around during any moments of need by the members of the team.


Covered in “Trust”, members must be set free to perform their duties unchained. Leaders give the team everything necessary to be able to do this.


Followers need motivation. The greatest leaders have an uncanny ability to summon a feeling of “drive” in team members. Encouraging actions can be as simple as:

  • Sharing the news of individual successes, never failing to take an opportunity to make someone look good;
  • Celebrating the small victories; and
  • Paying attention to your team.

30 Years Later

These principles were founded in the 1980s. Are they still valid? Yes. It has been determined that though the context of leadership may have changed quite a bit over the years, the content of leadership has not. It is still about learning the traits and motivations behind individual humans, and how to use that to influence them towards productivity. 

Leadership is a mixture of skills that allow someone to coordinate a team towards a unified goal. While “trial by fire” may have worked for many great leaders of history, they often stress the importance of planning ahead. “By Failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin. Take the time to prepare, challenge yourself and grow with the five practices of exemplary leadership.

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Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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