Exceptional leadership: 5 practices

By María Luisa Engels

Maria Luisa is neuroscience based corporate consultant, trainer and coach and speaker. She focuses on leadership, psychological safety and inclusion, resilience, change and creative teambuilding. She is also a visual thinker and author. To her clients count global companies in automotive, health care or IT industries.

Exceptional leadership: a personal story

In the dynamic world of business, effective leadership is a key factor that can propel organizations to new heights. As I reminisce about my early professional career, I had the privilege of working with an extraordinary leader who defied traditional norms. Despite lacking a university degree, he stood out through his exceptional productivity, initiative, and intelligence, creating a positive and enjoyable team environment even during challenging times. This experience taught me the profound impact of good leadership and how it can make individuals feel valued, empowered, and motivated to achieve greatness.

The age-old debate of whether leaders are born or made continues to intrigue many. “Exceptional Leadership,” a seminal work by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, sheds light on five practices that exemplify outstanding leadership. These practices include “Model the Way,” “Encourage others,” “Enable Others to Act,” “Inspire a Shared Vision,” and “Challenge the Process.” Kouzes and Posner argue that leadership is a skill that can be cultivated through practice, experience, and continuous improvement. While some may believe that leadership is an innate trait reserved for a select few, the truth lies in the power of deliberate learning and the commitment to grow as a leader.

So, let us explore the question: Can leadership be learned, or is it an inborn talent?  And if leadership can indeed be acquired, how can aspiring leaders develop their skills and become exceptional leaders?

The 5 practices of exceptional leadership

1. Model the Way: Exceptional Leadership by Example and Integrity

“Model the Way” is the first practice of exceptional leadership. Exceptional leaders understand that their actions speak louder than words. They lead by example, demonstrating integrity, consistency, and unwavering commitment to their values. By living their values authentically, leaders earn the trust and respect of their team members. Through transparency and genuine behavior, they build a culture of trust and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

2. Encourage others: Recognizing and Celebrating Success

The second practice of exceptional leadership is to “Encourage the Heart.” Exceptional leadersunderstands the importance of recognizing and celebrating successes, both big and small. By acknowledging the efforts and achievements of their team members, leaders create a sense of appreciation and belonging. Celebrating accomplishments fosters a positive work environment and reinforces the team’s commitment to shared goals. Leaders who encourage the heart uplift team morale, enhance job satisfaction, and create a culture of positivity and motivation.

3. Enable Others to Act: Empowering and Developing Team Members

“Enable Others to Act” is the third practice of exceptional leadership. Exceptional leaders empower their team members by fostering an environment of trust and support. They provide opportunities for growth and development, nurturing talent within the organization. By equipping their teams with the necessary resources and authority, leaders create a sense of ownership and accountability. This practice cultivates a culture of collaboration and teamwork, where each individual feels valued and capable of contributing their best efforts.

4. Inspire a Shared Vision: Painting a Picture of a Better Future

The fourth practice of exceptional leadership is to “Inspire a Shared Vision.” Exceptional leaders articulate a compelling vision of the future that inspires and motivates their team members. By communicating a clear and captivating vision, leaders unite their teams in a common purpose. A shared vision creates a sense of direction and purpose, driving everyone towards collective success. Leaders who inspire a shared vision foster a culture of collaboration, innovation, and commitment to the organization’s mission.

5. Challenge the Process: Embracing Innovation and Change

The fifth practice of exceptional leadership is to “Challenge the Process.” Exceptional leaders understand that progress and growth come from challenging the status quo. They encourage their teams to explore new possibilities and take calculated risks. By promoting a culture of innovation and continuous improvement, leaders pave the way for positive change and success. Leaders who challenge the process inspire creativity and resilience within their teams, driving the organization forward in an ever-changing business landscape.


Exceptional leadership is not an elusive trait but a powerful skill that can be honed and cultivated through practice, dedication, and a commitment to growth. By embracing the five practices of “Model the Way,” “Encourage the Heart,” “Enable Others to Act,” “Inspire a Shared Vision,” and “Challenge the Process,” aspiring leaders can unleash their full potential and make a lasting impact on their teams and organizations.

Leadership is not solely reserved for a chosen few; it is a journey of continuous learning and development. By striving to become an exceptional leader and embodying these practices, individuals can positively influence the lives of others, create thriving work environments, and drive organizational success.

References: Kouzes,J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). “The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations” (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.