Steve's Procedure for Adopting The Leadership Challenge (aka, A Sure Fire Recipe for Success!)

Steve's Procedure for Adopting The Leadership Challenge (aka, A Sure Fire Recipe for Success!)

As an engineer I am trained to think in terms of systems, procedures, and flow charts. So naturally, when it came to thinking about a method to successfully implement The Leadership Challenge—with my employer, Kaneka America, and, ultimately, consulting client companies—I naturally gravitated to setting it all down into a clear and easy-to-follow process that would help ensure consistent success. Based on my own seven-year journey with The Leadership Challenge, one that has changed my life and helped transform my organization as well as so many others, here is my simple, eight-step recipe that I believe can make any implementation successful.  

1.  Admit You Have a Problem

I came to this realization when I found myself in a leadership position with little knowledge of what to do and with no one to turn to for help.  I admitted to myself that I needed to change and it was up to me to make something happen. This is the first step in most change initiatives: creating a sense of urgency.

2.  Get Professional Help! (Don’t try this alone…)

I studied various leadership models and, after considering several, settled on The Leadership Challenge. Why?  
  • It’s very simple and easy to understand. This was critical to my plan of using it not only for me but others in the organization.  

  • It’s an evidence-based model with metrics.  This was important for me as a scientist and I knew it would be for others like me. Measuring progress is critical in my industry.  

  • There is a network of highly-skilled and experienced Certified Masters to help you get started and guide your journey.  I found my “master” in Craig Haptonstall, conveniently located near me in Dallas, who made all the difference to me and my organization. 
3.  First Lead Yourself

Thanks to Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, I first learned that the problem I was facing may not be other people. It might actually be me. Focusing on feedback from my Leadership Practices Inventory® 360 assessment and on setting the right example for others made it easier to introduce The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® to the rest of the team.
4.  Work Top Down (if possible)

In our case at Kaneka, it started with the plant management team and flowed through the organization step-by- step. Of course, you can insert The Leadership Challenge at any level or in a specific department or location. However, if senior leadership does not have knowledge of the model, how can they support and guide those trying to develop themselves?  If you can’t start at the top, get as high in the organization as possible and work in both directions.

5. Find Other Champions

During the initial workshops, look for folks who show a particular passion for the message and principles of The Leadership Challenge. The best way to spread and reinforce The Five Practices in your organization is from within. With my company, when our managers are working together to facilitate a workshop, their employees see and hear them talking about leadership in new ways. Teaching also makes us all more competent in the theory and aids in the application.

6.  Create Continuous Education and Experiences

They’re called The Five Practices for a reason. We need to provide opportunities to practice these essential behaviors. We also need to provide experiences to share with our teams, and a series of continuing education sessions will create those experiences. I found that one session about every two months is good timing. It also seems that activities are more memorable than lectures, so keep it fun and challenging. Remember…it’s more about the application than the theory.

7.  Shampoo, Rinse, Repeat….

Leadership development is just another continuous improvement cycle. In our company, continuous improvement is part of our culture and most everyone is familiar with the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle. True development also takes more time than you would think and trying to rush it may not get you the quality results you are looking for.  Think in terms of years, not months, to continue supporting your leadership practitioners.

8.  Integrate into Other Systems

We now are working to weave The Five Practices into other management systems such as performance management, safety management, quality management, etc. Using the same language and the same core values across various operational systems will reinforce your culture with a consistent message.

That’s my core, eight-step recipe. But, for extra credit, here’s one last bit of advice…..

9.  Go Forth and Lead

Leadership is liberating. If you are truly successful in your journey you may feel the calling to move outward and teach others what you have learned and experienced. It may be within your organization, in other departments or locations, or it may be beyond your organization. This happened to me in 2010 when I took the leap of faith and started on the path to become a Certified Master. Now I have been given the opportunity to spread The Leadership Challenge across the entire Kaneka Group companies in North America, Asia, and Europe.  Seeing my colleagues around the world adopting The Five Practices is a richly rewarding experience. 

So, I encourage you………take the leap to implement The Leadership Challenge in your organization. Incorporate whatever parts of my process work for you, and then make them your own. Set the example. Make a difference.

Steve Skarke, a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge, is president of The Kaneka Foundation and creator of Leading Elements™.  As an “Organizational Engineer” Steve supports the development of internal and external clients through facilitation and coaching activities.  A 30-year veteran in the manufacturing industry, he can be reached at  


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