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Leadership expert shares insights

Nearly 300 people gathered in Rauenhorst Ballroom at St. Catherine University on April 10 despite the freak spring snowstorm. Most were curious to meet Barry Posner — the man behind one of the most trusted sources on becoming a better leader.

The Leadership Challenge, which Posner co-wrote with Jim Kouzes, has sold more than 2 million copies in more than 20 languages since it was first published in 1987. The book is now in its fifth edition.

“If you look up ‘leadership’ in the dictionary, you’ll find that the word is not capitalized,” says Posner. “It’s not capitalized because leadership refers to an attitude. It’s a wonderful contrast between holding on and letting go.”

Posner spent the next 90 minutes discussing the role and importance of leadership in organizations, and the characteristics that make a top-notch leader. In The Leadership Challenge, he and Kouzes have boiled down the latter to “the five practices of exemplary leadership:”

  • Model the way
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Challenge the process
  • Enable others to act
  • Encourage the heart

According to their research, good leadership is universal and has shared patterns that anyone — no matter the gender, nationality, age, function and industry — can learn. “What makes a difference is how you behave as a leader,” says Posner.

“Leadership isn’t about being right all the time,” he adds. “It’s about trying. Those who try are more successful than those who don’t — and, remember, no matter how good you are, you’re not better than others.”

The Leadership Challenge is the primary textbook for “Ethics and Leadership,” the foundational course for the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL) program.

“Multiple reasons prompted this choice,” explains Julie Belle White-Newman, the co-founder and former program director of MAOL who retired in 2008. Among them, she notes: the book offers a research-grounded approach to understanding leadership and the authors’ model is “positive, understandable and applicable to leaders in many different situations — students readily embraced it.”

“I thought his analogies were really good; they brought the five exemplary practices to life,” says attendee Christina Herold, a Wells Fargo employee who earned St. Kate’s custom certificate in organizational leadership last year.

For Lisa Polachek ’80, the evening was memorable for multiple reasons.

“I’ve studied all his books,” says Polachek. “To have him at St. Kate’s is phenomenal. He’s personable and down-to-earth, and he has a great way of bringing concepts to life.”

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Fund the match

The event was sponsored by the George Family Foundation, which recently awarded the MAOL program a $25,000 matching grant challenge — MAOL will receive an additional $25,000 if it matches the amount in new and increased donations. Contribute to the MAOL Scholarship Fund or the Julie Belle White-Newman MAOL Innovation Fund at

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See also: Alumnae/i, Business, Faculty, Leadership, Students