What makes a great leader?

Great leaders know the art and science behind people and behavior. People (our employees and customers) drive organizations forward. A great leader understands how to inspire and influence people.


The old leadership playbook depicts a leader as someone who has a “take charge” personality, with a commanding or authoritative presence. These images of leaders are Influenced by military leadership styles, particularly in battle.  To this day, many of us have some hidden biases that cause us to see these behaviors and think, “that person is a leader”.


Just because someone doesn’t like to follow, does not make that person inherently a “leader”.

Personality will affect what style of leadership we naturally gravitate to, and our behavioral drives tell us what we lean into when influencing others.  In other words, your personality defines your comfort zones when it comes to leadership and communication. However, great leaders have the self-awareness to recognize their preferred styles, and they know when to lean into that style and when to adapt.  This skill we call situational leadership requires us to leverage emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships fairly and empathetically. In other words, know your audience.


Years ago, a study changed the game on how we look at leadership. The study of nearly 4,000 leaders by Hay/McBer identified six distinct leadership styles. Each of the styles delivered results differently. However, the study (according to a Harvard Business Review article) found that “leaders with the best results do not rely on only one leadership style; they use most of them in a given week — seamlessly and in different measure — depending on the business situation.” The six leadership styles these top leaders move between include:

  • Coercive — demands immediate compliance
  • Authoritative — mobilizes toward a vision
  • Affiliative — creates emotional bonds and harmony
  • Democratic — builds consensus through participation
  • Pacesetting — expects excellence and self-direction
  • Coaching — develops others for the future.

While this research is not new, many leaders still struggle with this concept of situational leadership and being able to move between the styles appropriately. It’s not about you!


Great leaders embrace the concept, “it’s not about me.” When influencing others, it is their perspective that matters.


So, the next time that you are working with an individual to move them toward better results, consider the six leadership styles and weigh the relative value of each approach for the individual and situation at hand.


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