What Makes a Good Leader?

What makes a good leader?  Well that depends on the leadership definition you choose to work with…. and there are hundreds!  Of all the definitions of leadership, John Maxwell’s is the one I believe is the most succinct and on target. 

Leadership is influence -  nothing more, nothing less.

Based on Maxwell’s definition of leadership, you are a leader because you influence thousands of people, no tens of thousands of people in your lifetime. You lead either by default, or intentionally.

Even if you are extremely shy and introverted and have no desire to lead, too bad! You are a leader… first of yourself and then of others. You simply cannot prevent yourself from influencing the lives of others ~  for better or for worse, for good or for not-so-good.  You do get to choose.

What Makes You a Good Leader?

That is an important question -  whether you lead and influence on purpose or by default it brings up a bunch of other important questions. 

  • What kind of leader are you?
  • What kind of influence do you have?   
  • What IS the difference you are making in the world through your leadership and influence?
  • Is it the kind of difference you really want to be making?  

Maybe you are or maybe you aren't a good leader, yet. But you can become a good leader by becoming aware and by growing yourself as a leader.

It is possible to develop your ability to influence and lead, regardless of your “natural” ability to lead by growing yourself as a leader..  You can consciously make a difference in the world when you make the effort to develop your leadership potential by working through these Four Phases of Leadership Growth.

Four Phases of Leadership Growth

Phase 1 – I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know
Unconscious Incompetence as a Leader

Not only are you ignorant of the leadership facts, you don’t even know it!
This is where people are when they don’t know that they lead themselves and that Leadership is Influence.  They buy into the myth that Leadership is Position (and that is the least influential of all the levels of leadership!)  They think that because they aren’t someone else’s boss, or because they don’t WANT to be a boss, they are not leadership material.

When you buy into that myth, you have no idea of all the opportunities waiting for you.  Know that once an opportunity presents itself, it is too late to prepare yourself!  So you totally miss out! ....and are blissfully unaware that you’ve missed out!

Phase 2 – I Know What I Don’t Know
Concious Incompetence as a Leader

In phase 2, you find out that you don’t know a whole lot about leadership!  …that you have a lot to learn!  And you may be shocked and feel intimidated by everything that other people already seem to know.  If you aren’t careful in this phase, it can be a real confidence buster!

However, “real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” (Confucius). Once you know that you do not know - that Leadership is Influence and not just “position” -  then you can plan to intentionally learn and grow. You won’t to fail to prepare yourself to lead consciously and well.  And your confidence will grow.

Leadership growth depends upon learning as an ongoing process.  And that takes self-discipline and perseverance!

Phase 3 – I Grow and Know and It Starts to Show
Concious Competence as a Leader

In phase 3 our leadership skills and knowledge are growing. Here is where you learn what really makes a good leader and begin putting your learning into practice. You are gaining credibility … and confidence in carrying out the tasks or jobs involved. You are aware of your new concious influencing skills and are working hard to learn how refine them. .

 “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  (John F. Kennedy).  As you learn where you are in your leadership growth process and you discipline yourself to learn more, and then put what you learn into action …. you are working hard to intentionally grow yourself as a leader.

So!  As you intentionally put what you learn into action, your leadership growth really starts to show!  “Leadership is action, not position” (McGannon).

Phase 4 – I Simply Go Because of What I Know
Unconcious Competence as a Leader


This is when you are a really good leader. You don't know that you know – Being a good leader and having positive influence just seems easy and natural!

Phase 3 is a fine and powerful leadership place to be.  That is where you have begun to be competent pretty effective as a leader.  However, it can be overwhelming and exhausting!  Because you need to think about each and every move you make. 

But once you get to Phase 4, your leadership abilities can almost go on automatic!Your leadership and influencing skills are nearly habitual. This is the peak of your confidence and ability as a good leader.

Now that doesn’t mean you’ll stop being intentional about growing as a leader and influencer. What it means is that all your hard work, your perseverance and focus to learn, practice, and grow on a daily basis is paying off!  What you know about leadership and the way you’ve prepared yourself by putting it into action has begun to allow leadership muscle memory to take over!  

That is the leadership growth habit. And that is what makes a good leader!