Tuesday, June 19, 2012

10 Essential Leadership Models

While there have been thousands of books written about leadership, there are a handful of leadership models that have served me well as a leader and leadership development practitioner. These are the tried and true models that have shifted my thinking about leadership and help create teachable leadership moments for others. Mind you, I’m not a scholar, so the models I favor tend to be simple, practical, and I have to had seen evidence that they are effective.

Here are 10 leadership models that I believe any leader or aspiring leader should be familiar with (Kudos to Mind Tools for supplying many of the summaries in the links, and to Vou):

1. Situational Leadership.
Developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey, it’s a timeless classic. If I could only teach one model to a new manager, it might be this one. It’s all about adapting your leadership style to the developmental needs, or “maturity level”, of your employees. It’s easy to understand and can be used on a daily basis. Your only dilemma will be which version to choose: Hersey or Blanchard? I say Blanchard, but that’s because they follow @Great Leadership. (-:

2. Servant Leadership.
A philosophy and practice of leadership developed by Robert K. Greenleaf. The underlying premise here is that it’s less about you as a leader and all about taking care of those around you. It’s a noble and honorable way to lead and conduct your life.

3. Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid.
OK, so it’s really more of a management model, but it’s another timeless classic. Explained by a nice, simple 2x2 grid, it’s all about balancing your concern for people and your concerns for getting things done (tasks). You gotta love those 4x4 grids!

4. Emotional Intelligence.
While Daniel Goleman’s book popularized EQ, his HBR article “What Makes a Leader?” does a great job explaining why the “soft stuff” is so essential to be an effective leader.

5. Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.
K&P do a nice job breaking leadership down into five practices: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. I’ve always liked the Leadership Practices Inventory 360 degree assessment that supports the model.

6. Jim’s Collin’s Level Five Leadership.
First published in a 2001 Harvard Business Review article, and then in the book, "From Good to Great, Collin’s leadership model describes kind of a hierarchy of leadership capabilities, with level 5 being a mix of humility and will.

7. The Diamond Model of Leadership.
Although not as widely known as Collin’s Level Five model, my colleague Jim Clawson actually wrote the book Level Three Leadership two years earlier than the Collin’s HBR article. Jim introduced the Diamond Model, which describes four elements of leadership: yourself, others, task, and organization.

8. Six Leadership Passages.
Charan, Drotter, and Noel did a nice job explaining six key developmental passages a leader can advance through in thier book The Leadership Pipeline, along with the skills required to be successful for each passage. I actually came up with my own six passages, in which I made a distinction between management and leadership.

9. Authentic Leadership.
I’ve only recently become a fan of Bill George’s work (True North), and it’s made a difference in how I think about leadership and leadership development. Instead of trying to find and copy the prefect set of leadership characteristics, George argues that you’re better off figuring out who you are and what’s important to you, and leading in a way that’s true to yourself.

10. The GROW model.
Widely attributed to Sir John Whittmore (although it’s not certain who really came up with it), GROW stands for goal, reality, obstacles, options, and way, will, or what’s next, depending on which version you use. It’s really more of a coaching model than a leadership model. However, it’s an essential tool for leaders and one of the easiest to understand and effective coaching models I’ve come across.

How about you? What leadership model has served you the best? Please include a link to a summary of the model, and no shameless self-promotions allowed - except for my own. (-:


Ashok Vaishnav said...

I need to clarify upfront that my present comment is certainly not the promotion of Dan McCarthy or his blog or the Leadership, per se.
Having said that I would still be failing if I do not say what I felt after having read the article. Dan McCarthy has presented the vast literature on Leadership Models in his usual down-to-practice language, thus, bringing in the principles and practice of leadership a vital step closer.
One can choose any of the models or a combination of the models, to suit one’s own personality and the demands of the circumstances.
Since the language and style is bereft of the normal management pedagogy, the article should be easily amenable to people in the [or expected to be in the] leadership positions in other than business management paradigms.

Peoplesoft Users Lists said...

Good leadership models making them to follow.

Walt said...

Good list.  The only one I question is #2.  This is probably the most difficult of all the models for leaders to practice.   I also believe #2 was developed by Jesus Christ himself. And for those that do not believe, the concept was developed and utilized long before Mr Greenleaf or any of us walked this earth.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks for your comment and endorsement!


Thanks, I'll take your word for it. So many of these leadership models end up being adaptions of someone elses work, but that's OK.

Heidi Alexandra Pollard said...

I myself am a huge fan of #2 Servant Leadership - I also have developed my own model which colleagues find easy to relate to - you are either an expander or container!

Lisa Kohn said...

These are great. The one model I would add, that we nearly always use (and again, it's not specifically a leadership model, but it is useful in leadership and in life) is Chris Argyris's Ladder of Inference model. I offer clients that this model explains many of the miscommunications that hamper our effectiveness with others.

Dan McCarthy said...


Thanks, good add, I like the ladder too.

Unknown said...

5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell!

Dan McCarthy said...

AR -
Thanks, another good add.

Jamison Manion said...

I have found "The Leader's Window" by John Beck and Neil Yeager to be the most helpful as a practitioner in the trenches. It builds on situational leadershp but adds a pattern that adds consistency and takes the guess work out of situational analysis. Dr. Beck is a direct protege of Blanchard and added the pattern to help with implementation.

Jamison J. Manion
Author of "The Workforce Engagement Equation"

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks for the suggestion, I've not heard of it.

Anonymous said...

What happened to action centred leadership (John Adair)? This is the foundation the World's militaries are built upon...and they're pretty good on the leadership front.