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10 Essential Leadership Models


By Dan McCarthy

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 helped me 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 see 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. Situation 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 to conduct your life.

3. Blake and Mouton's Leadership Grid.
Okay, 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 being 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. Jims Collins' Level Five Leadership.
First published in a 2001 Harvard Business Review article, and then in the book, "From Good to Great," Collins' leadership model describes kind of a hierarchy of leadership capabilities, with level five being a mix of humility and will.

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

8. Six Leadership Passages.
Charon, Drotter, and Noel did a nice job explaining six key developmental passages a leader can advance through in their 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 perfect 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.

Dan McCarthy has been in the field of leadership development for over 20 years. He is currently the Director of Executive Development Programs at the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business and Economics (WSBE).

Reach Dan by e-mail at
Dan's website is

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