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There Are 5 Leadership Types—Which Are You?

The following is adapted from The Standout Experience.

Think about the worst boss you’ve ever had. Now think about the best boss.

I imagine there are many differences between the two, but to determine what type of leader someone is, there is only one question you need to ask: “Why do people follow this person?”

With your worst boss, you probably followed them because you had to—because a job title said you were supposed to. With your best boss, though, you likely had different reasons. Maybe you liked them as a person, or they got results, or they helped mentor and develop you, or you believed in their vision.

According to author and leadership guru John Maxwell, there are five different reasons we follow leaders, each representing a different type of leadership.

In order for you to become the most effective leader you can be, you must understand and leverage what motivates people to follow someone. So let’s look at the five leadership types so that you can determine what kind of leader you are right now, and what kind of leader you want to be.

#1: Title (Position Right)

The most obvious type of leadership is title. Title is a basic leadership role where people follow you not necessarily because they want to, but because they must due to your position. In most cases, they have a simple choice, which is to either follow your direction or find another job.

This type of leadership can be dangerous because it can appear unwarranted. In the hands of the insufficiently trained and self-unaware individual, leadership based on title alone can actually produce detrimental results for everyone involved. This is why some people remain managers and not leaders when given a title as leadership.

Simon Sinek says, “A boss has the title, but a leader has the people.” If you are relying on title alone to establish yourself as a leader, you are not living up to your potential.

#2: Relationship (Permission Right)

People will also follow an individual they like as a person. 

When someone admires something about you—perhaps it’s your emotional intelligence, performance under pressure, or the way you actively listen—they become drawn to you. There are limitless ways that inspire others to follow you. It may simply be that you have a good sense of humor or have a uniquely wonderful sense of fashion.

Once you discover what it is about you that makes people like you, leverage those qualities to lead. People don’t follow you because they have to but because they want to. They believe in you and trust you, so they grant you the permission to lead them.

#3: Results (Production Right)

If you gain a reputation for getting things done, people will go to you when they need results. Others will follow you because of what you have done for the organization.

Think about Kobe Bryant. He scored a lot of points, played great defense, and won championships. Teammates, fans, and others followed him because of the production he achieved in his chosen craft.

This form of leadership isn’t relegated to professional athletes. The business world is anchored by producers, and they can become leaders even without a title. 

The producer-based leader could be, for example, an intern in the mailroom. If that person knows how to get rush deliveries out on time, every time, regardless of extenuating circumstances, people will look to them for guidance on how to get the job done. An intern with such qualities will likely grow their leadership easily and have great potential to achieve much more.

#4: Development (People Right)

The development leader is another type of results-oriented leadership, but the focus is on what you do for other people, not the organization. 

We all occasionally ask the question, “What can you do for me?” We follow leaders that have our best interest in mind and help us to achieve the goals and dreams we have for ourselves. 

Development leaders deeply care about the people who work for them. They invest in their people by helping them to get promoted, enhancing and developing their skills, providing challenging work, and fostering their growth. As a result, their people want to stay on the team and feel a higher sense of job satisfaction

Leadership is about people, and the more you can positively impact and help others, the more you will be considered a leader. A good leader motivates and helps people go to where they want to go. A great leader inspires people to go where they need to be or should be.

#5: Vision and Value (Respect Right)

The highest level of leaders are people we follow because of who they are, what they represent, and what they value. This could be someone you know, but many times it’s someone you’ve never met.

Whether it’s Elon Musk or Bob Iger, Richard Branson, or anyone else, we follow people we admire, those who share our personal values, or people who represent an idea of who we want to be. We get behind them because we believe in them, and we respect who they are, not what they are.

This one could easily be misinterpreted as a natural born leader, but that’s not the case. People aren’t given respect by default. Respect is something that has to be earned through thoughts, words, and actions.

The people who become leaders based on the respect they get from others are made through their own impact on the people and world around them. 

Becoming an All-in-One Leader: From Leading Self to Leading Organizations 

You may have noticed that these leadership types are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to reach the pinnacle of leadership, the goal is to embody all five.

Ideally, you have a title that declares you a leader, and then you back it up by fostering great relationships, producing eye-catching results, developing people, and inspiring respect with clear vision and values.

That type of all-in-one leadership is within you, but you need to grow that ability. How do you that? It begins by leading yourself. You find ways to motivate, inspire, and lead yourself to bigger and better things, developing and growing your skills, business knowledge, emotional intelligence, and more.

Once you can lead yourself, pushing past your own limitations, you can do the same for others. From learning and mastering how to lead other people, you can then lead functions, becoming responsible for an entire department. Finally, from leading functions, you grow into the ability to lead entire organizations.

So it doesn’t matter which leadership type you are right now; what matters is the type of leader you will grow into.Beginning with yourself and then growing to higher levels, you can tap into all five types of leadership and create incredibly loyal and motivated followers, unlocking the ability to create massive, positive change for yourselves, your community, and the world around you.

For more advice on leadership, you can find The Standout Experience on Amazon.

John Walsh is an inspirational and successful executive, entrepreneur, author, husband and dad with a passion for impacting the lives of others. John faced many challenges, uncertainty and failures early in his life but he created a purposeful and happy life with a lot of hard work and help from others. Over time, he created a playbook that allowed him to make the journey from homeless in high school to a senior executive with Disney and Madison Square Garden. He is also the founder and CEO of a company whose mission is to inspire and help millions of young adults stand out in their own lives and careers.