Ask most people what type of leader they prefer--good or great--and most would choose great. After all, who doesn't want the best?
But according to James R. Bailey, the Hochberg Professor of Leadership Development at George Washington University's School of Business, our concept of good and great is mistaken.
Bailey argues that most of us rate leaders on a continuum of "bad" to "great," with "good" falling somewhere in between. But this thinking is flawed, says Bailey, because it confuses the definitions of goodness and greatness.
"The word good is often used interchangeably with acceptable, or adequate," explains the narrator. "But in the context of describing a person, it also refers to morality--virtue and ethics (the direction and intent of a behavior)."
"Meanwhile, the word great often implies excellence. But it's primarily used in descriptions of unusual intensity and power. This is the force behind a behavior, and it could be either good or bad."
The result, says Bailey, is a 2x2 matrix that produces four basic types of leaders:
The vacant leader: Neither good nor great, this type of leader lacks both direction and energy, and can cause even the most optimistic team to quickly lose motivation.
The amiable leader: This individual has the best intentions and has the ability to create a pleasant working atmosphere. But without "the drive of greatness," teams under this leader don't accomplish much in the end.
The maleficent leader: In direct opposition to the amiable leader is this model, who has greatness to get the job done but lacks the moral integrity to do what's right. We might consider this the worst-case scenario, with the most potential to cause harm.
The vital leader: This is the best leader, the one who balances goodness with greatness. Despite natural tension between morality and motivation, the vital leader pushes teams to do their best work.
The truth is, the influence of so many leaders today is not for the greater good.
That's why the topic is so important: In a time where leadership is emphasized more than ever, it's important to remember that we are also all followers.
Understanding the difference between good and great leadership--and the need for both--can help us identify exactly who, what, and why we are following.
And most importantly, make sure we're heading in the right direction.