Good Leadership vs. Effective Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

As an active participant in leadership discussions both on blogs and group discussions, I come across a common confusion in definitions.  I saw it again in the comments to a great post by Jen Kuhn this week at The Experience Factor.  I also witnessed it in the series and discussion David Burkus did at The Leader Lab on the Maxwell Fallacy.

Good vs. Bad Leadership

Let’s agree today that good leadership is not the same as effective leadership.  Let’s agree that the word good is an evaluation of the end result rather than the leader’s actions.  Did it achieve good purposes?  Did it create value?  (By value I mean benefit in excess of cost.)  Did the benefit to all parties exceed the cost to all parties?  Let’s agree that good leadership is that authority or influence that creates a good outcome.  If the outcome is not generally good, it would be bad leadership.  Using this model, “bad” becomes a big word.  Any leadership that doesn’t create positive outcomes for the contributors and stakeholders can’t be good.  As Jen stated in her comments, what Hitler did can’t be good.  It can however be effective.

Effective Leadership

An Effective leader is someone who manages to get people to do what they want.  It could be defined as one who exerts influence to get others to achieve the leader’s objectives regardless of the quality of the outcome.  It will be effective if people allow themselves to be influenced.  The outcomes can be good or bad.

Just Plain Ugly

In keeping with the movie, ineffective leadership is just plain Ugly.  We won’t even try to clean it up.  If you have to stoop to manipulating or threatening or bullying, that’s ugly leadership.

It seems from my connecting with people all over the world through Twitter and the Lead Change Group on LinkedIn, as well as the interest that has been shown in starting local leadership groups like Authentic Leadership Cincinnati or Lead Change Tulsa, that a growing number of people agree that our world needs an infusion of good leadership: effective leadership that brings about net-positive outcomes.  The only way to do that is to contribute more than you consume.  Let the revolution continue in your life and sphere of influence today!

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Marty Desmond  |  14 May 2010  |  Reply

Hi Mike,

I love what you’ve done here. This timing is great too.

Yesterday I had a chat on Facebook with my Godson. He’s in the second year of ROTC in college. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to watch him grow in leadership and told him yesterday how proud I was.

The Good: I recently read a comment he posted. Some of his friends were getting caught up in an issue and spouting political rhetoric. His response was calm, well thought out and to the point. He diffused the situation.

I told him how much he had grown. I laughed looking back.

The Bad: When this kid was in first grade, his teacher told the parents that he was a natural leader. Unfortunately, she added, he was leading the class in the wrong direction. He was naturally an effective leader, but had to learn to follow the right path.

The Ugly: When I helped coach his Little League team, I could never get the boy to remain calm and pick up his mates. He had ability, but squandered it by not becoming a team player. When he lost it, the team son followed.

So, it was with great pride, that I was able to tell him how he had matured as a leader. He has a long way to go, but I think the future looks bright with people like him coming up.

He is calmer today. He thinks before making decisions. He inspires others to follow in the right direction. He is part of the revolution to good leadership.

Now, I’m looking around at ways I can look inside to improve my own growth.

Thanks for the inspiration,
.-= Marty Desmond´s last blog ..Leaving a Legacy =-.

Mike Henry  |  14 May 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the great comment Marty. I think good leadership always inspires us to look inside to improve our own growth. We do need to be building into the next generation and you’re obviously doing a good job at that too! Thanks!

Anshul Gupta  |  14 May 2010  |  Reply

There is a third variety of leaders: “Successful leaders”.

These leaders are both good and effective.
.-= Anshul Gupta´s last blog ..3 Tips for asking better questions =-.

Mike Henry  |  15 May 2010  |  Reply

Anshul, sorry for the confusion. I meant to imply that a good leader must be effective AND bring about good outcomes. Mike…

Peter A. Mello, Weekly Leader  |  15 May 2010  |  Reply

Marty, thanks for giving me hope. I’m currently coaching my son’s little league team and your story really resonated with me. Hope there’s a good outcome here too! It certainly is testing my leadership abilities. :)
.-= Peter A. Mello, Weekly Leader´s last blog ..Weekly Leader Podcast Episode 50 – Leadership Lessons from a New England Town Meeting =-.

Shawn Murphy  |  15 May 2010  |  Reply

Mike, great distinctions between good and effective leadership. Part of the reason I am part of the Lead Change Group and Lead Change Roundtable is your vision to infuse good leadership into your work and to shift how leaders lead today.

I would add an additional distinction to good leadership. It’s the source of the leader’s actions. I call this a way of being. How is the good leader being with others so that good outcomes are possible. Being could be inspired, open, curious, giving, etc. From this way of being comes actions. The good leader manifests being into action that are aligned and cause outcomes that are a benefit to the whole. This latter point is of course your point.

Nice post, Mike.
.-= Shawn Murphy´s last blog ..Further Statements Leaders Say That Make Me Cringe – Part 2 =-.

Dallas Bragg  |  16 May 2010  |  Reply


Nice original thought! And this is real-world. For instance, the results of one company I’ve worked for are ‘good’ in the sense that it is profitable, but the leaders aren’t ‘effective’. There is high turnover, low morale, little dedication to the company, etc. However, market share is growing and profit is rising. The company achieves the results through enforcement of compliance instead of investing to grow commitment.


.-= Dallas Bragg´s last blog .. =-.

Mike Henry  |  16 May 2010  |  Reply

All profit and growth are not necessarily “good” either. That’s why classifying leadership is so difficult. I’d say this was more of an effective leadership example in that they are effective in creating their desired outcome (profits and growth) but they don’t create a good and sustainable outcome as evidenced by the high turnover and low morale. At least that was what I intended in making the original distinction. I don’t think it’s ultimately good that no one wants to work for you or that the people who do have their lives ruined due to not being treated well.

davidburkus  |  18 May 2010  |  Reply

Great thoughts. By the way, I incorporated your feedback from the blog series into the manuscript I sent to change this. The point remains the same “good” is a matter of ethics and not effectiveness.

Great to see you tonight.

Siddhartha  |  19 May 2010  |  Reply

Since I’m new to your blog let me just say, hello. I like what you have to say here. It’s written well.

That said, let me get down to disagreeing with you.

I’m not sure this is a distinction which needs to be made. It’s a value judgment, a moral judgment, and will be different for everyone.

You ask, did it create value? Did the benefit outweigh the costs? But we have no way of measuring “value” or “benefit” except subjectively. (Assuming you don’t mean financial value which would be much easier to calculate but also much easier to dispute as a measure of leadership.)

What if you had a passion for preventing or even reversing global climate change? Let’s say you brought together a massive following and implemented restrictions which prohibited the use of any energy source that caused pollution.

You have accomplished something. But what? Was is good?

By defining “leadership” as the ability to influence others we can say without equivocation you were a good leader because you mobilized followers to accomplish your vision.

If we use your definition of “good leadership” we would have to make an assessment of whether people are better off in the world you created than the world before. That’s an impossible task.

I think it also creates unnecessary confusion to define good leadership as leadership we agree with.
.-= Siddhartha´s last blog ..Most Criticism is Unjustified; Different and Weird Are Okay =-.

Mike Henry  |  19 May 2010  |  Reply

Siddhartha, Thank for the comment and the compliment about my writing. Also, I appreciate your disagreement. In fact, in my not-too-distant past I used to agree with your position. However the point of my interest in leadership is values-oriented. Effective leadership merely accomplishes the objective. Hitler was effective, as was Jack Welch of GE, William Booth of the Salvation Army, Clara Barton of the Red Cross or Joseph Stalin of the USSR.

I feel our world needs to argue the value of actions. Everything isn’t relative in my world view. Therefore I choose not to compromise on the definition of “good” because it’s hard to determine. If the benefit doesn’t exceed the cost it’s not good. (And you’re right, I’m not suggesting this is merely financial.) We’ve compromised for too long and now we can’t tell what’s good any more. Effective, immoral leaders, as well as effective naive ones took advantage of our natural selfish tendencies and caused most of our world’s greatest problems. Maybe by discussing and debating the value of an action, we can eventually agree on more than just that Hitler and Stalin were bad. Many people used to equate George W. Bush with Adolph Hitler. That ended the debate rather than encouraged it. I want to open the discussion.

Finally, this post was a bit of a response to a series posted by David Burkus called the Maxwell Fallacy where he further argued that good influence wasn’t necessarily good using the example of pushy salespeople. I don’t know if you’ve read his blog or not.

Thanks again for joining the discussion. Mike…

Siddhartha  |  20 May 2010  |  Reply

Yes, I’ve been following David’s blog and the discussion on Maxwell. I think I’m starting to get a sense of where you’re trying to go with this definition but I’m still unconvinced. Not closed to it, just not there yet.

I see leadership as a skill, like accounting, which can be applied in a variety of situations. People have used their understanding of accounting techniques to help decision makers understand a company’s fiscal position, but unscrupulous accountants have also used accounting techniques to obscure data and hide important information.

A person’s skill as an accountant is independent from what they do with that skill. When we’re teaching accounting techniques we tell students to use their discretion judiciously when applying accounting procedures, we can do the same with leaders.

Thanks for your reply, I’m going to read your new post now.

Marty Caise  |  19 Jun 2010  |  Reply

Effective Leadership can sometimes have a negative connotation because some believe the emphasis of these leaders is much more on the quantity of work rather than the quality of work. While I don’t believe this personally, I like the term Anshul Gupta used… Successful Leadership

Join The Conversation