Sources of Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

The way I see it there are only two sources of leadership.  Will you lead because you are in a position of leadership or because you are a person of leadership?

“Leadership is influence.” John Maxwell


Some people think of a leader as the person “in charge.”  If the person in charge was better leader or if we had better people in charge, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in.  Our world wouldn’t have the economic, moral, spiritual, physical or (fill in the blank) problems it has today. “If I were the person in charge, I’d do such and such.” The concept of a leader being the person in charge creates a subtle challenge: the labor for the solution and the power are separated.  A chasm forms between the solution (people) and the power.  I’m sure you know people who blame people in charge for many things but never do anything.  They feel or act powerless to do anything.  Like Eddie, Clark’s brother-in-law on Christmas Vacation, they’re holding out for a management position.


A person of leadership finds, even creates opportunities to lead.  Their influence rises out of their character, or who they are as a person.  The source of their leadership is who they are rather than where they are.

You see, our character is who we are.  According to Wikipedia, “The word “character” is derived from the Greek word charaktêr, which was originally used of a mark impressed upon a coin.”  It’s your mark.

“Our character is what we do when no one is looking.” H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Character-based Leadership

Character-based leadership begins with who you are, not what role you play.  We have too many role players.  We need more people bringing “who they are” to the leadership game.  When I talk about character-based leadership, I begin there.  You can be a character-based leader when you pick up trash in the parking lot or donate to Haiti.

Lead Change Group: Applying character-based leadership to make a positive difference

Our world needs leadership, regardless of the age or the issue.  That doesn’t mean we need more people in charge. It means we need more dependable people. It doesn’t mean we need more people taking credit. We need more people taking responsibility. It doesn’t mean we need more people giving orders.  We need more people doing the very things that need to be done.

In fact, we’re so committed to the idea that something must be done, we’re doing it.  We’re meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida this February 19 and 20 for LeaderPalooza.  We have decided to add action to our talk. Don’t just complain about the state of leadership today. Join us!

Think about the difference between position-based leadership and character-based leadership.   Which is more hopeful, inspiring, motivating?  Which are you?

Next post, what are the promises of character-based leadership?


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

Jennifer V. Miller  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply


First of all, I commend you for finding a way to work Randy Quaid’s Christmas Vacation photo into this post. Hilarious!

Secondly, this topic has been popular lately. I’m reminded of Mary Jo Asmus’ excellent series on the responsibility that both leader and follower have in making the workplace productive. See it here:http://www.aspire-cs.com/bad-manager-or-flawed-human.

I felt so strongly about ensuring that the practice aligns with the theory, I wrote a “response” to Mary Jo’s thesis on my blog called “Stepping into the Abyss”. Feel free to check it out.

Great post, as always!
.-= Jennifer V. Miller´s last blog ..Stepping Into the Abyss =-.

Mike Henry  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Jennifer, thanks for the great blog links. They’re great posts. As for Eddie, he’s still holding out for that management job.

Thanks, Mike…

davidburkus  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Good post. Reminds me of W.L. Gore & Associates, a company where everyone has the same title and leaders are developed not by promotion but by their ability to persuade people to follow them. All person-based.

Erin Schreyer  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Mike, wonderful post, as always!

I love the distinction you point out. What a difference it makes, depending on the philosophy you choose to embrace.

The most effective organizations, in my opinion, are the ones that empower their employees to think outside of the box, bring new and creative ideas to the table and vision better ways of doing things. In essence, asking each employee, regardless of title to take on aspects of leadership from where they are.

This philisophy makes the aspect of leading from WHO you are that much more critical. It is only the leaders who have built trust and who can produce solutions that benefit people who will gain followers that want to take their ideas and help turn them into reality. Because they have strong character, they will be able to get people on their bus and get things done more effectively and efficiently. You’ve done an excellent job of bringing light to this topic! Thanks!

Mike Henry  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Erin. Thinking about “thinking outside the box,” to what extent does a leader let their team experience temporary failure by pursuing outside-the-box ideas? Just another outside the box thought for a future post. Thanks for leading me to think of it!

Gordon R. Clogston  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Excellent articulation of the sources of leadership, Mike. It is interesting to note how many people are happy to blame people in power for their ills and yet assume no responsibility for making a difference themselves.

As Jennifer said, this is a topic of some discussion these days. I have read and written articles on whether or not people in positions of power and leaders can or should be differentiated. Though we may argue the merits, the unfortunate fact is that they can be differentiated.

I agree with your assessment that leadership is born of character. It has nothing to do with your job title. Good leaders are born with certain traits that honed over time allow them to be trusted and respected. Interestingly, many of the strongest leaders, those who have substantial influence have opted not to seek or accept positions of authoritative power.

Job well done. I look forward to reading more.
.-= Gordon R. Clogston´s last blog ..Lost Your Job? Get Focused, Get Creative, Stay Connected. =-.

Mike Henry  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the comment Gordon. I appreciate how you linked it back to position. It is a little bit of a catch 22. If you’re a quality person of character, you get more authority so they move you into a higher position, where you must resist the temptation to relax and let your position hold the authority. Wow! I feel another post coming… Thanks again.

Dr. Ada  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Great post! I agree that the best leadership is based on character. That is what brings authenticity. For me when a topic has been so popular lately it is a sign that there is a felt need for it.

I also agree with Gordon that it’s easier to blame than to assume responsibility. If we take responsibility for developing our character and leading from our authentic self, we can be role models in whatever capacity we are and hope for a ripple effect.

Looking forward to next post!

Mike Henry  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Dr. Ada, thanks for the great comment. My battle cry is going to be: “take responsibility instead of credit.” Those two words, “take responsibility” just ring in my eyes and ears every time I see them or hear them. That’s the key. Thanks!

David Andrews  |  29 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Hey Mike – great post.

There seems to be a lot of leadership blog traffic around on the character of leadership at the moment. Perhaps one day all leaders will be defined by the quality of their character and not just their popularity with the masses. Shades of Martin Luther King . . .

Regards, David
.-= David Andrews´s last blog ..What colour is your leadership? =-.

Dave Baldwin  |  30 Jan 2010  |  Reply

Hey Mike thank you for another great post. You are right on! I wish I could attend the conference coming up on February, but alas have other things on my plate. It sounds like it will be a life-changing time for those who attend.
Character-based leadership reminds me a lot of transformational leadership. Lots of things in common.
.-= Dave Baldwin´s last blog ..Stay Focused: =-.

Bud Coburn  |  01 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Another great article Mike. I almost lost my cookies with the cousin Eddie example. Hilarious!

If you have ever been on active duty in the military it is easy to see the difference of someone that believes his leadership is based on his position or has leadership that is based on character.

The military has the enlisted ranks and the commissioned officer ranks. Almost everyone can enter the enlisted ranks if they choose. To enter the commission officer ranks it is by appointment and the lowest rank has more authority than the highest enlisted rank even if you have minimal or no leadership skills. Ever enlisted person is required to salute any commissioned officer out of respect for the position they hold. They are saluting the position and not necessarily the person. The most effective leaders (ones with character) will have their command with the highest discipline, morale and their troops will follow them into battle even to the point of giving up ones live for the greater good if needed. Those without character have commands that never function to their full potential. It often requires leaders like a Norman Schwartzkopf to step in an assume command of a unit to bring the unit up to it’s full potential. General Schwartzkopf spent his entire career taking units that were dis-functional and brought them up to their full potential. Due to his character he had the highest respect from his troops.

One side thought. The smartest and most effective commissioned officer will follow the instructions of the senior enlisted over the junior commissioned officer, while he works to bring the junior commissioned officer up to his full potential.

“Do the right thing for the right reasons.”

Mike Henry Sr.  |  01 Feb 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Bud. The military analogy takes me to another favorite movie, Heartbreak Ridge. Even though you may not have the greatest “character,” when you lead from who you are, you generate trust. Gunny Highway (Clint Eastwood’s character) wasn’t the most respectable person but he was a character-based leader. You can only do that when you serve others. If you lead from “who you are” and you’re only doing it for yourself, eventually no one will follow you.

Thanks for the comment.
.-= Mike Henry Sr.´s last blog ..Applied Leadership =-.

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