What makes a good leader in today's world?

Did you end your summer break in a state of utter confusion over what it takes to be a great leader in today’s world? With John Key stepping down late last year, Donald Trump winning the US election and Helen Clark* stepping down from UN – it got us thinking. Are there any traits that these successful leaders have in common that are relevant to the business world?

There are many different names and classifications of leadership styles from the 8 Myers Briggs types to the theories based on traits of power and influence. However, a recent HBR article distilled all this thinking and proposed that good bosses switch between just two leadership styles.

These two leadership styles are referred to as dominance and prestige.

The Italian philosopher and political strategist Machiavelli famously wrote that ‘[People] are driven by two principal impulses, either by love or by fear.’ The best leaders succeed by understanding both.

Working with NZ’s top business people, we tend to agree. Here we look at these two styles and when to use each one to effectively lead the people around you.


Leading with prestige means influencing others by being a role model and being respected for their expertise and wisdom. Prestige-oriented leaders often give others the autonomy to set direction and follow through on their plans, while providing support and direction when needed.

This style of management is important when ‘buy in’ is required for a major business initiatives or organisational change affecting employees. This style often takes longer to implement and the manager requires ‘runs on the board’ with staff to earn respect and model required behaviour.


Leading with dominance means that leaders achieve their goals by asserting their role as the boss. In meetings, they do most of the talking and set the direction for the meeting and the business. Dominance-oriented leaders make decisions and expect everyone to follow their lead.

A dominant style can be very divisive and a leader predominantly using this style runs the risk of losing allies or friendships in the organisation. However, if there is a clear mandate and decision that needs to be actioned in the organisation, leading with dominance can be very effective. It can be an effective way to create a unified front.

Switching between the two

The best leaders understand and employ both leadership styles within their business as needed. Being aware of the two styles and adapting your approach based on the situation, environment and people around you, enables you to bring people with you and always lead with influence.