The 4 Quadrants of Leadership

Many leaders hear about strategic planning and say, “That’s great. Fine Strategic Planning 101. I know I should be doing that, but I’m not.” Strategic planning flourishes or fails solely due to leadership.

So, we need to ask ourselves individually and as organizations where are we on this leadership journey. To help with that, in the last year we’ve created a map. We call it the “4 Quadrants of Leadership.”

Let’s look at the map. The first axis “external or internal.” “External and internal” relates to where you get your cues for your leadership style. Are you getting them externally? Or are you checking your intuition and your experience?

The second axis is the confidence axis, from “unsure to confident.” How confident do you feel about your leadership ability? Or how unsure of yourself do you feel? In our research, almost 80% of nonprofit leaders expressed a lack of confidence in their leadership ability. Counter intuitively, we think this lack of confidence is actually a step in maturing as a leader.

Quadrant 1 Leadership is the “Observe” stage. This is typically the new leader. These are people that get the title, and they’re so excited! “I’m a leader! I’ve seen great leaders and I know I just need to copy what they’re doing. I’ll do the same things here and this is gonna be awesome!”

The best part about the Observe quadrant is you learn who the right people to follow are. You also learn how to follow them well. You learn what activities great leaders do. You become really skilled analyzing people, looking at people’s styles and work habits. You ask questions like, “How did you plan before you did that?” And “What do you do after that?” Learning these skills makes Quadrant 1 a really good quadrant to be in.

But, if you’ve ever been in that quadrant, excited and full of exuberance, only to turn around and realize…no one’s following.

If you’re a leader and there’s no one following…you’re just out for a walk.

This begins the movement into Quadrant 2. You’re confidence starts going down and you start wondering why this isn’t working out the way you expected. It looked so easy with those other leaders. And you begin to wonder, “If it doesn’t work, maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I’m not a leader.”

This is the strength of Quadrant 2 Leadership. You continue looking for external answers. You read books, listen to podcasts, download courses, go to conferences. You’re looking for the formula. Looking to “crack the code.” You are enticed by titles like “the seven steps to creating a compelling vision” or “time management tips for super heroes.”

This “Experiment” quadrant is great cause you learn to learn. You learn how to consume information. You discover if you learn best with audio, written word, or when moving around. If you’re an experience learner, a kinesthetic learner. You learn what things are helpful and you consume as much as you can.

For example, you may read Getting Things Done and get excited about how writing lists will change your life. You gain a sense of control over all that comes at you.

But you move into Quadrant 3 Leadership when you start realizing…Getting Things Done doesn’t work for you. And that’s ok. In this “Analyze” stage, you look for the parts of each system that work for you. While the entire system doesn’t work for you, perhaps the concept of writing an action item with every to-do does. Maybe it’s exactly what you need to help you grow.

This quadrant is where you start looking at your internal cues. And trusting them. You start to give yourself permission to assemble a style that is uniquely yours. And you start trusting yourself to be able to make judgment calls.

Quadrant 3 leaders are wonderful. They grow by looking at their hardwiring, their identity, and their process for setting goals. These help them discover their personal style, their values, and their own mission.

As you increasing grow in confidence with this internal analysis of external cues, you move into Quadrant 4 Leadership, the stage of the “Focused Leader.” You know how to follow the right people, how to find mentors. You are educating yourself with the right books and the right tools. And you are confident enough to be able to pick-and-choose the parts that will help you.

Because of this, you become skilled at creating a culture of learning in your organization. And of being able to guide leaders through the 4 Quadrants.

This map works for organizations too. Many, many organizations get stuck in Quadrant 2 Leadership. These organizations lurch from initiative to initiative. One month it’s “Fish Sticks.” The next it’s the “One Minute Manager.” Rather than sticking with one and making it work with your organization, they completely abandon the one that doesn’t work perfectly in a desperate attempt to find one that will. Rather than building a learning organization that comes from the self-reflective analysis of Quadrant 3 Leadership, this lurching from program to program build cynicism and resentment.

We are each leaders. None of us are victims of the places that we work in. When we have a map, we can discover where we are on the leadership journey. And figure out what our next step is.

One next step is to use the 4 Quadrant Assessment tool. You can download it for free at Another is to use the Values Inventory to help uncover your personal values and those of your organization. You can download the for free at

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Leadership style - Charismatic