Four Steps to Becoming a Leader

In 2006 Larry Reynolds published four steps, or qualities, that he believed are essential to leaders in all circumstances and situations.

I love this list (and his leadership philosophy)!

It makes everything so simple. It is easy to remember and it captures the essence of leadership. Ok, it doesn't cover all of the skills but if you really want to be a leader - work at these four steps and develop the skills around them. You will then be seen as having the essential characteristics of leadership by your followers.

Here they are.

  1. Challenge the status quo.
  2. True leaders do not accept things as they are. They question and challenge what is there now and provoke others to do the same. Sometimes they spend some time out of favour for doing so. If they did not challenge, they would merely be following and would not be leaders.

    The military, politics, business and sport all have well-known examples of such leaders. Horatio Nelson, Winston Churchill, James Dyson and Alf Ramsey all challenged the received wisdom in their fields and, despite having to face up to sceptics, all are now household names in the UK.

  3. Articulate a vision.
  4. Challenging the status quo without proposing a more attractive alternative won’t get you known as a leader. Leaders are positive people. As Napoleon said, “Leaders have to be dealers in hope.” Leaders achieve this by developing a vision of a better future.

    For Nelson it was an England free from the threat of invasion from across the channel. For Churchill it was a future without Nazism. For Dyson it was high performance vacuuming without the inconvenience of a bag. For Ramsey it was an England football side playing as a team and winning the World Cup.

    According to Reynolds, many company visions fail because they are not clear, exciting and achievable.

  5. Win commitment to the vision.
  6. Having challenged the status quo, and articulated a vision, the leader now has to win support and commitment for that vision. Successful political leaders know that unless they connect with the hearts and minds of the electorate, the electorate won’t back them. Winning commitment means getting close to people, understanding their needs, concerns and aspirations. It means communicating the vision in a way that makes sense and is believable.

    Many would argue that Tony Blair well exemplifies the truth of this point; from both his ability to connect to the British electorate when he came to power in 1997 and his loss of that connection over the Iraq war.

  7. Do the right thing.
  8. Reynolds’ final essential quality of a leader is about the morality and ethics of leadership. With our inquisitorial media, leaders in the public eye cannot get away with allowing their private life to be at odds with how the public, or their followers, expect them to behave. He compares John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton to demonstrate how private behaviour was hidden from the public in the 1960’s but exposed in the 1990’s.

    Leaders in less high profile positions should similarly remember that what they say and what they do should be consistent. In my experience, the lack of consistency in senior management behaviour is the most frequently used basis for questioning the intentions behind management initiatives.

    Trust and respect are only earned over time, yet can be lost in a careless instant. Integrity and ethics have never been more important issues for leaders. And in a more cynical, less deferential, world, leaders who do not walk the talk, who do not act as they wish their followers to act, can find that they no longer have any followers.

As with Reynolds’ original paper, I have selected above publicly known leaders to illustrate these qualities and to link the steps. If you can provide me with examples from your own organisation or experience, I will be very pleased to update this page with their story!

My tip for you, learning to be a leader? Use these four steps or qualities, follow them in sequence to develop your leadership thinking. Use the skills and qualities lists to help you, but follow Larry Reynold's four steps as an easy to remember guide.


Reynolds, L. (2006), “What is leadership, anyway?”, Training Journal, April 2006 edition, pp16-18.

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