One of the best definitions of leadership is by John C. Maxwell. According to him, a leader is a person who influences others. This definition is flexible and recognizes all forms of leadership. You can be a leader in your circle of friends or family, in your community, and at work. 

This means that leadership is something that can move from person to person and it’s a quality that anyone can learn. 

When it comes to effective leadership, science shows that there are certain things leaders do or possess that makes them influence others in a positive way. Let’s look at what research can tell us about what makes a good leader and how we can follow the same behaviors to influence others too. 

The carrot or the stick? Research says carrot

There’s an all too pervasive myth that leaders need to be ‘in charge’ and drive their team or employees to perform. We’re familiar with aggressive and dominating traits in leadership. However, it’s clear that such characteristics don’t work in the long run. Leaders who are harsh and abusive towards their employees are unable to keep good people at the company for long. 

Managerial studies find that difficult leadership leads to greater theft and wastage. The ‘stick’ doesn’t work.

It’s leaders who are empathetic and encouraging who get the best out of people. After all, when 79% of employees claim that their reason for leaving a good job is a lack of appreciation, being a compassionate leader is a necessity rather than a preference.  

So, to become a better leader, you need to use the ‘carrot’ approach by making strong behavioral changes. The next sections will show you how that’s possible.  

A leader’s behavior changes that of others

One of the most profound findings in brain science is that we possess mirror neurons. In any relationship dynamic, our brains don’t work as independently as we think. When we interact with others, our minds fuse into a single system and we feel empathy towards each other. We understand each other and communicate. 

This is possible because of mirror neurons. Good leaders are communicative and also receptive to their employees’ moods. There’s brain chemistry coming into play when you smile, nod, or speak with a happier tone. 

To be a great leader, be aware that whatever emotions you display through your body language and voice will spark the same emotions in other people. Their mirror neurons light up when they see your facial expressions and read your ‘language’. 

There is an enormous social aspect to being a good leader. Mastering active listening skills and other positive traits will help you get more out of people. 

Your gut feeling comes from the brain

The term ‘gut feeling’ is your intuition expressing itself through the body. We feel it as a solid block in our stomach area. When we think of doing something that’s contrary to what our gut tells us, we feel uncomfortable and even strong negative emotions. 

There’s neurobiological research that shows that the spindle cells in our brains play a significant role in creating intuitive insights. These cells fire information in one-twentieth of a second, much faster than our conscious minds can process. They are powerful aspects of our being especially when we’re in critical situations.

As a leader, you’ll need to make spot decisions on people and situations. Gut-feelings are often correct and they from information that our minds have collected but haven’t brought to light yet. So, to be a better leader, learn to rely on your gut but also to take in input and guage people’s moods and attitudes. 


It’s possible to emulate great leadership and to influence others at work and in personal life situations. We’ve looked at powerful research showcasing the science behind impactful leaders. Learn to listen more actively, develop empathy, and to trust your gut. You’ll become a good leader; after all, the science backs it up.