3 Signs You’re Meant to Be a Leader

Not everyone is cut out to be a leader. But if you have these three traits, you might be a natural born leader.

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Reading leadership literature (including this column), you’d sometimes think that it was written in the stars that everyone has the potential to be an effective leader.

I don’t believe that to be true. In fact, I see way fewer truly effective leaders than I see people stuck in positions of leadership who are woefully incompetent at worst and seriously misguided about their own abilities at best.

Part of the reason this happens is a lack of honest self-assessment by those who aspire to leadership in the first place. And so, in the interest of increasing the quality of next-generation leadership, I give you this simple three-point self-assessment tool.

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To paraphrase a certain comedian, “you might be a potential leader if…”

You lead only when you have to, not all the time. We’ve all met the type of individual who simply must take charge. Whether it’s a strategic brainstorming session, a pick-up basketball game, or a family outing, they can’t help grabbing the lead dog position and clinging on to it for dear life.

Always opinionated, usually impatient and frequently brusque, these gotta-be-in-fronters get so used to other people describing them as natural born leaders that sooner or later–to their own and everyone else’s detriment–they begin to believe it.

Truth is, they’re most always nothing of the sort. True leaders don’t presume that it’s their divine right to take charge every time two or more people get together. Quite the opposite.  A great leader will assess each situation on it’s merits, and will only take charge when their position, the situation, and/or the needs of the moment demand it.

Oh, and if you read that last paragraph with a sneaking belief that in most situations you are the right person to take charge, you’re most likely a gotta-be-in-fronter, not a leader.

You see much more than you do. Many business executives confuse leadership with action. These Tasmanian Devils believe that constant motion somehow generates leadership as a byproduct. Consequently, the more ambitious they are for a leadership role, the more furious their momentum becomes.

Leaving us mere mortals in their wake, the Tasmanian Devil works harder, faster, longer than everyone else. Faced with any situation that can’t be solved by the sheer brute force of activity, they generate a dust cloud of impatience. Their one leadership tool is volume: if they think you aren’t working as hard as they are–or as hard as they think you should–their demands become increasingly louder and more strident.

You’d think that such a blunt, one-club-fits-all mentality would preclude our action-at-all-costs executive from attaining any degree of seniority in a mature organization, but you’d be wrong. Sadly, many organizations, some of them Fortune 100 companies, encourage just such a chest-beating, fire-aim-ready definition of leadership.

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True leaders understand the value of action, of course, but it isn’t their only tool. In fact, it isn’t even their primary tool. Great leaders see more than everyone else: answers, solutions, patterns, problems, opportunities, threats. They know it’s vitally important to do, but they also know that thinking, understanding, contemplation and interpretation are equally important.

You change people. They achieve outcomes. Executive A hits his targets and burns out his team in the process. Executive B builds a great team, but they miss their goal. Which is the better leader?

It’s a false dichotomy, and sadly, one that I see in organizations all the time. A true leader is option C: someone who develops his or her team so that they can and do hit their targets, achieve their goals.

If you’re fixated on outcomes to the extent that you manipulate and bully others to achieve those outcomes (I know, you call it motivation–it isn’t), then you aren’t leading at all, you’re dictating. And don’t think this means that being a door mat is leadership either (we talked about the destructive nature of needing to be liked here). True leadership means building strong, capable teams that are goal- achievement-oriented.

Download a free chapter from the author’s book, “The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success” which provides a comprehensive model for developing yourself or others as an exceptional, world class leader.
Les McKeown is the author of the bestseller “Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization on the Growth Track–and Keeping It There” and is the CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated organizational growth. His latest book is “The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success.” @lesmckeown

14 comments
SoaTali
SoaTali

Most ppl THINK they've got qualities of a great leader. Great article indeed.

DanielCocciardi
DanielCocciardi

Great article. I want to post this up where my co-workers can see it. To add to what a leader isn't; a leader isn't someone who merely passed an exam either.

FrankBlank
FrankBlank

And the fourth, most positive sign:  You believe that making huge money for yourself by selling your company to china is Good For America.  Or to express it algebraically:  GFM=GFA.  (And you are very hip to metrics like that.)

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

"Their one leadership tool is volume: if they think you aren’t working as hard as they are–or as hard as they think you should–their demands become increasingly louder and more strident."

This quote is as applicable to parents (of the micro-manager variety) as it is to leaders.

iamwaqar
iamwaqar

Leadership is in wrong hands most of the time.. 

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

Based on personality types, this describes an INTJ person under the Briggs-Meyers personality type category.  They don't normally WANT to lead, but will if it's necessary (e.g. no one else is doing it right).  INTJ's ALWAYS know more about what's going on than they reveal.

As for the third qualification, an INTJ will probably jump in when someone is stalling (building the team and not reaching a goal) or slave-driving (reaching the goal at the expense of the team) because that's really awful leadership and they know they can do better.  Although they can be very commanding and blunt, they are also sensitive and bright enough to understand that in order to achieve goals, they have to make sure the people around them will be able to do the job not just now, but next month or next year, or even tomorrow.

If you want to find someone for a leadership position, look for an INTJ.  They're hard to spot, though, since they can be thought of by others as being cold and distant.  They don't tend to socialize very much, either.  But they will be the ones with the off-the-wall ideas that work better than what you're doing now, or the ones who spot a tiny flaw everyone else has overlooked as being insignificant that turns out to be the key to solving a problem or making things a lot better.  They're the ones who are embarrassed in the spotlight but who prefer to do things their way, because their way is usually better than the way everyone else is doing it.

Probably the easiest way to spot one is to ask what their politics are (which can be problematic in a work environment, but the other way is to ask about their religion, which is worse).  If they cleave to a single political ideology, they're almost certainly NOT an INTJ because INTJ's know neither leftist or rightist is workable within its own framework.  One is too loose, the other is too restrictive - take your pick on which is which.  The point is, neither stands as a viable way to run a country all by itself.  A blend of the best ideas of each side (aka moderation) does form a viable framework for governance - especially in a democracy where in order to govern, compromise is not only necessary, it's mandatory.

Find someone who has opinions like that and make them your CEO's chief advisor.  They work best as the power behind the throne, anyhow.

businesstrainingadvisor
businesstrainingadvisor

Interesting though I do not believe that leaders are born.  Many times leadership skills are something that can be learned.  The soft skills required to lead are not taught in any school setting and must either have come from a mentor of some sort.  I would say that it is time we teach the art of listening and feeling so that more of our youth can become leaders


KrishnHelpIndia
KrishnHelpIndia

What if I am leader and my boss is not leader. I am doomed, isn't it.

ablg234
ablg234

@DeweySayenoff I am INTJ exactly like that but nobody wants to hire me! I am currently looking for another job although I am employed. I am not even a manager!.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@KrishnHelpIndia If you can't figure out how to ease your boss out of his position and yourself into it, you're not a leader to begin with.