How Do I Know If I Have What It Takes To Be A Good Leader?

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leadership traits

This is a question I am often asked – whether I believe someone has what it takes to be a good leader or not. There are many false notions circulating about what leadership means and what it takes to showcase effective leadership. This is why it’s difficult for many to fairly evaluate their effectiveness. Some people believe that leadership is something that starts once a particular title is attained or that in any team or population, that there is room for only one leader with everyone else being a follower.

Clearly, to evaluate our leadership effectiveness, we need to examine how well we are able to produce the outcomes of effective leadership. The difficulty is sorting out what results are the actual outcomes of leadership and what outcomes are the potential side-effects. In this article, we will focus on the very primal outcomes of leadership out of which all other benefits of effective leadership are derived.

People Are Following

Very simply, if someone is a leader, there must be people who are following. It’s the literal definition of the word “leader”. We must, however, be careful to distinguish “following” from “reporting to”. By “following”, I mean people who are actively seeking that individual for advice on difficult problems. There are many corporate managers and officers who make decisions, but when that individual leaves the company, how many of those reporting to her still seek her out? If you find that people tend to seek you out for serious advice on their issues, it’s a good indication that they perceive you as a leader.

You Are Less Surprised By The Outcome of Uncertain Events

Studies have shown that most animals operate on a cause and effect type learning. That is, animals experience situations and then draw conclusions based on their experience. Humans, on the other hand, tend to draw conclusions first and then look for and favor data that supports their conclusions while ignoring information that would weaken their conclusions. This tendency is called confirmation bias. The more emotionally charged a topic is, the more likely it will be that people will have a confirmation bias.

Clearly, there is an innate blindness in such a bias and the most obvious symptom is surprise in the outcome of an uncertain event. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area is the world capitol of innovation and start-up ideas. Over the years, I have heard countless individuals describe start up strategies that seem impervious to failure. Yet, we know that, statistically speaking, most start up ideas are never able to become profitable. Nevertheless, it never fails that each time a start up company needs to shutter its doors, those involved are often shocked and dejected.

A genuine leader grows in their ability to see data objectively and make decisions with clarity on the possible outcomes, both favorable and unfavorable.

You Make Decisions Which Favor Lasting Results

Having a clear appreciation for the possible outcomes is important, but it’s even more critical to build a history of decisions which showcase stability and lasting results. Why? Simply put, because a reference point is what people seek in leaders.

Consider motion sickness. This is a feeling of nausea that occurs when motion perceived by the eyes and the fluid in the inner ear send conflicting messages to the brain. If you have ever experienced motion sickness, then you know how debilitating this can be. It’s also an amazingly appropriate parallel for how our lives often operate. We get innundated with advice and conflicting information on how to move forward with our lives and career. As we hit one dead end after another and chase after leads that go nowhere, our frustration and despair mount in a dizzying cycle.

The cure for motion sickness is to focus the eyes on a stationary reference. With respect to our careers, that reference is exactly what people are seeking with a leader amidst a volatile and uncertain career.

How have you measured up in these three categories? Do you have a success or challenge story to share?

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