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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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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.

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.

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.

Last updated: Jun 18, 2013

LES MCKEOWN | Columnist

Les McKeown is the President & CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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