Are you a true leader? Or are you more of a happy follower?

It’s important to ask these questions without judgment. Some people--maybe most people--are simply better suited as followers. They’re often wonderful human beings, highly professional in their individual roles, fun to be around--but they don’t think of themselves as visionaries. In some ways, they’re a lot luckier than their peers.

Then, there are others who aren't satisfied with that role. These are the kinds of people who long to change the world, or at least the part of it they inhabit. Only, they often get stuck with bad habits and attitudes that undermine their success.

Are you falling into these traps? Here are 10 of the most important warning signs.

1. You don't understand money.

You don't have to be an investment wizard, but you do have to understand basic financial concepts--say, for example, how compound interest works. This applies even to leaders outside of business, because if you’re concerned about paying for basic needs, it’s hard to focus your mind on more visionary pursuits. Bonus question: Do you have the courage to live below your means until your means no longer matter?

2. You can’t visualize success or project confidence.

We've talked a lot lately about what it means to be a true professional. Part of this has to do with competence as a leader, but it also has to do with simply giving yourself permission to be successful. You will be in a minority. Bonus question: Do you believe you are worthy of greatness?

3. You're self-centered, rather than other-centered.

Great leaders are focused on goals, but they’re also focused on improving the lives of those around them. That applies when they’re developing products and services that drive revenue, and it applies when there is no obvious benefit for them to do so. Bonus question: Why would others buy into your vision if they perceive that it benefits you but not them?

4. You aren't willing to put in the work.

Some very successful leaders will tell you that there are no shortcuts, but that’s a bit misleading. Most successful people put in long hours, but they spend much of their time doing things they’d do even if they weren’t paid for it. So you need to find ways to work that are both internally and externally rewarding. Bonus question: Are you more focused on activities or outcomes?

5. You don't know how to take smart risks.

Building a business or becoming a leader is not inherently risky; in fact, when done right, these activities are often no riskier than other courses of action. However, you have to learn to perceive risks correctly, and make decisions based on the potential gain versus the potential risk. Bonus question: Do you know how to calculate a risk-adjusted return?

6. You're overly attached to a single vision of success.

It's been said that plans are useless but planning is priceless. The same thing applies to visualizing success; your ultimate goal should change as you learn and experience more in life. Bonus question: How much do you care about the degree to which other people perceive you as successful?

7. You're not committed to learning.

We all know people who think they know everything, but this fault can apply to those of us who have had lengthy formal educations, as well. For many of us, formal education can be like a new car that you buy off the lot in that the value of the specific things you learn depreciates almost immediately. Bonus question: When was the last time you were brave enough to put yourself in a position where you were the least knowledgeable person?

8. You don’t know how to communicate.

Having vision means little if you can’t explain it to others persuasively. This applies both to the words you use and the attitude and behaviors you exhibit. Bonus question: Are you able to communicate in a way that puts the focus on others’ needs?

9. You have unrealistic perceptions of security.

This is the counterpoint of taking smart risks. People often stay quiet and fail to emerge as leaders because they’re afraid to give up the perceived security that comes from inaction. The truth is that very little is truly secure in our world. Even those with the safest corporate or public jobs are truly holding on at the whims of others. Bonus question: Do you have enough faith in yourself to let go?

10. You suffer from “frog in water” syndrome.

We all know the boiling frog experiment, right? Whether or not it’s legitimate, it’s used as a metaphor for the suggestion that people will endure a bad situation that develops gradually much longer than they’d endure the same situation if it were thrust upon them. For many among us, being stuck in a world where we’re not perceived as leaders is a boiling water problem. Bonus question: When it’s time to jump, how willing are you to do so?

Published on: Jul 22, 2015
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