There are leaders, and then there are people who think they are leaders. How can you tell which is which?
Well, if you spent 30 minutes in a room--say, in a meeting--with an executive or manager, you could probably detect a few telltale signs, within minutes, that someone just isn't cut out to be in the privileged role of a leader.
Here are my five picks:
1. They interrupt you mid-sentence.
You're in the middle of a presentation which you've prepared in advance for days, or you're stating key points during an important strategy discussion that appears to have everyone on board, and then it happens: Your senior manager abruptly derails the lively conversation to steer it in a direction that favors his personal agenda. The tension in the room is palpable, as people shift uncomfortably in their chairs as the "leader" flexes the biceps of his positional status.
2. They speak more than they listen.
You've probably experienced this in your one-on-one meetings with the boss: You have an idea or solution to a problem that you know will work, but within minutes and with little reason or explanation, you're being told, "It's not going to work." It's not you, really. Here's the thing: Controlling, top-down bosses who only see things their way have a hard time detaching from their own inner voice to consider other voices because they think they're always right. Great leaders won't make that mistake. They learn to be present and in the moment and truly listen nonjudgmentally. Because when they do, they'll hear peoples' objections and fears -- and also their great ideas and solutions.
3. They are not open to feedback.
Want to witness a person lacking leadership skills in a matter of minutes? Ask someone in a management role, "Can I give you some feedback?" and see how he or she reacts. If that person responds by openly welcoming constructive feedback from a trusted source (perhaps a mentor, coach, or another respected leader further down the path), he or she is showing good leadership skills and is willing to learn and improve upon his or her current situation. Insecure leaders operating from hubris rarely listen to advice and counsel from different opinions and perspectives. You won't find them typically leveraging wise feedback to keep themselves out of trouble or steer themselves in the right direction.
4. They can't control their emotions.
I once was part of an executive team with a colleague suffering from anger-management problems. Within minutes of a decision or direction not to his liking, his fuse was lit and he would march down hallways instigating trouble with unmanageable emotions. Likable and well-respected leaders rise above the drama, disputes, gossip, and finger-pointing. They are cool-tempered instead of quick-tempered, patient and slow to anger, and wise enough to keep calm and understand the circumstances around them.
5. They are never at fault.
The team botched the delivery of a client project and now it's time to debrief to learn from the mistakes that were made. Because it was a team effort, a true team-leader, wired at the core for accountability, will take responsibility for failure and be the first to admit fault rather than pointing fingers and looking to throw someone under the bus. When faced with a similar scenario in the same meeting, a headstrong and unrelenting boss will never admit to making a mistake (and you can tell within minutes). For people working under such a boss, when employees make mistakes, it's never safe for them to risk being open enough to say, "Hey boss, I messed up." They won't and can't say this because there's a lack of trust in the work environment.