What Makes a Leader

Calling yourself a leader does not make you a leader. Holding a position of leadership in your organization does not make you a leader. Having an important sounding title does not make you a leader. Having someone else describe you as a leader does not make you a leader.

Your promotion to a leadership position does not make you a leader, in fact the managerial skills that likely earned you the promotion are very likely holding you back as a leader.

If you’re trying to manage your people then you will always have people problems. Human beings do not respond to being managed. Actually leading your people will permanently eliminate most of the “people problems” managers face everyday. 

So, here are a handful of traits that contribute to being a leader:

Risking your success being hidden inside the success of someone else makes you a leader. 

Caring as much about the advancement of those around you as you care about your own advancement makes you a leader.

Tackling the assignments no one else will tackle makes you a leader. 

Investing your time where it’s needed rather than where you want to makes you a leader. 

Making right decisions that most people simply won’t makes you a leader.

Finding common ground where only mud previously existed makes you a leader.

Seeing the potential within every person you meet makes you a leader. 

Doing what’s right when everyone around you believes it’s wrong makes you a leader.

Working to build more leaders rather than more followers makes you a leader.

Understanding that your own success is dependent upon the success of your people makes you a leader.

Having the courage to let the best idea win, whether it’s yours or someone else’s makes you a leader.

Understanding that constant collaborative communication with your people will help them succeed makes you a leader.

A willingness to be held accountable, by anyone and everyone makes you a leader.

Being completely honest with yourself makes you a leader.

These are some of the traits that make a leader. To be sure there are more. Few leaders possess every recognized leadership characteristic but they possess more than people who do not lead.

The right to truly lead must be earned. It can’t be earned through what you say, it is earned through what you do. Leader “wannabes” tend to talk leadership, Authentic Leaders tend to do leadership. 

Are you just talking or are you doing? 

17 thoughts on “What Makes a Leader

  1. Tracy Mainieri says:

    Steve – we used this post as a discussion starter in a leadership independent study at Illinois State University I coordinate. The undergrad students (Amber, Rocco, Jordan, Derek, Brendan, and Casey) came up with some additional ways they think contribute to a leader being a leader. Thought I’d share their list!
    1) Know why you are doing something. It gives a deeper meaning to the bigger picture.
    2) Knowing that you’re going to learn more from others rather than what you teach them
    3) Knowing when to take a risk
    4) Taking the time to invest in your employees; Without their support, you won’t grow as a leader. “Make more leaders rather than followers”
    5) Working alongside your peers rather than being in the spotlight

    • Wow, all excellent additions. I particularly like No 4, the best “thing” to leave behind when you leave is more leaders, leaders that you helped develop. That truly creates a lasting legacy. Good leaders lead for a time but creating more leaders means your leadership is timeless.

  2. On many committees and work teams, I’ve seen the emergence of the ‘leaders’ you speak of. Those who talk a lot, and do very little. It’s the person who shouts about ‘someone should do this’. Thanks for your post Steve!

    • Yep, there are people in leadership positions who “say” and then there are leaders who actually “do.” Organizations do very well when they are the same person 🙂

  3. Great post! I particularly like your clarification that holding a position if authority does not class you as a leader. I’ve been making a very similar case in my thesis! Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks for your comment! It is perhaps the biggest mistake someone in a leadership position can make…assuming that their position makes them a leader.

      Leading is hard work but true leaders would tell you that the effort is always rewarding. Helping others succeed and grow never gets old.

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