How to Determine if Someone is Actually a Leader

Positions don’t make leaders, leaders make positions. I’ve said that thousands of times in presentations and many other people have said it and written it even more. Still, way too many people assume that their position makes them a leader.

It doesn’t! It doesn’t because people only follow other people, they don’t follow positions and for the record, they don’t follow fancy titles either. Leadership can come from any position in an organization as long as the person in the position is a leader.

The question is, how do you determine if someone is actually a leader.

Many people look at a person to see if they have all of the presumed leadership characteristics; integrity, good judgment, empathy, a caring nature, a positive attitude, good communication skills, and passion are some of the most commonly thought of leadership characteristics we use to measure leaders today.

But many good people can have those characteristics and still not lead. So that’s not always an accurate measure.

The bottom line of leadership is always results. If a person is influencing others in a positive manner to achieve the desired results then they are likely a leader. But you can’t really tell any of that by looking at the leader. If you really want to tell if someone is a leader then don’t look at them, look at the people following them.

The first determinant of leadership is whether or not anyone is actually following. It makes no difference what a person’s title or position is, if no one is following then they aren’t leading. When a person demonstrates that they have the capacity to consistently care about others then they earn the opportunity to lead. When you care about people then and only then will people truly follow you.

Look at the followers to determine if anyone is changing. When a person has the ability to influence the behavior of someone else it’s likely they are a leader. When they change that behavior for the better it is likely they are a good leader, maybe even an Authentic Leader, possibly even an Authentic Servant Leader. It’s important to note here that just because someone is a leader doesn’t automatically mean they are a good leader. History is filled with examples of individual leaders influencing people in a very negative way. Those individuals may meet the technical qualifications to be considered a leader but I sure wouldn’t want them leading me.

To determine if someone is leading look for signs of growth among their followers. True leaders help common people achieve uncommon results. They help people reach their full potential, often potential they didn’t even know they had. Authentic Servant Leaders help their followers become leaders in their own right. Leaders can have short-term success by building a bigger following but long-term success requires building more leaders.

So, if you want to determine if someone is a leader then don’t follow the leader, follow the people they claim to lead, their actions will tell you everything you need to know.