What are the signs of a good leader, and how the heck are you supposed to become one? It’s not like there was a “Leadership 101” course in high school.
Speaking of school, remember what a shock it was when you graduated?
Up to that point, you’d been learning English, math, science, and history for most of your life. You were tested, grilled, and graded on those subjects as if your whole future depended on them.
Then – rather abruptly – you’re out in the real world and expected to make serious choices, like an adult, that can affect the rest of your life.
What are you going to do for a living? How are you going to achieve that? How are you going to finance it?
And how does knowing the first five decimals of the Pi formula help with any of this??
We’re all just sort of expected to figure it out.
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Getting promoted can be a similar shock. For months, perhaps even years, you’ve been shown how to do your job, and you know it so well that you could do it in your sleep.
Maybe you even know how to do everyone else’s job in your sleep. You know how to act professionally and pick out the perfect corporate outfit for that big meeting coming up.
But when you get promoted, there’s a sudden realization that this has little to do with your new responsibility, which is managing a team of people.
Knowing the business operations like the back of your hand is one thing. But managing and leading? When did anyone ever show you how to do that? How do you even know you’ll make a good leader? Do leaders really eat last? (And why??)
At least, I know this is how I felt when I first got promoted.
These days, there are some fantastic online resources that you can utilize to start learning the skills you need to be a leader.
The Top Signs of a Good Leader
If you’re still worried you might suck at it, don’t panic. Take an honest look at your career history. There are a few less obvious signs that you might be better suited to leadership than you think:
1. You truly want the business to succeed
For you, the opportunity to lead isn’t just about a bigger paycheque. You genuinely care about the company vision and want to contribute to its success.
You might even have ideas for how to streamline workflow or make improvements to existing processes.
Believe it or not, you’re part of a minority. And while that doesn’t automatically mean you’re the ideal leader, you’re starting out with the right foundation.
2. You adapt well to new situations
As we’ve talked about before, adaptability is one of the most important soft skills you can have. This is all the more true for those in a leadership position.
Leaders need to be able to forge ahead and try new things to improve the business. Not only that, they need to know how to react to the unexpected with a level head – such as when there’s a big change in work volume, or their star team member resigns out of the blue.
Especially in today’s work environment where people rarely stay in the same role for more than a few years, you have probably already experienced your fair share of change. Think back to a few of those instances. How quickly did you adapt?
3. You are receptive to constructive criticism
Although leaders and managers are often associated with people with “strong personalities” who can be stubborn in their views, a truly good leader needs to have an objective perspective on what’s going on within the workplace. This can be one of the most difficult parts of the job because we often think we’re being objective when we’re not.
It’s in these moments when actually listening to criticism – whether it comes from your superiors or your reports – that makes or breaks your ability to manage effectively.
Sometimes it’s painful or feels like a blow to your ego, and that’s normal. But if you can still see the truth in what is being said, and then take the necessary action to improve things accordingly, that is the difference between managers who are effective and those who put their pride ahead of the greater good.
4. You care about and value the team you work with
One of the trademark qualities of a good leader is that they understand they can’t succeed without their team. If you have a collaborative attitude, you’re more likely to know and value the individual strengths of your coworkers.
You don’t take the credit for other people’s wins, and you don’t blame mishaps on any one person. Having a good rapport with your team members while they are still your peers builds their trust in your integrity, and are more likely to rally behind you once they become your reports.
5. You’re not afraid to make decisions
Leaders are expected to make decisions all the time – and sometimes these choices are hard. Even though up to this point in your career, you may not have had to make any big decisions, you still make smaller decisions all the time in your day-to-day.
You don’t panic if you need to make a call on a time-sensitive issue. You make the best choice you can based on the information you have. Even if it ended up being the wrong choice, you’re at least confident in your explanation as to why you made the call you did.
6. You either want to lead, or your superiors want you to lead
If you’re reading this, it means you’re either aspiring to one day lead a team of people, or your superiors have hinted at or offered you a leadership role. Believe it or not, part of being a good leader is just being willing to do it.
There’s a lot of people out there who would simply rather not have the responsibility. (And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that either!)
Maybe you feel you fall into this category, and it is your superiors who are nudging you along to leadership. Chances are this is because they’ve seen the signs of a good leader in you, even if it’s something you haven’t seen in yourself.
Don’t discount that!
7. The #1 sign of a good leader is if you’re worried that you won’t be a good leader
One of the signs you will be a good leader is that you’re terrified you’ll be horrible at it. It may sound counterintuitive but hear me out:
You already recognize the fact that knowing the work inside and out doesn’t directly translate to effective leadership. The fact that you’re aware of this and are worried about being an effective leader already puts you ahead of many people already in leadership roles who still haven’t made this connection.
Remember that everyone who leads starts out having never led anyone before. But if you want to, you will figure it out, just like your bewildered, high school-graduate self-did.
No, being in a leadership role isn’t easy, and knowing how to effectively manage a team isn’t something you can learn overnight. I’ve been in a leadership role of some kind for the past five years and I’ll be the first to admit I still mess up sometimes and am still learning every day.
So long as you continue to rise to the challenge and strive to be better than you were before, you’re already a wiser leader than many!
Do you show any of these signs of a good leader? Did I miss any? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!