Talking recently with a friend about leadership, we explored how we might be able to identify if others perceive us as leaders? Formal leadership roles or formal authority – such as a rank – mean we hold positions of leadership, but we have all suffered the experience of answering to someone in a position of leadership who we would describe as a poor, or even terrible, leader. If we define leadership as something we all do (offering positive influence while working with others for a common good) then we should be able to recognize when others view us as practicing leadership effectively – regardless of our formal authority.
Here are three signs we can look for in our own experiences that will offer insight into how others perceive our practice of leadership. There are certainly many more than three, and experiencing all three does not necessarily make us excellent leaders These signs are also contextual; meaning, they are not simply black or white. But they are a start. Do you experience these?
1 – People seek you out for advice. Immediately context becomes important. I’m not referring to people who could be considered subordinate to you, but to people outside your immediate sphere of influence who seek your counsel because they respect your opinions and knowledge. If this person can curry your favor or receive something of value from you, it is not the same thing. Have you ever experienced someone contacting you out of the blue, maybe having received your name and a recommendation from a third party? This is what I’m talking about. The person coming to you wants to tap into your knowledge and experience. They want to learn from your experience of creating positive influence. While not necessarily saying it, they view you as a leader in your field or on a specific topic.
2- Dissent is freely given. When you are responsible (again, either formally or informally) for meetings, conferences, or discussions, do others feel free to dissent with others and – most importantly – you? An effective leader will encourage and sustain an environment where others feel confident they can dissent without repercussions. Leaders who allow dissenting opinions to be heard, discussed, and considered show they value everyone’s input. Not only are these leaders more likely to learn more and discover additional options, they promote cohesion among team members. Everyone feels they are part of the effort. On the other hand, if you do have formal authority over a group, and you do not hear dissenting views, if your subordinates just look at you and nod their heads, well, you are in trouble. You need to take a close look at your leadership practices. Effective leaders tolerate dissent, but never silence.
3 – You self-develop your leadership knowledge and skills. How often do you study topics related to leadership without being mandated? Attending a leadership course or listening to a speaker arranged through your employer doesn’t count. Do you have a real interest in the practice of leadership that inspires you to study and learn, to consistently develop your knowledge, traits, and skills? Do you notice how effective leaders are effective in many different settings? That’s because the practice of effective leadership crosses boundaries; a good leader will want to foster effective leadership practices regardless of the setting. Notice I’m not saying leaders will want to lead regardless of setting, but their positive influence will be felt. Leaders like to practice – or perform – leadership. If this description fits you, great! If you just like being “in charge”, it is time to reassess your practice of leadership.
Here is one extra sign: You regularly take time to examine your practice of leadership. So take a few minutes and look closely at your recent experiences to see if any of these three signs apply to you. Honest self-reflection is the most critical trait for a leader. If you like what you see, great. If what you see needs to be changed, start today. It is never too late to become a better leader.