How to Identify a Leader

Leadership is a combination of inherited and acquired characteristics. Even if your genes didn’t make you a ‘natural’ leader you can certainly learn a lot about leadership if you’re called upon to lead.

Natural leaders stand out – they’re easy to identify. Identifying those that have the potential to become leaders is a much harder process but it’s what every business owner has to do when looking for team members to promote into supervisory or management positions.

The business world is rapidly changing to a new concept of leadership. Instead of looking for some sort of tribal leader at the top of a corporation who can drive the masses beneath, directors are coming to see the value of a ‘leadership team’ approach where a group of leaders drives the company. This creates a greater need for development of leadership skills, but how can you spot the best candidates for the leadership team?

Look at past performance first. Who has been able to define a vision and motivate others to go with it? Who has shown the willingness to take on a challenge and enjoyed accomplishing something noteworthy? This is what leaders do.

Motivating others begins with energy and commitment. Leaders infuse those they lead with their own energy. They obtain a commitment from others to achieve the goals they’ve set. They provide the force that drives the engine and harness the power of their followers.

Leaders are often impatient, but constructively so. They aren’t the kind of people who complain but do nothing to change the situation. If they perceive a fault they also look for a way to fix the problem – not some fanciful solution but a practical approach.

Decision-making is part of leadership. Leaders don’t spend a lot of time pondering issues; they make a decision and get on with it. Their role is moving forward, and standing still while conducting internal debates is not something they tolerate in themselves.

Another characteristic of leadership is a willingness to take responsibility. Leaders do this instinctively because it’s the way they can have the satisfaction of achieving goals. They want to take the responsibility for a task and see it through to a satisfactory conclusion.

The military is a good proving ground for leaders. It’s where another leadership factor is especially important – mental toughness. “The loneliness of command” is very real and it takes a special kind of person to combine mental toughness with genuine leadership abilities.

Just as good officers are respected by their troops, leaders enjoy the respect of their peers. It’s as instinctive to follow a leader as it is for some to lead. A good leader is respected for those qualities of leadership that are recognized by those he or she leads.

Leaders are good listeners. They ask questions and are sincerely interested in the answers they receive. By being good listeners they get to understand those whom they lead – their issues and concerns as well as knowing their feelings and encouraging their contributions.

And finally comes a quality that is often called ‘character’. True leaders are looked up to as role models. They exemplify what others would like to be but usually aren’t, at least not to the same degree. This is not to imply that leaders are arch-conservatives; far from it. They’re usually seen as bold and daring, but with integrity and responsibility as character traits.

Leaders are trustworthy - people respond best to those they trust. Trustworthiness is an absolute requirement of any leader. A person in a position of leadership who doesn’t tell the truth will soon lose the support of followers.

One ability all leaders seem to have is the ability to see leadership potential in others and develop it. Leaders have a drive to make the most of everything and everybody – a desire to help others become leaders if the potential is there. They make excellent mentors and are happy to share their knowledge with others.

We’ve already said that leadership skills can be learned. So, you’ve worked hard at becoming a leader and you believe that you’re ready to take on leadership challenges. How do you convince others that you’re now ready to lead?

Well, even natural leaders can be overlooked for a while, and that certainly applies to those who are working to acquire leadership skills. But the answer’s very simple. If you’re really ready to be a leader, the others will know.




Copyright 2003, RAN ONE Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from

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