REALity Question: How do you know when you’re ready to lead?

For the past six months, I’ve had the pleasure of working with an individual on our team who is being groomed to lead at the next level. For months we’ve been giving this person additional leadership responsibilities without the comfort of a title. Leading without the title has allowed her to focus on influencing and serving teammates instead of being in charge of teammates.

As we discussed the sacrifices and accountability associated with leading, she asked an incredible question:

“How do you know when you’re ready to lead?”

Wow! I loved this question for a lot of reasons but mainly because of what it showed me about the seriousness and respect this person had for the call to lead. I believe leadership is a calling, and when a person is called to something, their commitment and awareness to its importance is heightened.

Here is how I know when someone is ready to lead:

  • Teammates (including the boss) view the individual as a go to person before they have a title. They look to them for advice, assistance, direction, etc. on projects.
  • The person is eager to lead without the title. They are happy to serve as a project lead or in some other role that enables them to help the team succeed. They assume these sort of roles without asking for additional compensation, yet they still accept the sacrifices that leading can bring.
  • They understand and follow through on being responsible for others’ development and growth.
  • They don’t run from conflict. They “man or woman up” and address issues with care and candor, even with peers in another department.
  • They approach their call to lead with humility and a concern to serve well, yet that healthy style is balanced with a level of competence and urgency for excellent performance.
  • Their ego is under control, and they are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Other titled leaders in the organization want access to or speak highly of this person.

Now let’s have some fun and answer this question in reverse!

How do you know when someone is NOT ready to lead?

  • They act very different in front of other titled leaders than they do around teammates and peers.
  • They campaign or politick for promotions because of tenure, education, money, title, prestige, etc.
  • They go power hungry nuts when given just the slightest bit of authority over other teammates on a project.
  • Their emotions overpower their poise. They yell, ignore, blame, and/or walk out when things don’t go well.
  • Their teammates fear the thought of having to work for them.

I know you grinned when you read a few of these. I actually got a kick thinking them through, not because I made them up but because I’ve actually seen these actions before!

So, what do you think? Leaders, how did you know when you – or other teammates – were ready to lead?

It is exciting and amazing what the next generation learns as they watch good and bad leadership. We can learn from both!


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  • Daniel Rose says:

    Hi There,
    I think your second point is the most important:
    “The person is eager to lead without the title.”
    To me this conveys how true leaders exist at all levels within organizations, usually not related to managerial levels.
    Thanks for the article
    Daniel

  • Julie says:

    What do you do about the “not ready to lead?” Are there some people who just won’t make good leaders – period – no matter how much they want to lead because of their personality or some other characteristic that is just part of who they are?

    • linda says:

      Yes! Unfortunately some people, even those who want to really bad, won’t be able to lead. The most important element of leading is to have followers. Followers get to decide whether or not they follow and if you are not cut out to lead chances of having followers are low.

      I am not saying people can’t learn to lead. I wasn’t born to lead, but I do believe I had the talent in me to lead, then I learned to lead, then I was called to lead.

      A person can be “appointed” to a leader “position.” But the followers can’t be appointed. They are earned.

      Thanks for your question Julie. Excellent one to ponder!