There’s no clear-cut path to leadership, and plenty of entrepreneurs go through life plagued by doubts that they really aren't cut out for leadership. By the same token, plenty of people with few managerial responsibilities never take a shot at leading—or even get a chance to.
But we now know that leadership isn't about some inherent quality or qualities. It's a series of experiences and habits, gathered over time, that lay the foundation for leading. So even if you don't see yourself as a leader, there’s a real possibility that you’re cut out to become one. You could very well be the prime candidate to take charge, inspire others, and help them grow. Here are a few signs that you’re a leader, even if you didn’t know it.
Whether or not you're a leader, the fact remains that no one achieves success without some measure of failure. That's why we've grown so used to hearing about how failing can create opportunities to learn and do better the next time.
What tends to differentiate leaders, though, is the severity of their failures. Put simply, great leaders have usually failed harder than most. And while it isn't true entirely across the board, the depth of your failure can sometimes be a good litmus test for leadership—something that indicates the degree of risk you allow yourself to take. It's discouraging when some of them fall flat, but leaders ultimately learn how necessary that is for long-term success.
So have a look at your past failures: What have they taught you? Chances are, you may have learned enough from them to take on leadership responsibilities with those insights as your guide.
More and more these days, we tend to recognize that a key characteristic of great leaders is their modesty. Sure, they’re confident in themselves, but they know that there’s always more to learn. They approach every interaction as a chance to gain a new perspective, knowing it can change just about everything. It doesn’t matter who you’re speaking with—everyone can teach you something.
If that's your attitude, it's a great foundation for becoming a leader. Embracing this mind-set means you value everyone’s input, which not only helps you build loyalty among those you're hoping to lead, but helps lead you to make better decisions when you do.
The most effective leaders tend to be the most authentic. They're focused on being themselves above all else. It's true that they want to inspire and be great, but they don't want to do it falsely or by hiding behind a persona. It’s a sad truth, but a fair number of entrepreneurs spend more time carefully managing their public profile than they do in the trenches, working on their business.
If you're the sort of person who's stayed away from leadership because the apparent need to self-promote doesn't appeal to you, you might be in luck: That type of artificial bombast doesn't take leaders as far as you may think. Appearances are important, but the best leaders are loved because they’re unabashedly themselves.
It goes without saying that leadership takes hard work. Great leaders aren’t figureheads that comfortably sit in a private office; they’re the ones working just as hard as everyone else and deliberately placing themselves on the front lines. They know that greatness comes from getting their hands dirty. It might not occur to you that your powerful work ethic is a leadership quality all by itself, but the fact is that it's one of the most basic tools a leader can use.
Because they're so dedicated and immersed in things, leaders know what work has to get done in order to move ahead. That's where communication comes in. A friend of mine, Rob Grosshandler of iConsumer, tells me, "Leaders step up when things get difficult. Whether it’s a crisis, or just a tough situation, great leaders insert themselves, gather the troops, instill a sense of calm, scope out the situation, and then act."
Sometimes, he says, "All they’re initially communicating is the fact that they recognize there’s a problem. Then they do what they say they’re going to do." In other words, leadership isn't just talk—communication is all about supporting hard work and seeing it through.
Finally, great leaders don’t work only to satisfy their clients; they go the extra mile to ensure that everyone around them is happy as well. Take Southwest Airlines as an example, a company that’s known for how well it strives to treat employees. Believing that if team members aren’t happy, customers won’t be happy, CEO Gary Kelly works for his team, not the other way around.
You may be cut out for leadership if you're also passionate about collaborating with your colleagues and making sure everyone pulls together. Marcus Robinson, CEO and founder of hospitality technology company Monscierge, puts it perfectly: "I make it a point to know where each one of my team members wants to be in life when they finish ‘growing up.’ Even if Monscierge isn’t long term for them, I know that if I am contributing to their achieving set goals of perhaps owning a hotel one day, or getting a pilot's licence, that I’m building a world-class team. I strive to invest in people, not just employ them."
In other words, you may think aspiring to leadership is mainly about personal development, but you have to want to help others grow even more.