How do you know if you are a leader?

I have been thinking about what leadership means recently. Triggered in part by a question I was asked: how do you know if you’re a leader? 


What is leadership?

Defining leadership is really hard because everyone has a different opinion on what leadership is and what makes a good leader. Do they have good business acumen? Can they set a vision? Are they empathetic? A good leader can be any or all of these things and more. Each influences how a person leads (their leadership style) and it might change over time as the person develops. 


What is a leader?

Ok, so let’s define what a leader is. When we think of leaders we usually think of people leading a team of people, usually in a workplace. But what about folks who volunteer at their local Brownies pack? Or coach the local football group? Being a leader isn’t about telling others what to do, in fact, it’s not always a management role. 

A leader is driven by their values and the ‘right’ motivation; not all leaders in history have been a positive influence, despite being driven by their values! A leader needs to have a positive impact on those around them. They look at what needs to be improved and encourages people towards their vision. But being able to motivate people isn’t enough, leaders need to be able to put others first too, connecting with them, being empathetic. I think that anyone you would consider to be a role model is a leader – because they inspire you to be your best self.

Leaders don’t have to come from the same background or follow the same path. Let’s take those volunteers and football coaches, I would consider them to be leaders. I don’t think we have to be born into leadership, neither do I believe you have to be called a leader/teacher/coach/mentor or any other leader-ish title. In fact, there are many cases where folks aren’t even aware of their own leadership. 


Do you consider yourself to be a leader? 

A better question might be: Do you consider yourself to be a leader? Or do you have a desire to be considered a leader by others? How would you define leadership and being a good leader? You probably clicked on this article because you were asking yourself “how do I know if I’m a leader?”. You might be wondering whether you want to actively move into a leadership position. Alternatively, you might already be a leader but you’re feeling unsure of your skills. 


What skills do good leaders have? 

Thinking about skills is critical to developing as a leader and answering the question ‘how do you know if you’re a leader?’. Having talked to women who are already leaders, thought about leaders I admire and done some general research here are my thoughts. If you use the following skills, you can consider yourself a leader:  


  • You listen openly
  • You have a curious mind
  • Other people seek your wisdom
  • Being accountable and responsible is part of who you are
  • People trust you and confide in you
  • You lead by example (and others follow)
  • You have integrity
  • People find you motivate them
  • You treat others with respect and empathy 
  • You work consistently with vision and confidence


I hope that you can see that these skills aren’t only used in the workplace. We find them in our families, our friends and the people we listen to. We see them in the groups we are part of and the places we attend. They are broad and wide-ranging and that’s what makes leadership so interesting. 


Developing your own leadership skills and style

Now you might argue that many of these aren’t skills but personality traits. On one hand, I’d agree with you, but they are also things you can learn and practice. Many of these skills, traits and strengths will define your personal leadership style. Some will be valued by others, some won’t. That’s OK. 

Let’s assume that you want to be a leader. How are you going to develop your leadership skills? Here are some questions for you to reflect on: 

  • What does leadership look like to you?
  • What is your leadership style?
  • Who would you consider to be a good leader? 
  • What is your biggest development challenge right now?

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