This is the second blog in a two-part series.
In my last blog on leaders, I pointed out how you can be a boss — as in someone who people report to — without being a leader, meaning someone who you want to follow. But what if you’re not in a leadership position yet? If you’re still a “follower,” you may wonder if your boss is the right person on which to model your own strategy and decision making. But how can you tell?
You can find great leaders. . .if you know where to look.
They might be popular. While just knowing that a lot of people like someone doesn’t mean that person is a leader, it could be an indication of one. Part of great leadership is that people tend to notice it. And someone who inspires a lot of people, who is approachable, and is successful, is the person that people want to be around
That’s not the same thing as following power. There are people who got their power because of all kinds of reasons, not all of them good. So you can want to run a company some day, but not want to follow the path your own CEO took. (Although, CEOs that are also great leaders are likely to have much more profitable companies.) There are plenty of executives who are considered genius in their fields, but not great “people persons.”
They’re probably visible. Again, leaders don’t have to be showboats. They might even be introverted. But they are visible, meaning their presence is noted. People notice which meetings they attend, are aware of the statements that they do make, and want to impress them. A leader is visibly demonstrating behaviour that inspires confidence and respect.
They are great at crisis management. No one needs a fair weather friend, and certainly don’t want a leader who abandons ship in rough weather. Great leaders might be first noticed during a tough period when people are generally at their worst. Who keeps their stress under control? Who seems compassionate? Who shares information and opportunities?
People gravitate to a stabilising force in a storm and they will happily look beyond their own boss if they don’t feel he or she has their back. And it’s a fact of corporate life that politics matter, and it’s a true leader who leverages their seniority to fight for their team, especially in the face of redundancies.
Where did everybody go? Another key indicator of a great leader is tracking where others who have followed them ended up. Did they follow that leader to a new organisation? Have they enjoyed similar success as their career progressed? That’s a leader with a proven track record of mentoring, promoting and connecting others over and over again. One particularly important sign of a great leader is one who gives credit to their team or others, even when they don’t have to. That raises the profile of people who would normally get less airtime, and potentially opens doors for them. A great leader is someone with enough confidence and integrity to share the spotlight.
Talk about them behind their back. Another way to decide if someone is a true leader? Just ask. It’s as simple as saying to a colleague, “Julia really had a great presentation. What do you think of her?” or “Scott asked thoughtful, sophisticated questions today. Is he always so insightful?”. It doesn’t take much to gauge someone’s enthusiasm, especially when that person isn’t in the room. That’s probably a real leader.
When you find great leaders, you’ll probably just know
You’ll be able to tell who’s surrounded by people just chasing power – trying to impress or curry favor directly from the person. The difference is that whenever you find great leaders – others speak well of them even when the praise won’t get back to that person. Their “followers” will speak well of them frequently and consistently. And if they do so unprompted . . . get to know that person, they’ve got something special going on.
Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.