Being A Good Leader Is NOT Up To You

Leader sitting at table in a meeting.So, do you think you are a good leader? Well, the sad fact is that we don’t get to decide if we should be called a good leader. We might try to do the right things. We may work hard at communicating, sharing ideas, encouraging people, team building, and a whole host of other qualities deemed to be attributes of good leadership. However, besides the fact that there seems to be no universal agreement about the definition of good leadership (or just leadership for that matter), if you are a leader, then chances are you believe you are a good leader by your own standards.

It’s true. Just as we all believe we are brilliant in our own minds, once we step into a leadership role we believe we are good at it. After all, we must be good leaders since we were promoted to a leadership role. The leaders that promoted us must also be good leaders and they, therefore, must know good leadership when they see it. Unfortunately, this fairytale that we tell ourselves lulls us in to a false sense of capability regarding our leadership talent.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there aren’t good leaders out there. There are lots of them. It’s just that we, as leaders, don’t have the luxury of making that determination.

"It is the people we lead that ultimately decide if we should be judged a 'good leader.'

I once had a conversation with someone regarding a complaint I received about the person. She was accused of being very rude towards another person within the company. When I brought this to her attention she vehemently denied being rude in any way. So I asked her, “Do you consider yourself a nice person?” She said, “Absolutely.” Then I asked her, “How do you know?”

As she sat dumbfounded by the question, she eventually said that she really didn’t know. She said she just tried to be nice throughout her life and so she felt she was a nice person. I explained to her that we don’t get to decide our character. We can certainly define our values and who we want to be, but it is the perceptions of others (right or wrong) that make the final determination. When I told her that this was not the first person to complain about her rudeness she began to understand what I was saying.

I know it’s not right, but perception is reality. And the determination of whether or not you are a good leader is not up to you. It is more about how we manage the perception of our leadership than whether or not we feel we are good leaders. I remember an incident early in my career when I thought I was being a very good leader. I was following up on tasks that needed to be done by the head of the IT department. When the tasks weren’t being done, I called a meeting demanding an explanation. This individual had the courage to tell me that I was “rude, condescending, and arrogant.” I was shocked. Rather than lashing back, however, I asked why he felt that way. He said it was my body language! He said that when I asked about a project or task, my hands were either on my hips or my arms were crossed. He took that as very condescending. Talk about misperception. Looking at it objectively I could see how my body language appeared from his standpoint. I vowed to be more aware of how I present myself and he agreed to complete his tasks on time.

Leadership is about the ability to influence others to reach various objectives. But the end doesn’t justify the means when it comes to leadership. My behavior was not only preventing my ability to influence someone, I was not being a “good leader” according to my personal definition of good leadership. I was lucky that this person had the courage to tell me what he thought. Most people don’t share their true opinions about the performance of their boss, and the boss never corrects his/her behavior in the future.

As we learn about leadership, share ideas about how to be a better leader, and practice the skills of “good leadership”, we must keep in mind that all of our hard work means nothing if it is not perceived by the people we lead as good leadership. Being put in a leadership position is one thing; earning the respect of others and the privilege of being called a “good leader" is quite another. Good leadership is not an event where one day you arrive. It is a continuous journey of learning, practice, and discovery.

So I ask again: Do you think you are a good leader…How do you know?



About Bill Koza

Bill is a business professional with over 25 years of experience. Bill believes that leadership is the foundation of success in every business, and that any person in a leadership position should be trained when put in a position of power over other people’s livelihoods. It is the duty of the leader to ensure that each person is treated with respect and dignity. It is the right for everyone to pursue happiness unobstructed by bad leaders. Leadership in business is not about giving people directions, it is about helping people achieve the extraordinary.