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Looking For Leadership

Really? Identifying leaders? Have we really degenerated to this point? News Flash – If you have to look for leadership it doesn’t exist…Today’s post is not going to sit well with many in the leadership profession, but then many of my posts seem to have that effect. My premise is a simple one – Leaders need no identification as they instinctively and inevitably make their presence very well known. Place a leader into any environment and their impact will be immediately recognized. There is truth in the old axiom that says “the cream rises to the top.”

Here’s the thing…you really don’t need to work too hard to identify leaders within an organization – they are the ones taking on the greatest levels of responsibility and delivering on their commitments. They are the ones innovating and breaking-down barriers. They are the ones who have earned the trust, loyalty and respect of their co-workers. They are the ones people turn to when things get tough. They are  the ones that inspire, motivate and challenge others. They are the ones that put the needs of others, as well as the needs of the organization, ahead of their own. They are the ones who provide alignment and direction. They are the ones who are engaged. They get the job done, they stand out from the crowd, they don’t need identifying – you know who they are.

I’ve seen many an executive or consultant attempt to identify leaders with interviews, tests, evaluations, etc., only to fail in miserable fashion. I’ve never been a fan of what I refer to as “make-work” disciplines. By that I mean practice areas that serve no real purpose other than to generate a revenue stream for a coach or consultant, or justify headcount within a department. In my opinion the practice of leadership identification is simply based upon flawed business logic, and it is make-work in the purest form. I’m a huge advocate of refining initiatives that allow any level of talent to be developed to the maximum potential. Leaders and non-leaders alike need career-pathing, training and development. I’m just not a believer in attempting to label someone as a leader, and develop them as such when they are clearly not.

Let me be very clear – there is not always a direct correlation between testing well and leading well. Don’t give people tests – give them responsibility. There is really only one sure fire method for identifying leaders – Do they have the character and integrity to do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time. The answer to this test will be born out through their actions. Give them responsibility and see what they do with it. You’ll find out quickly enough if you have a leader.

Organizations short on leadership talent find themselves in such a position for a reason…current leadership failed to lead. If you find yourself within an organization that has a leadership vacuum you won’t fill it by drafting someone into a leadership role and hoping that they perform. Beyond the character test, the first prerequisite for leadership is the willingness to lead. As much as most companies don’t want to admit this, it is highly unlikely that you have anyone in your organization that has great leadership attitude and aptitude that hasn’t already been identified.

Bottom line…the way you identify leaders is not through psychological profiling or some miraculous transformative process. You identify leaders by their actions and their performance. Real leaders will find you…you don’t need to go looking for them.

Dare I ask for comments? Why not, I’m a glutton for punishment…

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    January 11, 2011 at 2:47 am

    Dear Mike,

    "I've found that 90% of problems companies have on-line are created by management, not technology" David Segal

    Why not E-leader ( participative) for better decision making to do the right thing ?

    E-leader need to recognize the INTERNET new challenge.
    We must slow down the technology speed and its consequences.



      January 11, 2011 at 8:14 am

      Hi Sami:

      I like the quote you referenced from David Segal. Thanks for stopping by Sami.


    January 11, 2011 at 5:16 am

    Hi Mike. Once again, great post. I agree that actions speak louder than words and lead by example is a great way to generate committed followers. How can we re-ignite leadership potential in people who have not had great role models or the encouragement/nurturing environment to flex their leadership muscles? Leadership is a practice not (simply) an innate talent and organizations must be willing to allow people to swing and miss in order to learn… Keep challenging us with your writing. I enjoy reading your thoughts here. Gaby


      January 11, 2011 at 8:16 am

      Thanks for the comment Gaby. I agree that many people will miss a target altogether before they zero-in on a bulls-eye.


    January 11, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Totally agree! Great post Mike. I might only add and you know that young or immature leaders simply need tools, mentoring, and info to become great leaders. Also, I have seen some leaders who are reluctant. I can easily use Moses as an example. Some may need a podding and support before they take off into the level that inside them, and that is where great coaches like you come in!


      January 11, 2011 at 8:19 am

      Great insights Tom and I agree with all of them. The truth is that all of us need mentoring, discipling and coaching to reach our full potential. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Tom.

    Mark Oakes

    January 11, 2011 at 8:18 am

    Spot on, Mike!

    IMO, what passes as 'leadership training' is often managerial grooming in disguise. Can manager be leaders? Sure, but I don't think they are one-in-the-same. You're right, you don't have to look far to find raw leadership potential. They're the ones on behalf of the team who step up and do a faceplant with an oncoming tomato. Time and again, you can spot leadership potential a mile off.


      January 11, 2011 at 8:23 am

      Thanks for sharing your observations Mark…Most leaders I know have taken more than a few tomatoes for the team:)


    January 11, 2011 at 8:23 am


    I agree that real leaders will make themselves known. It's an open question as to whether they'll be embraced and placed in positions of trust or smothered as a potential embarassment to the rest of the organizational heirarchy. The idea that the "cream will rise to the top" is too often more than offset by the Dunning-Kruger effect; and the real leader's highmindedness will be viewed as a threat to the status quo. On a more positive note, I really like what you said about having "the character and integrity to do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time". It put me in mind of Admiral Nimitz who was reported to have said, "God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless."



      January 11, 2011 at 8:28 am

      Hi Ron:

      Thanks for the comment. If the cream isn't allowed to rise to the top it will go somewhere else…real leaders don't incubate well. If an organization doesn't recognize and engage those with leadership potential, those high potentials are likely to end-up working for the competition.

      Love the Nimitz quote – one of my favorites.


    January 11, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Good post Mike!

    You bring up some great points about leadership and responsibility. The question you raise is probably one of the best I've read for identifying a leader: "Do they have the character and integrity to do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time?" If they demonstrate this type of character over time, there's your leader.

    Thanks for posting!


      January 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

      Thanks for the comment Angela. I always appreciate your perspective. Thanks again for stopping by.


      January 12, 2011 at 7:49 am

      Thanks Angela. Always appreciate your thoughts.

    Steve Barry

    January 11, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Totally agree on the willingness aspect … After all, "Leadership is a choice."


      January 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      I concur – Leadership is a choice…Thanks for sharing Steve.

    Tanveer Naseer

    January 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Wow, this is a great post Mike. It reminds me of the problem people point out about the SATs – that the only thing it really tests students on is how good they are at taking the SAT.

    It's unfortunate that we're applying that same misguided approach to leadership as well.


      January 12, 2011 at 7:51 am

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing the great analogy to SATs

    sara sentor

    January 12, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Leadership is earned and comes as a result of serving others!


    January 12, 2011 at 3:19 am

    Leaders may not always find you, but you must be experienced enough to be able to spot a good leader when you see one. Somebody who challenges the status quo, can focus on the most important task and can be sting when challenged stands a great chance of fitting the bill.

    Lynn B

    January 12, 2011 at 9:13 am

    This post reminds me of a contestant on the TV show Survivor. Week after week he asked the others to make him a leader of a challenge. He ended up being voted out and complained that "if only they put me in a leadership position things would have been different." I think if he was a leader he would have stepped up and stopped begging for it. He proved he was a follower by asking others to put him into a higher position. Leaders lead and inspire, they don't beg.

    Looking For Leadership | WORDPRESS!

    January 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    […] Original post by achira32 […]

    Steve Roesler

    January 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm


    I'm in.

    I've spent nearly 40- years in the field and use numerous psychological tools to help with different aspects of development. Many of those tools will pinpoint leader "characteristics;" none will identify a "leader." Only action will reveal that.

    Some tools are quite helpful in enabling a leader to identify blind spots or potential blind spots for the purpose of making decisions about self-development and improving effectiveness.

    BTW: the worst scenario I've seen regarding "testing for leadership" is the elimination of "candidates" who didn't fit the model. Most turned out to be pretty good leaders–elsewhere.

    Keep writing!



      January 12, 2011 at 4:52 pm

      Thanks Steve…I always appreciate your insights and encouragement. In the final analysis, it's not the tools I really have an issue with, but with some of those who use them and the manner in which they are used. Thanks for stopping by Steve.

    Greg Waddell

    January 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    Another great post Mike. Really useful for self-evaluation. Also humbling for those of us who study leadership theory. As you point out; leadership is not theory, it's all about action.


      January 14, 2011 at 6:28 am

      Thanks Greg…not a thing wrong with studying leadership theory. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff and then to put the valuable items to productive use. Thanks for stopping by Greg…


    January 14, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Really a great post Mike.


    December 1, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I don’t know who’s supposed to be reading your article. BTW I’m an ex employee (I resigned, not fired) solely because I got sick and tired of being the leader. It’s a nice thing to help, I’ve been doing it for almost 14 years in the industry, from day one.and believe me, never asked anything in return, not expected anything . The bottom line is that who ever says he needs a leader is either trying to impress himself or looking someone to use as an escape goat for future failures or innabilities to deliver. Becoming a leader (as perceived by many) never did relate to solving problems because leaders very, very seldom are given true power to change things. They are simply given responsibilities, deadlines, tasks, …. Etc. I can relate to everything you said Mike but the truth is that true leaders won’t allow themselves to be the pet of any false boss (and believe me, I’ve dealt with many) nor have the urge to prove themselves to anyone. I’not bitter or anything but leaders get exploited. Remain just a simple employee, enjoy life, have fun, and be very alert when your experience starts attracting responsibilities and your bosses attention.

    Robert Mikołajek

    May 22, 2012 at 10:11 am

    very good 


    October 25, 2012 at 5:59 am

    Mike – – –

    In the end, true leadership is taken – -not usually given


      Mike Myatt

      October 25, 2012 at 10:55 am

      Hi John: I can read your comment a couple of different ways, so I’m not sure quite how to respond. There are many different types of leaders, and you will likely encounter all of them over the course of time. Some individuals openly seek out positions of leadership, while leadership is thrust upon others. Whether leaders are elected, appointed, anointed, or self-proclaimed, and regardless of whether it is by design or default, they nonetheless carry the burden and responsibilities associated with being a leader.

      Leadership “taken” can be easily taken away or usurped. However leadership earned is much more easily accepted and maintained. In the end, leadership still must be accepted, and therefore you are correct leadership is a decision. Thanks for sharing John.

    Mike Myatt

    October 25, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Thanks for the kind words, as well as the insights Teri.

    Robert Gately

    December 20, 2012 at 7:17 am

    Hi Mike, effective leadership is about behaviors and behaviors are predictable otherwise we would not waste our time interviewing job applicants to learn which ones will become successful employees if hired.

    “You identify leaders by their actions and their performance.”

    So we keep hiring, watching, and hoping to find a good leader? That is far too much hoping.

    “Real leaders will find you…you don’t need to go looking for them.”

    I agree but we need to know how to identify them before we hire them. The best talkers who are competent seem to get job offers before the best future employees which is how so many under performers get hired; they talk the talk much better than they walk the walk.

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