Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

10 Clues That You Aren’t a Leader

LeadershipI really know what makes you a leader. I’ve seen dozens of quotes and hundreds of articles, and I took a course on leadership in business school. But leadership depends so much on context and style that it’s hard to make any universal statements that aren’t just empty clichés.

What I do know, though, is that just wielding authority doesn’t make you a leader. Just having responsibility, or a title on your business card, doesn’t automatically make you a leader, either.

And also, I have a pretty good idea of what isn’t leadership. I learned that the hard way. And yes, since you insist on asking, I learned some of them by realizing that they applied to me.

I’m going to list 10 clues that show that you aren’t really a good leader. This is for people in authority. I’m talking to you. You are not really a leader if …

  1. Everybody always agrees with you. If you think that, get a clue. They don’t always agree with you. They are lying to you. And if so, it’s your fault, because you made them decide to pay you lip service with fake agreement.
  2. You talk more than you listen.
  3. Nobody who works for you owns anything by themselves. Ownership means owning a task, having responsibility, being empowered to operate, make decisions, and — yes — make mistakes.
  4. You do all the work. Because you don’t, really. If you think you do, then you’re not giving others enough credit. Or, if your people are really that bad, then change your team. You hired them.
  5. You correct people more than you applaud people. In the real world, performance seeks balance, like water seeks its level. If you correct way more than you praise, something’s wrong. And it’s probably you, not them.
  6. You take more credit than you give. There again, balance.
  7. Achievement in your group is something you bestow on people, rather than something they achieve themselves. Don’t make people work for praise. That’s ugly. Make them work for objective numbers that they can see, their peers can see, and you can see, at the same time.
  8. People pause to think, or guess, what you believe in. When you stand for something, and have values, people know it. It’s not just what you say, it’s what you do .
  9. You criticize more than collaborate. Don’t call yourself collaborative if people don’t want your help. Do they come to you? If not, you may not be as open to new ideas, or other people’s ideas, as you think.
  10. You don’t get bad news quickly. That means people are worrying about how to tell you. If people hide bad news or — worse still — spin it to look like good news, then get a clue. You’re not a leader.

And I want to conclude by emphasizing that last point, which is a clear case of last but not least, and perhaps even the first coming last.

Think about your leadership style in context of the flow of information, particularly bad news. If people wait to tell you, then you’re in trouble.

A leader wants the bad news instantly. Good news can wait. Bad news can’t.

(Note: this post first appeared as my monthly column for the Eugene Register Guard.)