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…


Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt

Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Boards of Directors. Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership. He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership (Wiley) and Leadership Matters… (OP), a Forbes leadership columnist, and is the Founder and Chairman at N2Growth.

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