Signs you’re ready to be a leader… and a few signs you’re not

At a cocktail party recently, someone asked me if I thought they should try for a leadership role as Team Manager, which had just come open when their boss moved on. It would make them the leader of the team they’re already on.

I asked them what was appealing about becoming a team leader and the list of positives included:

  • It would give me visibility.
  • It would give me a say in the bigger picture.
  • It would give me a pay raise.
  • It would remove me from some of the tedious tasks I have to do now.
  • It would make me more marketable.
  • It feels like the logical next step.

I then asked, “What is the downside?”

This person thought about it for a moment and said, “Good point! I don’t see a downside – I should go for it!”

I couldn’t help myself, I had to offer a little one-to-one coaching in this cocktail party conversation, so I said, “Hmmm, possibly, but may I make an observation?”

“Sure!” was the reply.

“When you listed the benefits, none of them had anything to do with managing people.”


I pointed out that while it sounds as though this person is ready for a change and looking to be more involved in the operation of the company, I’m left wondering whether pursuing a role in which the primary functions are to encourage, support, guide, and coach staff is the ideal choice right now.

I shared that as an executive coach, a number of the folks we work with are struggling in part because they were really good at something, got promoted to manage others doing that same thing, and now they aren’t enjoying the work. Or they were keen to lead, but realized they needed some more tools to be really successful in a new leadership role or during a time of challenge (you can read more about how we’ve helped leaders on our testimonials page).

Then I said: “I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t apply – that’s definitely up to you to decide. But, I’d encourage you to reflect on what the job looks like day to day, and decide if it excites you. Perhaps you could reach out to your former boss, and ask what the job was like?”

My suggestion was accepted enthusiastically with, “That’s a great idea, I’ll do that!”

Ever since I had this conversation, I’ve been reflecting on how someone would know if they’re ready for a leadership role – a job where they’re leading and managing other people – and I’ve come up with a list of signs you’re ready for leadership and signs it might not be quite the right time for a leadership role .

Signs you’re ready to lead others

  • You’re liked and respected by your colleagues because you are responsible and professional. It’s okay to be jovial and the life-of-the-party, but really good leaders are liked not only for their congeniality, but also because they have the tools to develop an executive presence.
  • You’re interested in how the organization operates – both formally and informally – and you have ideas on how it could be better, stronger, and more successful.
  • Peers come to you for advice and see you as an informal leader in the organization.
  • You tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt, at least the first time around. You assume people want to do a good job.
  • You’re a relationship builder – you know people in other departments and you’ve gotten to know customers and colleagues. You know how to foster connections and how to encourage successful teamwork (and how to tackle bad team conflict).
  • You’re a great listener – you listen to understand rather than to reply. When peers come to you with problems, you help them figure out an answer that works for them.
  • You’re comfortable handling criticism.
  • You’ve had good managers and bad managers and learned important lessons from both.

Signs a leadership role might not be right for you right now

  • You want the job because it pays more or has a corner office or fancy title. Leading others can be rewarding and it can also be frustrating. On the frustrating days, few leaders ever say the pay or bigger office makes up for it.
  • You think employees are generally lazy, dishonest, or feel entitled.
  • You think leadership in this organization is incompetent.
  • You’re looking forward to telling people what to do.
  • You want someone fired and getting this job is the way to do it.
  • You struggle to speak up with your opinion.

Remember, if you’re not ready for a leadership role right now, you can become ready by working on it, if you want to work on it. Leadership can be learned and there are a lot of links up above to our previous blog posts to help you out (and sometimes a lateral career move makes sense in the interim).

Stay tuned for our next blog two weeks from now when we provide you with some great tips on how to bring a coach approach to your leadership style once you’ve gotten the promotion!

And perhaps even more importantly, remember that being a leader or manager isn’t required of everyone. If it’s not for you, seek out the other influential roles in your organization that don’t require leading others but that play to your strengths. If you look carefully, you’ll probably find roles that are influential and don’t require formally leading others.

Coach’s Questions

What makes you want to be a leader, or not? Regardless of whether you do, or don’t, try for a leadership role now, what can you be doing to prepare yourself for your next career step?


Our favourite tools to develop your executive presence

When I say executive presence, I’ll bet you have something in mind or someone in mind but you might be hard-pressed to fully define executive presence.

You’re not alone; a lot of folks I talk to feel they know what executive presence is but can’t really describe it.  

Of course, if you can’t describe something, it’s more difficult to achieve it. So, let’s define what it is AND help you develop your executive presence.

Some say that, essentially, having an executive presence is being able to inspire confidence in your leadership with members of your team, among your peers, and with anyone to whom you report.

However, rather than having an innate ability or trait, an executive presence is a combination of qualities or characteristics plus skills that can be developed.

Sure, some people will just naturally have more “presence” and some folks need to work at it a bit more but all of us benefit from naming specific areas we want to develop (particularly as leadership roles become more and more senior and demands are greater).

Why should you care about or want to develop your executive presence?

Having an executive presence inspires confidence and persuades others around you that your leadership matters. If someone believes in your ability to lead, it gives you opportunity whether that person is choosing to be led by you, to work with you, or to hire you or your company.

Here are the key qualities to cultivate that will develop your executive presence. Notice we’ve defined them all starting with a “C” you can think of these qualities as “the C-suite that will get you into the C-Suite”:

  • Connected – successful leaders cultivate a network of relationships and include diverse opinions in discussions, using emotional intelligence skills to navigate organizational politics and the myriad complexities of team dynamics at all levels. Leaders need to be able to delegate effectively and rely on their team members, which means building trust.
  • Charismatic – being a strong leader means having the ability to understand yourself and others well enough to inspire and motivate. It’s being able to talk with anyone and put them at ease; while you are able to engage everyone in the discussion, it’s clear that you are confident in your leadership role. Feeling comfortable talking to anyone is something that a lot of our clients find challenging. One tool that can help is our Everything DiSC workshops that give leaders tools to adapt to people around them and more easily build relationships.
  • Confident and Compassionate – when you are self-aware – knowing your own strengths and challenges and how to work with a variety of personalities – a few things happen. One of them is that your emotional intelligence rises and high emotional intelligence allows a leader to walk that fine, but essential, line between assertive and aggressive. By working with intention and having a purposeful vision, leaders demonstrate self-confidence, build trust, and align goals with core values.
  • Credible and Consistent – understanding builds trust, and it takes effort – but a highly functioning team is well worth the investment. Our Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team workshop helps leaders and their teams understand themselves and how to work well together (including building trust and how to build the good type of conflict in the workplace!).   
  • Clear and Conciseeffective communication skills are, of course, essential and that includes articulating and rearticulating a clear, consistent vision in ways that others can see it and get behind it. That also means having exceptional listening skills so you can understand how others are receiving your message which brings to mind my favourite quote from motivational writer Stephen R. Covey: “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Recognizing your listening style is the first step to improving communication with your team.
  • Calm and Composed – being able to function effectively under stress – without losing all the above characteristics by panicking, dramatizing, or appearing overwhelmed – is essential to developing your executive presence. Effective leaders appear capable, in control, and able to handle even difficult or unexpected situations with grace and poise even if that sometimes means you “have to fake it til you make it.” Use the EQi and EQ360 tools to determine where and how you can make changes to improve how you lead your team through inevitable challenges.
  • Coach Approachtaking a coach approach to leadership can be transformative, encouraging greater communication, improving work relationships, and increasing both productivity and job satisfaction. Learning how to build a coaching culture is an important tool to develop your executive presence. Check out our new Coach Approach to Leadership program and recently released Coach Approach to Leadership Journal.  

    Coach Approach to Leadership Journal

    Coach Approach to Leadership Journal

Coach’s Questions:

Which qualities would you like to improve to develop your executive presence? What steps can you take to enhance your growth in this area? What gaps are there between how you see yourself and how others might see you?