20 Ways to Know If You Are a Leader

Whenever I have the pleasure of introducing myself as a leadership coach, people often conjure up images of me coaching C-suite leaders or those higher up in the food chain. Rarely, do I find people think of themselves as leaders. “Surely, I’m not a leader they say. I’m an individual contributor and don’t have a senior position at work.” However, if John Maxwell is true – that is, if leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less – than many of them are deceiving themselves. Stanley Huffty is spot on: “It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position.”

The question isn’t “Are we leaders?” We all are. We lead in some way or fashion in the five circles of influence (self, family, team, organization, community). The better way question is, “What kind or type of leader are we?”

Leadership expert Oswald Sanders has done us a great service. Here’s 20 questions to help you determine whether or not you’re an (effective) leader. Honestly rate how you fare in these questions.

  1. How do you identify and deal with bad habits? To lead others, you must master your appetites.
  2. How well do you maintain self-control when things go wrong? The leader who loses control under adversity forfeits respect and influence. A leader must be calm in crisis and resilient in disappointment.
  3. To what degree do you think independently? A leader must use the best ideas of others to make decisions. A leader cannot wait for others to make up his or her mind.
  4. How well can you handle criticism? When have you profited from it? The humble person can learn from petty criticism, even malicious criticism.
  5. Can you turn disappointment into creative new opportunity? What three actions could you take facing any disappointment?
  6. Do you readily gain the cooperation of others and win their respect and confidence? Genuine leadership doesn’t have to manipulate or pressure others.
  7. Can you exert discipline without making a power play? Are your corrections or rebukes clear without being destructive? True leadership is an internal quality of the spirit and needs no show of external force.
  8. In what situations have you been a peacemaker? A leader must be able to reconcile with opponents and make peace where arguments have created hostility.
  9. Do people trust you with difficult and delicate matters? Your answer should include examples.
  10. Can you induce people to do happily some legitimate thing that they would not normally wish to do? Leaders know how to make others feel valued.
  11. Can you accept opposition to your viewpoint or decision without taking offense? Leaders always face opposition.
  12. Can you make and keep friends? Your circle of loyal friends is an index of your leadership potential.
  13. Do you depend on the praise of others to keep you going? Can you hold steady in the face of disapproval and even temporary loss of confidence?
  14. Are you at ease in the presence of strangers? Do you get nervous in the office of your superior? A leader knows how to exercise and accept authority.
  15. Are people who report to you generally at ease? A leader should be sympathetic and friendly.
  16. Are you interested in people? All types? All races? No prejudice?
  17. Are you tactful? Can you anticipate how your words will affect a person? Genuine leaders think before speaking.
  18. Is your will strong and steady? Leaders cannot vacillate, cannot drift with the wind. Leaders know their’s a difference between conviction and stubbornness.
  19. Can you forgive? Or do you nurse resentments and harbor ill-feelings toward those who have injured you?
  20. Are you reasonable optimistic? Pessimism and leadership do not mix. Leaders are positively visionary.

Question: Which areas do you need to work on to become a better leader?


  • Kris

    Love this list. Just “took the test” and I can see I have a ways to go. Starting with #1, “1. How do you identify and deal with bad habits? To lead others, you must master your appetites.” Just as simple thing like maintaining a healthy weight and exercising gets me.

  • Great insights. These are excellent self-reflection questions for all of us. Personally, #10 (induce people to do happily some legitimate thing that they would not normally wish to do) is one I have much room for improvement. I have been able to accomplish this more in a 1-on-1 in the past, but not confident how effective I’d be convincing numbers of individuals in a large gathering. Thanks for the challenge, Paul.

  • Great list, Paul. It’s always good to have these as reminders.