7 Signs a Teammate is Ready to Lead (and 5 They're Not)

By Linda Sasser

"When is someone ready to lead?"

It's a simple, straightforward question leaders ask about their teammates and teammates ask about themselves. Although there isn't a simple checklist that determines one's capacity for influencing others or readiness for direct reports, there are seven characteristics I always look for in my leaders.

  1. They are viewed as a go-to person before they're given a title. Others (including their leader) go to this person for advice, assistance, and direction on projects.
  2. They are eager to lead without a title. The individual is motivated to serve as a project lead or in some other role that enables him/her to help the team succeed. They take on these roles without expecting immediate additional compensation, and they willingly accept the sacrifices that come along with leading others.
  3. They understand and follow through on being responsible for others' development and growth.
  4. They address conflict with care and candor, even with peers in other departments.
  5. They approach the call to lead with humility. They desire to serve well, and that desire is balanced with a high level of competence and urgency for excellent performance.
  6. Their ego is under control, and they are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Other titled leaders in the organization want access to or speak highly of this person.

These characteristics rank among my top qualities for up-and-coming leaders, and especially those who will be directly responsible for leading others. But what about the warning signs that point to a colleague not yet ready to lead others? Here are five to look out for:

  1. They act very different in front of other titled leaders than they do around teammates and peers.
  2. They campaign and politic for promotions because of tenure, education, money, title, or prestige.
  3. They go power-hungry nuts when given just the slightest bit of authority over other teammates on a project.
  4. Their emotions overpower their poise. They yell, ignore, blame, and/or walk out when things don't go well.
  5. Their teammates dread or even fear the thought of having to work for them.

These signs may sound drastic, but the unfortunate reality is they are alive and well in many organizations. The good news is that not every leader who exhibits one or more of these characteristics is without hope. Some individuals simply have never been exposed to good leadership, so coach them and model it for them. Establish behaviors and non-negotiables that illustrate your expectations for how your team operates, and recognize and reinforce positive leadership when you see it.

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