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

Jan 29, 2019 | Coach's Questions

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.

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.
  • You enjoy learning about yourself and about others – what makes you tick and what makes them tick.
  • 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’re uncomfortable with frank and open conversations with people about their job performance and the personal issues that might be affecting their performance. You’d rather avoid the truth than talk about it.
  • 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.
  • You always share your opinion because you tend to know better than anyone else how to do things the right way. You’d rather talk than listen and feel uncomfortable with the sound of silence.

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?