How Do You Know If You’re a Good Leader?

How Can You Judge Your Leadership Skills

Let’s start with how you know whether someone else is a good leader?  You just know, right? Yes, you know when someone is a good leader for YOU.  Each of us is looking for something different from a leader, and when we find the right leader for ourselves, we know it.  Or do we?  Sometimes.  There are leaders who make us feel good. They make us want to do better.  They inspire us.  We do our best for them.  Those are the ones we “know” are good leaders.

There are lots of ways to measure a leader, though:

  • How followers ‘feel’
  • The followers’ opinions (head not heart response) of the leader’s performance
  • The results that the leader accomplishes through others
  • How much the followers grow and develop   
  • The leader’s manager’s opinion
  • How the leader evaluates her own performance

Each of these is measuring a different aspect of the leaders’ performance.  How can you know how you are doing on each one?

Use a Feedback Instrument

The absolute best way to tell if you’re doing well as a leader is to take a 360° assessment focused on your leadership.  A 360° assessment captures feedback from you, your followers and your manager.  This provides you will a full view of how you think you’re doing, how your followers think you’re doing and what your manager thinks, and it provides you with information on the disconnects among those opinions.   Your company may regularly assess its leaders with one of these, or it may have one available if you ask.  Ask your manager or your human resources representative. 

There are several, but one of the best is the Leadership Assessment Instrument (LAI™) produced by Linkage.  It evaluates how you’re doing on the tasks of leadership, what your leadership skill level is and what leadership ‘traits’ you have.  Another one that is focused on the behaviors of leadership is the Leadership Practices Inventory, developed by the authors of The Leadership Challenge.  This instrument evaluates your performance against the Kouzes and Posner’s five leadership practices.  I also like the Center for Creative Leadership’s Benchmark assessment.  This last one has the advantage of providing feedback that flags ‘career derailment’ symptoms.  There is also an assessment for Situational Leadership and many others.  Any assessment that focuses on leadership behavior and outcomes would be a good start.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to feedback instruments through their organization, nor can afford some of the better (and more expensive) ones.  There are other ways to evaluate your leadership effectiveness.

How Can You Evaluate Your Own Performance as a Leader without a 360°?

In order to effectively evaluate your leadership effectiveness, you need to take your blinders off and become an objective detective.  You also need to be willing to ask others for their opinion and support.  Start with your company’s Human Resources department.  Do they provide manager feedback sessions where they ask your followers what they think (outside your presence) and tell you the results?  Would they be willing to do this, even it if is not standard procedure?

If no, then ask yourself the following questions.  Ask others.  Don’t honey-coat it.  Try to see the situation through your followers’ eyes.  Try to see it through your manager’s eyes.

How Your Followers Feel

The way your followers feel about you is semi-obvious. There are always folks who will ‘kiss up’ regardless of how they really feel.   You know who those folks are.  Ignore them.  Ask yourself:

  • Do your people enjoy being around you?
  • Are your people afraid of you?
  • Do your people seek you out to tell you good news?
  • Do they come to you when they need advice or help?
  • Do you find out things about your people through others, or through them directly?
  • Do your people meet your eyes and smile, or do they look at you briefly when they speak to you and then move on?
  • Are your people interested in you as a person?
  • Do your people share personal things with you?

These are all signs of affection, respect, trust and affiliation.  They are signs of how your people feel about you.

Your Followers Opinion

Of course feeling comes into the evaluation of how your people think about you, but your followers’ opinions are also more rational.  This is the one that is the hardest to gauge without getting someone else to ask them.  If you don’t have someone else to ask them (like HR), then consider asking them yourself.  This won’t work very well if they don’t trust you, and you have to take what they say with a grain of salt, but it’s worth a try.  Think about posing questions like:

  • If you were doing this job, what would you do differently?
  • What kind of feedback would the person who is unhappiest in this group/department give me?  How about the one who is happiest? (Thus taking the away the necessity off  of them to tell you what they think directly)
  • What’s working well in this department? (You’ll have to extrapolate here to what they think about you).  What isn’t working as well as it should?
  • What should I be doing that I’m not doing?
  • What should I stop doing?

You could give them a list of questions and ask them to sit together and answer them and then to type up the answers and give them to you.  You could use some of the questions above and include some others:

  • What do you like best about (my) management style?
  • What do you like least about (my) management style?
  • What do you wish someone would tell me?
  • What do you want in a leader?
  • What do you not like in leaders?
  • What is the best kind of leader for you?

How Much Your Followers Grow and Develop

This one is a lot easier to see with the naked eye.  When you start leading people, or when they first join you, take note of their skills, strengths, and weaknesses.  Actively plan on how you will work on developing them.  Evaluate them frequently on those items.  This should be done much more than the usual semi-annual or annual basis.  Make sure that you are giving them assignments specifically designed to grow them in the areas they need to grow.  Your evaluation of their growth is also an evaluation of yourself as a developmental leader.  If they aren’t making enough progress to suit you, what can YOU do to speed it up?

Your Manager’s Opinion of Your Performance

You shouldn’t wait for your performance review to evaluate this.  Remember that managers are not necessarily focused on leadership when they evaluate you, so take some time to understand what you manager believes about leadership.  Ask him/her.  Ask for his/her evaluation of your leadership skills.  Take note of what s/he seems to value.  Ask again after a period of time.  Have you made progress?  Ask what you should be doing differently.  Remember that regardless of whether you agree with your boss or not, his/her opinion of your leadership abilities can make or break your success in this company.


Have you delivered through people?  Take off your rose-colored glasses on this one.  Take away all the things that would have happened anyway, whether you were there or not.  Take away all the luck.  What results did you and your team get?  What of that is attributable to you and your leadership?  What could/should you have done differently to get better results?  Is there someone you should have listened to more?  Someone you should have reigned in more, or managed more closely?  Is there someone who you should have taken risks with?  What will you do based on your learnings here?

Which of These is the Most Important?

It depends.  Which of these is the thing you believe is most important?  Which of these does your organization believe is most important?  Which of these do you need to grow the most?   Which of these comes to you naturally? 

Remember, leadership development is personal development.  Start anywhere and start learning.

Leave a comment

Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Feedback, Leadership

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s