As plenty of employees will tell you, bad leaders are everywhere — rising to the top because of office politics or because others wrongly anticipate that past success in other jobs will ensure success at a higher level. But how can you know if you’re one of the bad apples or if you’re doing just fine despite your concerns? To find out, ask yourself a few key questions.
1. Do my team members come to me on a regular basis?
The hectic pace of the workday, combined with the global, increasingly work-anywhere nature of business, might make it more difficult than in the past to connect with your workers in person as much as you’d like. But when your workers reach out to you through chat, popping into your office, sending an email, or other methods, it signals that they trust your expertise and experience and that they feel comfortable enough to bring issues to you. By contrast, if people on your team struggle to ask questions or seek clarifications, or if they constantly bypass you to discuss issues with someone else, that’s a big sign you’ve created an environment where they don’t feel safe or respected.
2. Are clients coming back or referring me to others?
When others have a great experience with you or your company, they will feel inspired to bring others to you because they trust you and believe in what you’re doing. If your clients are doing repeat business, your team is talking you up without prompting, or others are bringing opportunities or connections to you simply because they see your potential, then you’ve likely done a terrific job as a leader.
3. Where do the people under me end up?
Real leaders aren’t just about finding success for themselves. They want to see others reach their full potential, too, and they see it as their responsibility to do everything in their power to help their team move forward. They also understand the importance of advancing the industry overall, rather than only considering their business alone. Although low turnover and loyalty is a good sign, your team should see some upward shifts as people learn and gain skills. You should see people grow to the point where they can become the heads of committees, projects, or divisions, take a more advanced position elsewhere you personally can’t offer, or even start their own company. If you can’t name a few people who earned authority through you, then you’re probably stagnating your business or industry by stagnating your staff.
4. How do people debate what I say?
On the one hand, good leaders ensure that their teams feel comfortable enough to give their opinions in any circumstance, even if those opinions might not be popular. This kind of civil, trust-filled debate enables team-based critical thinking, fact-checking, and good decision making that teams won’t go back on. So you actually want your team to respectfully poke each other a little. But if people in the group are directly or indirectly insubordinate as a way of protesting your stance or choice, attack you personally rather than addressing facts, or become split in an “us vs. them” mentality, then trust is likely low, and your communication technique probably isn’t sufficient to problem-solve or maintain the positive morale necessary to progress. Communication is also likely an issue if your team misconstrues what you’ve said in a way that creates new problems.
5. Am I able to walk away?
As a leader, it’s easy to get so invested in something that you struggle to let go, especially because our work can become intertwined with our sense of identity. But those who are most effective routinely delegate or sell their businesses. They know they can’t do everything alone, and they understand that finding others who can handle the toughest responsibilities will free them up to move to other opportunities and ventures. This strategy also connects to point 3 above, as it allows leaders to bring the best out in their workers and challenge them in positive ways. The ability to walk away politely during everyday interaction also ties to good emotional intelligence — sometimes taking a break on an issue allows leaders to come back and debate in more constructive ways. It is also essential for good self-care. Leaders who are on call 24/7 quickly burn out, so if you give yourself and your team time to decompress and recoup, you’re on the right track.
Some individuals find it naturally easy to answer “yes” to the questions above. But if one or more of these points is a sticky area for you, don’t worry — leadership is something you can get better at. By asking for good feedback, keeping an open mind, and making a conscious effort to develop new, small, positive habits that can benefit you every day, you can develop the manner of thought and behavior which people want to follow.