How to Spot a Real Leader and an Impostor (part 2)

The new family in the neighborhood overslept and the six-year-old daughter missed her school bus. The father, though late for work, agreed to drive her if she’d direct him.

They rode several blocks before she told him to turn the first time, and several blocks later she indicated another turn. This went on for 20 minutes — yet when they finally reached the school, it proved to be only a short distance from their home.

Asked why she’d led the father over such a circuitous route, the child explained, “That’s the way the school bus goes, and it’s the only way I know.”

That’s the way it is with so many impostors who are pretending to be leaders. They only know one way, even though it may not be the best way.

In last week’s Tuesday Tip, I outlined 3 characteristics that help you identify a real leader versus those who are nothing more than impostors. Let me give you a few more defining characteristics.

► 4. A real leader does the right thing. An impostor does the politically advantageous thing.

As I often say in my 4C Leadership program, “Real leaders do the right thing, not because they think it will change the world but because they refuse to be changed by the world.”

Notice the emphasis on the word do. It’s not enough to KNOW what is right. You must also have the courage of your convictions and DO what is right. Even when no one is looking. And even if it’s going to cost you something.

By contrast, impostors may not even know what is right. And if they do know, they may not do it if they can get ahead or get an advantage taking a different course of action.

In other words, real leaders focus their energy on doing the right thing … instead of spending all of their time on the superficialities of “looking good” and “sounding good.” Real leaders are guided by a strong moral compass instead of a slick spin artist.

How would you rate yourself as being a real leader who does the right thing?


► 5. A real leader has character. An impostor is a character.

While it’s true that people are more willing to work with people they know and like, it’s even more true that they’re much more willing to follow people with impeccable character.

John Wooden, the greatest basketball coach of all time, knew that. He was more than a sports coach. He was a real leader on and off the court, who continually told his players and audiences: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

When you have character, you become a real leader who can be counted on, who is consistent, and who cares for others, without any strings attached. A real leader is real and authentic. An impostor does not have any of those things.

By contrast, impostors put on a different face for their bosses, coworkers, customers, friends, and family members. After a while, you’re not sure who they really are because they’re more of a character and a caricature than anything else.

The good news is you can build your character and thereby your leadership effectiveness. Among other skills in my 4C Leadership program, I tell people to…

  • Show others how much you care before you try to show them how much you know.
  • Take an interest in others and keep updates on their interests.
  • When you commit yourself to doing something, make sure you do it.
  • Keep your language at G, PG, or PG 13 level.
  • Be honest. If you can’t share everything, make sure whatever you do share is honest and true.
  • Go the extra mile to correct wrongs.

To quote someone I know quite well … myself … “Leadership is not always about passing on what you know; it is about passing on who you are.”

► 6. A real leader builds win-win relationships. An impostor uses people.

That doesn’t mean that a real leader has to be buddies with everyone on the team or in the organization. That may not even be possible, let alone wise.

However, a real leader is out front, building strong, positive, respectful, cooperative, win-win relationships with lots of people. Impostors may be hiding in their offices or behind a computer, limiting themselves to a few “chosen” people with whom to interact.

Perhaps, deep down, the impostors are afraid. After all, relationship building takes time … which they may not be willing to invest. And relationship building takes talent … which they may not have or may not be willing to learn. That’s why Claire A. Murray states, “The problem with being a leader is that you’re never sure if you’re being followed or chased.”

To be a real leader, build helping relationships. As Tom Coleman, one of my clients in the National Guard points out, “Success is utilizing and sharing your experiences to assist others in achieving their goals.”

And client Ed Caldwell, the Vice President of Protective Life, talks about how the real leaders in his career set him up for success. He says, “I have been blessed with four mentors and bosses over the last 30 years who took the time to build a relationship with me, who gave me candid feedback on the differences between leadership and management, and provided specific guidance at key points in my career. Those relationships created what I consider to be the real turning points in my personal and professional development.”

Are you taking enough time to build relationships with others? It’s very important as you grow into a real leader.