How to Spot a Real Leader and an Impostor (part 3)

When I watch the news and follow politics, it’s difficult for me to not get a little cynical. It seems like we have too many impostors running our organizations and not enough real leaders.

On the other hand, I know that many of the impostors are not necessarily bad people. They have been put into their position based on the number of years they’ve been on the job, or how good they were at another job, or who they might know. And none of that truly prepares them for their new role as a leader.

Fortunately, you can learn to become a real leader. In the past two Tuesday Tips, I outlined six strategies for doing exactly that. Let me give you three more strategies today … because no matter what job or title you’ll hold, you’ll be a great deal better off exhibiting the characteristics of a real leader than not.

► 7. A real leader is passionate about winning. An impostor is passionate about me, me, me.

Real leaders are known for their passion. A passion for winning. As I tell my coaching clients, “If you’re lit up with enthusiasm, people will line up to watch you burn.”

That’s why my client Daryl Flood, President and CEO of Daryl Flood, Inc., is recognized as running one of the best, most successful moving businesses in the country. As he says, “Successful leaders follow best practices that garner the loyalty and respect of their employees, and one of those best practices is seeing their leader have a passion for winning.”

In other words, getting by is never good enough for real leaders. Real leaders want to win. They want to be the best, produce the best, and bring out the best in others.

By contrast, an impostor’s passion is self-focused. They live and die by the motto of WIIFM or What’s In It For Me.

Real leaders also have a passion for setting actual goals for winning. In fact, I dare say that you will find very few, if any, great leaders who were not or are not serious goal setters. Setting goals for themselves and the people around them to win.

When I asked Maury Burgwin, the Chairman of the prestigious Institute for Management Studies, for his insights on leadership, Maury boldly proclaimed, “The best path to success is to script your desired outcome.” And then, “To reach that desired outcome, script your tactical plan to get there. In my affairs I have a polished practiced script for everything I hope to achieve.”

On the other hand, impostors can think of a thousand reasons why they don’t have the time to think about their goals, plan out their goals, write out their goals or include others in their goals. But no matter what reason or reasons impostors come up with, they’ll always be on the losing side if they’re not passionate goal setting.

What about you? Are you passionate about winning? And setting goals to win?

If you’re looking for a coach to help you do exactly that, send me an email ( or give me a call at 800-621-7881). We can discuss my Champion Leader Coaching Program and whether or not it would be a good fit for you.

► 8. A real leader exhibits calmness in rough waters. An impostor gets frazzled.

When the Iron Curtain fell, when the Cold War was over, the country of Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. The new country of the Czech Republic took root in the midst of turmoil. But their first president, Vaclav Havel, knew he had to be a steadying force. He gave the people a new-found hope for their fledgling democracy as he said, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Today the world has watched President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine exhibit amazing calmness … and earnestness … as he led his little country in battle against one of the largest military forces in the world. And his people have followed his leadership because of it.

In a similar sense, President Franklin Roosevelt knew how important his calmness would be in leading during WWII. He said, “It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead — and find no one there.”

By contrast impostors just get nervous, frazzled, short-fused, and indecisive when tough times come. They’re the last people you want to follow.

That’s why I’m always advising people, “When you’re up to your eyeballs in alligators, it’s hard to remember you’re not there to drain the swamp. You’re there to be a calming influence in the midst of the storms.”

How calming and inspiring is your leadership example?

► 9. A real leader celebrates. An impostor doesn’t see the need to celebrate.

A real leader doesn’t wait for the sale-of-a-lifetime or a miraculous business turnaround before they celebrate with their team. They know that little things count. In fact, little celebrations can make a big difference.

As psychologist Dr. Terry Paulson points out, “When people are asked to consider what works, too many look for the big things — those things that get measured and reported. But many times, it is the consistent little things leaders do that mean the most to their teams.”

And the MOST important time to celebrate might be when you LEAST feel like it. That’s what Jill Blashack Strahan had to learn as the President of Tastefully Simple. As she writes,

“We were five years old and we’d just moved into our brand-new headquarters, one mile out of town, set on twenty-two acres, next to beautiful woods and wetlands.

“Accordingly, we’d invited all thirty of our team members to a little celebration at 9:20 a.m. As a gift, I’d purchased Tastefully Simple baseball caps for everyone.

“So there we all were, the first day in our new work areas, in our brand-new building. But the mood was anything but celebratory. I mean, think about it. You’re in a new space. All your belongings have been moved over the weekend. You can’t find your stapler or your favorite pen. You don’t know how to use your new phone and your files are in a cardboard box sitting on the floor. Everyone was just a little tense.

“At nine o’clock, I thought, ‘What was I thinking? Am I out of my mind? We can’t do this celebration. It’s our first day in the new building and everyone’s stressed! Maybe we should do it tomorrow.

“After a few more rants, I remembered what Andy Longclaw says in the book ‘Gung Ho.’ Recognition must be TRUE: Timely, Responsive, Unconditional and Enthusiastic. We can’t wait. We need to have the celebration now.

“So at 9:20, I paged everyone in the building to join us outside by the warehouse loading docks. It was a beautiful June day, warm and sunny, with a perfectly clear blue sky. I gave a little speech about June being the season of graduation, and like high school graduates, this new building was indicative of moving into a new phase of our lives.

“We passed out the baseball caps, and in true graduation tradition, we all cheered and threw our hats into the air while we sprayed everyone with Silly String. Afterwards, we went into our break room and had muffins and coffee. The whole celebration took less than half an hour.

“But what do you suppose the mood was like at Tastefully Simple after we all got back to our work stations? The tension was ‘Poof, gone.

“Here’s what I learned. When we’re all stressed out, that’s when we need to take the time to celebrate what’s right with the world. When I least feel like celebrating is when I most need it.”

There’s great wisdom in what Jill has to say and what she did as a leader. Impostors would have waited for the “right moment,”, which might have never come. Or they might have dreamed up all kinds of reasons for not “wasting” any more time or money on celebrating.

You weren’t born to be a leader. But you can learn to be a leader. Or you can be an impostor by default. Today I challenge you to take the nine points I’ve outlined in these last three Tuesday Tips and become the real leader you can be..