How to Know if You’re a Leader or Not

What makes somebody a leader? Is it a position or a title? Is it the nameplate on the door or maybe a spot towards the top of the organizational flow chart? I think I have some answers for those questions. But first, a story.

leader or not

I’ve never been terribly athletic. My parents didn’t push me into sports. My love has always been music. I started band in the 4th grade, but because of my size (I’m 6’4″ – in the top 3 percentile of the entire planet. Really!), by middle school the coaches started pursuing me for football and basketball. Here are the results:

  • I went out for spring training in football and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Guys half my size bulldozed me like I was a feather in the wind. It was painful – physically and emotionally. I decided I better get out while I still had a life. Death was imminent. I was just sure of it.
  • So next, I went out for the basketball team. The coach said I hustled like nobody he had ever seen. He said they could use somebody of my height on the team. But unfortunately, hustle and height weren’t enough. I was cut from the roster.

So fast forward 30+ years. I’ve been training extra hard for triathlons over the last year. When I finished my first half-marathon a few weekends ago, I was thanking my coach for guiding me along. I told him that I’ve always been a band geek and not an athlete and I was grateful to him for helping me with this transformation.

His response to me was, “Dude. You ARE an athlete.” Now wait a minute. I know athletes. They’re those guys that play football or basketball and don’t get cut from the team before the season ever gets started.

You see, I had this mindset that I might train hard and finish races, but because of my life experiences, I was disqualified from being an “athlete” a long time ago. When my coach said, “You ARE an athlete,” at first I didn’t believe him. He just didn’t know what he’s talking about.

But his words kept echoing in my head. I wanted to believe him. Could it be true? Me? An athlete? I play the piano. I play the trombone. I don’t play sports. But could it be?

So I decided to look it up. What is the definition of an athlete, anyway? Here it is: a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength; a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill. Now, I may not be gifted, but I am certainly trained. At the very least, I am unquestionably a participant.

Then I began to think about this last race. I had followed my coaches race advice to the letter, keeping my heart rate in check for the first 6.5 miles. Then on the second half of the course, per my coaches instructions, I let it rip.

I started passing folks left and right. In fact, based on the final official results, I passed over 200 other participants during the second half of the race. I also finished the race almost 20 minutes faster than my goal.

Ok. So I’m not the fastest guy on the course, even for my age group. But my training has given me strength and stamina. Finishing a half-marathon feeling as strong as I did requires physical skill. Holy Endurance, Batman! I AM an athlete!

Here’s the point: Before I ever admitted it or even realized it, I was already an athlete. I didn’t get the title first. What makes me an athlete is my consistent athletic behavior.

So let’s go back to my original question. What makes a person a leader? Title? Position? Nope. It is simply consistent leadership behavior. If you’re banking on your title to get folks to follow you, you’ve got the cart before the horse.

I train six days a week. Some days I put 2 to 3 hours into my training. It’s a very specific regimen of pushing myself to the limit while also allowing time for recovery. Swim. Bike. Run. Over and over. That’s what makes me a triathlete.

What kind of a training routine could you put together for your leadership training? Here are three regimens you could start today as a leader:

  • Self Leadership.
    • Cultivate Divine Intimacy. Examine your life and leadership in light of Scripture daily.
    • Get clear about your Guiding Principles (core values) and live your life from that center.
    • Know the top three leadership skills you need for your position and develop your Personal Learning Plan.
  • Relational Leadership.
    • Master Emotional Intelligence. Read everything you can on the subject. Practice hard.
    • Practice Active Listening. Be open. Care about the people with whom you’re having conversations. Be fully present.
    • Practice the four pillars of trust in all of your relationships: integrity, humility, gratitude, and generosity.
  • Organizational Leadership.
    • Recognize somebody weekly for living up to the Core Values of your organization.
    • Mentor and encourage someone not quite as far in their leadership journey as you.
    • Repeat the mission and vision of your organization regularly in new and creative ways.

These certainly aren’t the only ways to practice leadership, but it’s a start. Remember, it doesn’t take a title to be a leader. What makes you a leader is your consistent leadership behavior. If you behave like a leader, you ARE a leader!

This article originally appeared HERE at


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Rodney Mills is a Leadership Effectiveness Coach for Passionate Christ Followers. His life's work is to inspire, equip, and coach servant leaders that change the world. He holds two degrees in Organizational Leadership and has spoken to and trained thousands of leaders on Personal Mastery, Influence, Communication, Strategic Thinking, and Servant Leadership. Check out his personal blog at

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.