10 Leadership Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a Leader
August 25, 2021
Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D.
Becoming a leader isn’t right for everyone. These are leadership questions to ask yourself to help you determine if you have the motivation to lead.
Are you an emerging leader? There's no question that getting promoted into leadership can give you deeper satisfaction in your career and the impact you make. But it's not an easy road, and it's filled with tough decisions and difficult situations. Here are 10 leadership questions to ask yourself to see if you’re motivated to be a leader, and if leadership is really for you.
Leadership Isn’t for Everyone
The reality is that leadership isn’t for everyone. As my co-author Rich Wellins and I were writing our book Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others, we interviewed over six dozen leaders new to their role. And almost all of them shared that becoming a leader was harder than the transition into marriage, new parenthood, or relocating.
For some of these new leaders, their struggles with leadership were solved as they learned new leadership skills. But for other people, their struggles stemmed from the fundamental fact that they didn’t truly want to lead.
Consider Jack, who was an excellent technical specialist. He loved working with clients and was very, very successful. When his outstanding reputation earned him the offer to lead a small team, he took it right away.
And he hated it.
He gave it some time, but after a long and stressful year, he asked for his old job back. The company gladly returned him to his previous role, and he has been happy and highly engaged in that role ever since. Jack was smart to understand his own strengths and abilities. And smarter still to know his leadership heart.
Determining Your Motivation to Lead: 10 Leadership Questions to Ask Yourself
Whether you’ve been offered your first leadership job, are considering becoming a leader, or are currently in a leadership role, there are some leadership questions to ask yourself to determine whether you really have the motivation to lead:
1. Are you interested in the power or the responsibility?
A good leader leads because he or she is called to be responsible for others, which includes not only their work, but also their wellbeing in the workplace. Leaders who are more concerned about the power that comes with the position generally don’t make it very far into their careers. And if they do, they’re not usually well-liked or effective.
2. Are you motivated to lead?
Leaders must have an upward ambition to expand their sphere of influence in the organization. Leaders also need to know what motivates them and what it takes to stay motivated on their own projects, along with staying motivated to manage their team members.
3. Do you interact well with others?
Leaders must inspire performance and morale, and you can usually spot these leaders by observing who everyone else in the department is looking up to, even if their leadership is informal. “I’m not a people person” is generally not something that should cross a leader’s mind.
4. Do you learn from past experiences and seek out new ones?
A leader must always be growing, both learning from their mistakes and successes in the past as well as seeking out opportunities to learn for the future. The saying “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” goes double for leaders. Not learning from past experiences will doom a team to repeat the same mistakes. Neither a team nor a leader can grow without learning from the past, but they must also be willing to seek opportunities to learn new methods and experiences.
5. Are you confident and trustworthy?
A good leader is confident in her skills, but isn’t a know-it-all. There’s a fine line between hubris and humility. Finding the right balance is difficult, but important. A leader must have the confidence of her direct reports and supervisor without coming off as arrogant.
6. Can you adjust to new people and situations, including those that are unclear and ambiguous?
Leaders need to see shades of gray instead of black and white. A leader with a “My way or the highway” attitude is doomed to fail. You must be able to put your personal feelings aside and look at the nuances in each situation and learn to adapt to a myriad of personalities and working styles.
7. Are you ready to give up a lot of your time to help others?
When you become a leader, a lot of your day is going to be spent managing others and answering their questions, while also trying to do your own work. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said it best: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
8. Are you really open to constructive criticism and feedback?
Because you need to be. As a leader, you’re not only going to get a lot more criticism and feedback, but you’re also going to need to learn from it—and fast. Not taking criticism personally and learning to accept and apply it isn’t a natural skill for many people. However, this is a skill that can be learned with practice.
9. Are you comfortable having difficult conversations?
Leaders must be confrontational at times. Part of being a leader is having tough talks with direct reports, including your friends or even with your former teammates. This could include giving feedback or even terminating a well-liked but underperforming worker.
10. Are you willing to be accountable for not only your actions but also for the actions of your team?
One of the more difficult aspects of transitioning to a leadership role is getting used to being responsible for the work of others and not just yourself. When one person on a team fails, it also reflects a failure of their leader, which can be hard for many leaders to accept.
Leadership Questions to Ask Yourself: What Your Answers Say
So, how’d you do? Did you answer mostly “Yes” to these questions? Great! Your desire to lead will help you find the strength and motivation to develop the skills you’ll need to become a great leader.
Mostly “No”? That’s fine, too. Many people feel pressured to accept leadership jobs without reflecting on whether it’s truly what they want to do. There are many ways to grow and succeed, many of which have nothing to do with leadership.
Above all, remember this: We asked 600 leaders whether they voluntarily sought a leadership job or were pressured into taking it. We also asked how it worked out for them. Those who felt pressured into taking the job were three times more likely to be dissatisfied and twice as likely to consider quitting as those who voluntarily sought leadership. That’s strong evidence that you should think hard about your own career goals before making the leap to leadership!
Learn about how to develop emerging leaders in our high-potential leadership webinar series.
Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D., is DDI’s Chief Executive Officer and co-author of Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others.