While some may argue leadership isn't a learned skilled, I couldn't think of something further from the truth. Everyday you're operating consciously in a working environment, you're learning a little more about being a leader — and about your specific leadership style. Even if you don't manage anyone, every time you "own" a project, take on a new task, provide a solution to a problem or help someone junior, you're fine-tuning your leadership skills. And if you do manage a team, every time you interact with them, you're becoming a bit better at your role — especially if you've fostered an environment where they can give you feedback on your management style.
But how do you, and more importantly, your manager, know when you're ready to take your leadership to the next level? To be seen as leadership material, you need to pass these five tests.
1. Making a presentation in front of decision makers.
To be pegged as a potential leader, you need to nail a presentation in front of decision makers. Not only do you need to be a poised public speaker, the content of your presentation needs to be rock solid and prove thought leadership potential. You should be able to answer questions from people above and below you in the chain of command, and do it with the ease of a natural leader. Plus, your slide deck should scream TED potential.
2. Managing public criticism of their work.
Leaders face criticisms for their decisions 24/7. In order to be labeled leadership material, you must be able to manage public criticism of your work in a firm, respectful and productive way. This test may come in the form of a critical comment during a presentation or an email response to a proposal. Either way, it's your time to show that you can't just handle critique — you can learn from it.
3. Solving a business problem.
Leaders within an organization are always tasked with creating innovative solutions to business problems. To be considered a leader, you need to be proactive about finding strategic, scalable answers to questions within your organization. Then, you need to implement those answers. You should always be seeking out better ways to do things, and the decision makers who could implement those better ways.
4. Recognizing the skills of a team member.
A good leader recognizes individual strengths of the people on their team, then assigns roles and tasks accordingly. To be labeled leadership material, you must show you are capable of recognizing other people's strengths and allocating resources based on your insights. You should be encouraging junior team members to help on assignments when you know it matches their strengths and interests, picking projects that match your own strengths while encouraging your teammates to pick projects based on theirs, and letting decision makers know when someone's strengths should be celebrated with a new responsibility that's come up.
5. Communicating their dissent.
Good leaders don't just roll over when they don't agree with someone. They have strong opinions backed by data and expertise, and they make those opinions heard for the sake of the organization. To be pegged as a leader, you must prove that you are able to have hard conversations with decision makers — even if it makes them uncomfortable in the moment. You should be voicing your opinions in meetings, sharing your thoughts on new processes and projects, and pointing out when something could be done better. This demonstrates true leadership potential.