frances frei and anne morris, "leaders: is at all about you? check yourself with these warning signs."

Leadership requires you to be present to the needs, abilities, and potential of other people — and to respond quickly and strategically to those signals. But when it’s always all about you, that’s virtually impossible to do. Here are 10 warning signs that you may be getting in your own way as a leader and making a habit out of self-distraction. 

1. What other people experience rarely occurs to you.
The path to empowering other people starts with curiosity about what they’re thinking, feeling and doing. If you find yourself focused primarily on your own experience, then you’re still a distance from the emotional launchpad of leadership.

2. You don’t ask very many questions.
A measurable indicator of your interest in others is the number of questions you ask them or at least want to ask them. If this isn’t an impulse you feel very often, then you may be stuck in your own head.  The good news is that the remedy is actionable (get in there, inquiring minds!), and there is a prize inside for going for it: People tend to become more interesting as you learn more about them.

3. The most interesting thing about other people is what they think of you.
We all care what other people think about us. This is different from caring so much that you’re disinterested in all the other thoughts someone else might be having. If you can’t sustain genuine interest in the ideas of other people — including those ideas that have nothing to do with you — then you haven’t yet earned the right to lead.

4. You are constantly updating a catalogue of your own weaknesses, limitations and imperfections.
A loud inner critic can be a major distraction from the practice of leadership. Take advice from our friend Arianna Huffington (TED Talk: How to succeed? Get more sleep) and evict that obnoxious roommate from inside your head, the one spinning negative stories about you out of dubious data.

5. Other people’s abilities bum you out.
When you’re in an effective leadership state, the strengths and potential of the people around you become your greatest assets. If your primary response to other people’s capabilities is to feel worse about your own, then you probably need a healthy time-out from the leadership path. Do what it takes to nourish yourself (and stay off Instagram).

6. You’re constantly in crisis.
The human experience is fraught with moments that require immediate, unwavering attention to self — also known as “crises.” There’s no quota for how many of these you get to have in a month, year, or lifetime, but if your numbers are way above your peers’, then you’re probably not well positioned to lead them.

7. You’re pessimistic about the future.
Leadership is built on the assumption that tomorrow can be better than today. If you have a hard time buying into such a romantic idea, if you dismiss it along with rainbows and unicorns, then we suggest you try your hand at something else. Despair is the opposite of leadership.

8. Reality has become tedious.
When you are regularly practicing leadership, the world is a pretty magical place, filled with progress to be made and human potential to be unleashed. It’s a red flag if it’s been a while since you’ve felt a sense of wonder at the unlimited possibilities around you.

9. Apathy and powerlessness are dominant emotions.
You may have come by these feelings very honestly, but leadership asks you to be in touch with your own agency and ability to influence your surroundings. It asks you to know your own power so — among other things — you can introduce other people to theirs. If you’re not feeling it, for whatever reason, then you won’t be able to pull this off

10. You are the star of your own show.
If this sentence can be used to describe the way you move through the world, then you’re not in the leadership game. Period. Those of us hungry for leadership will eventually change the channel. Leadership, at its core, isn’t about you. It’s about how effective you are at unleashing other people. Full stop. That’s it. The practical definition we use in our work is that leadership is about empowering other people as a result of your presence — and making sure that impact continues into your absence.