The simplest and clearest definition for leadership you’ll probably ever find is this: Someone who leads.

Sounds elementary, I know. But in its simplicity, it’s profound. Oftentimes, the self-proclaimed leader fails to ever realize that leadership requires actually “leading” people somewhere. Some leaders may possess a title or a position, but they ostensibly lack the ability or direction to really take people anywhere.

So how do you know if you’re a leader – or just someone pretending to be one? To answer that question, I would start by asking a few other questions.

First of all, who’s following you? If the sand behind you only shows one trail of footsteps, then perhaps you’re not really a leader. Leadership necessitates a following. More importantly, it implies that those following you actually desire to be following you. Just because you’re a textbook leader won’t necessarily cause people to affirm your leadership. However, it might place you in positions of influence where they are obligated to. If that’s the case, and all you see behind you are deep ruts (resulting from those being drug by you), perhaps you’re more of a boss than a leader.

Secondly, what do you have to offer? By looking at your life and evaluating the fruit you are bearing, can someone glean something from you? When people want your leadership, it should not take coercing or pep-rallying or flaunting of talents to draw their attention. When you bear fruit that is attractive and beneficial to others, they will naturally be drawn to you. Therefore, work harder on bearing fruit than on getting people to follow you. They will want to observe you, listen to you, and even emulate you, not because you’re the biggest tree in the woods, but because you possess something on your branches that can truly make a difference in their life.

Finally, where are you leading? And is it somewhere worth going? Your life will reveal a lot about where you’re going and even more about what kind of direction you can actually provide. If your past reveals a sloppy trail of poor decision making and sluggish behavior, you’ll probably have a hard time convincing others of your leadership. To be a leader, you must know where you’re going yourself. And you have to know how to get others there, too. But when people see that you are heading nowhere worth going, most likely, they will not follow.

So, is it in you? Do you have what it takes to be a real leader? Some may argue that they were born to be a leader, but that doesn’t guarantee that they actually know how or where to lead. The Bible warns, “if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Matt. 15:14) That is why it is so crucial that the man or woman who leads people does so with as much wisdom and caution as they can. To lead frivolously or deceitfully will only jeopardize those that follow them.

Ultimately, the evidence of your leadership will reveal itself in how well you have affected those who have followed you. When those around you are advancing, growing, and bearing fruit themselves, when their lives are becoming bigger and better because of you, then – and only then – will you know that you have effectively carried out the immense responsibility of leading people in a way that is healthy and promising. This, indeed, is the clear-cut proof of true leadership.

Questions to Ponder:
Do you possess the character or lifestyle that is worth emulating?
Are you demonstrating the qualities of a true leader every day?
Do you possess the passions, insight, and vision that are worth pursuing?
Can people trust that you’re leading them where they need to go?
Are you making a difference?