How Do You Know You Are a True Leader?

Man pulling a card that says “the true leader” out of breast pocket

If you are short on time and looking for something brief yet impactful, this article is for you.

At Tribe Conference in 2019, I had the opportunity to hear several great speakers. Some I know personally, some I knew of by name or accomplishment, and some were entirely new for me.

It was a great conference and a great experience.

One, Dr. Mike Bechtle, provided what I believe is probably the most succinct and accurate description of thought leadership ever offered.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the essence was this:

You can’t call yourself a thought leader unless you can influence how other people think.

If you can’t influence the thoughts of others, you are not a thought leader.

When people require information or expertise, and they have access to you but choose not to seek you out, are you really a thought leader?


Your earned ability to influence the thoughts of other people in a given area of expertise or knowledge defines you as a thought leader.

It’s that simple.

How then, can we expand this concept to understand when, or if, we have become a leader in a more general sense?


If you possess a developed ability to influence the behaviors and actions of a group of people, you are a leader.

Influence may materialize in any number of different ways. You may issue orders that are then carried out. You may assign responsibility to subordinates, which is then evaluated and executed.

There is any number of approaches to how work or responsibility is disseminated. Each is valid in different circumstances, though some will have decidedly less longevity than others.

But, the one thing they all share is this: if you can influence another person or group of people to act per a direction that you choose, then you are leading.

You are, by definition, a leader. It is that simple and that profound.

Develop an ability to influence people to take actions that you choose or direct.

Establish yourself as a recognized and sought-out repository of knowledge and original thought. You then become a thought leader.

Build influence, develop expertise, and you can lead.

The question is: what will you do with it?

I hope you enjoyed this, and if you want to see more from me, I invite you to join my group of Intentional Leaders here.

I hope you join us, and I look forward to sharing your leadership journey.

Matthew Overlund writes non-fiction and coaches professional development for new (or not so new) managers at Leadership & Vision, where he helps amazing people realize a higher potential as they evolve from getting things done to making things happen.

When he’s not writing, coaching, or generally masquerading as a code jockey, solutions architect, or product manager, Matt occasionally writes, thinks, reads, or talks about fiction — where understanding the characters on the page help him try to understand the characters in the world.

Exploring professional development, leadership, and the improvement of organizational culture.

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Matthew A. Overlund

Matthew A. Overlund

Strategy is the path we expect, reality is the path we discover, and leadership enables us to reach the destination.

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