Titles Can’t Lead

You’ve worked hard to earn your title and position of leadership. You’ve done more than required of you and now you have the opportunity to truly make a difference.

Maybe you’ve just lucked into the title. Maybe you were born into the position, or married into it. Maybe you’ve benefited from the Peter Principle and got the position because “they” tried you in other roles and you did okay.

Either way, whether you lucked into a position or you’ve really earned it, your title and position of leadership does not make you a leader.

Being a leader requires that you actually lead somebody.

If you manage people you’re likely a boss, not a leader.

If you lead people to act as you act and you can influence them to behave in a certain way you’re probably an effective leader. The challenge with being an effective leader is that despite some success you’re likely still not helping your people reach their full potential.

If you lead people to act as you act and you care as much about your followers as you care about yourself, and if you influence your people in a way that helps them become a leader and you celebrate their success as much as or more than your own then you’re almost certainly an Authentic Servant Leader.

When you help people accomplish more than they ever believed possible, because you believed in them even more than they believed in themselves, then you are a leader of leaders.

No one leads merely by sitting in a leader’s chair. If you’re really going to lead you have to do something.

You see, accepting an important sounding title or position does not make you a leader. It may however make it possible to force the compliance of your people. You may be able to “scare” them into doing what you want but fear is a very poor long-term motivator.

If you settle for the compliance of your people you will always have “personnel issues” to deal with. Your people will simply do the bare minimum required to maintain their job. They will always be restless and not in a constructive way. They will underperform and they will frustrate you. And it will all be because of you; you may have filled the office of the leader but you’ve left a leadership void.

A title or position does not make you a leader, nor does it lead for you. It merely gives you a bit of time to earn the opportunity to truly lead. The extent of your leadership will be determined by you and those who you would lead. If you can show that you care enough about your followers as people then they will allow you to lead them. Yes, I said allow.

If you think you can make people follow you then you had better think again. You may be able to make them comply but leading people requires their permission and commitment. If your people are not committed to you then they will not follow you. There is no way to force someone to commit to you. Their commitment must be earned.

Compliance causes people issues, commitment solves them.

People commit to a leader when they discover that the leader cares about them as people. When a leader proactively, intentionally and consistently shows that they care then their followers will know without a doubt that the leader has their best interests in mind.

When they know the leader has their best interests in mind they will go above and beyond to help the leader. You’ll never hear a committed follower say “that’s not in my job description.”

Leadership requires more than a title; it requires action on the part of the leader. If you are counting on your position or title to gain the commitment of your people then you are missing the leadership boat.

Take action to show you care. Invest yourself in the success of your people. Freely give your time and expertise to those you would lead. Make a difference for other people.

That is how Authentic Servant Leadership works!

9 thoughts on “Titles Can’t Lead

  1. Wonderful post Steve.

    Titles don’t lead, caring people do! : )

    I’ve probably already shared this in some form on your earliest of post when you first started this blog…Some of my greatest leadership lessons were in the military. That is where I began to learn the difference between titles and genuine leadership.

    As you know, in the military, the system of leadership is based on rank. Time in service. A person doesn’t necessarily have to be a good leader at all or necessarily a decent person to move up in rank in the military. If you meet the basic qualifications and have the minimum of time served to qualify for that next rank, a person gets it.

    I’ve served under many leaders who had the rank but were lousy leaders…some even cruel. Both men and women. I’ve also served under some WONDERFUL leaders that didn’t lead based on their rank. They were humble yet worthy of respect. You WANTED to ‘serve’ because you knew they cared about you and not only that, were willing to put their own skin in the game right along WITH you. That is what sets those type of leaders apart. Even in the land of the military where we had a serious job to do. Where lives are on the line. Where one mistake is all it takes to cost lives.

    As much as I wouldn’t want to RELIVE my military years, I can also say that I learned far too much for me to say I didn’t learn from my experience. It was VALUABLE experience. Even if it meant learning what NOT to do.

    One of the most important things I learned had to do with interdependency and teamwork. In order to ‘succeed’, we had to learn how to have each others backs if you wanted to increase your chances of survival as a soldier. Fortunately, I was never put in that position. I wound up working in relative safety at a military post hospital far away from the combat zone during Operation Desert Shield Desert Storm. Not everyone I knew was that lucky and someone I knew lost his life right before the war ended, having stepped on a land mine.

    I can’t speak for everyone..I can only speak for myself. And based on my own life and experiences, (plus military training) I have a far easier time respecting leaders who genuinely care about me and are willing to put just as much as their lives on the line (in all contexts) as they expect from me.

    I imagine like King Leonidas and his mighty 300, if you have a leader like him, many of us would willingly go to hell and back for a leader like that!

  2. PS: How King Leonidas is depicted in the movie 300 isn’t necessarily that of a ‘humble’ servant. So my point was more along the lines of he wasn’t standing BEHIND his troops during the action. He was right there right along with them. Lousy leaders protect themselves at the expense of their own people. They use their people to hide behind. Their people pay the heaviest price…not the leader.

    1. Geez, you have a great way of improving my posts with your comments. I too saw those same examples in the military and see much of the same in business. The key to leadership is a decision to lead. It’s a decision that says I will make a difference for people because I can! It’s a decision that says I don’t need a title or position to lead, I just need to care about people.

      A leader will lead because that’s what they do. When you are lucky enough to be led by a true leader once than “fake” leaders will never lead you again.

  3. The sad thing is that most leaders set out looking for compliance first. They might get it for awhile, but without the proper motivation compliance will fall to the wayside. This is a tyrannical way of leading and will result in a high turnover rate. Great leaders obtain compliance as a result of their commitment to their team. The more you commit to them, the more they commit to you and your cause. Please see my leadership blog for more of my perspective on leading others. http://www.directingreflections.com

    1. Thanks for your comment, you make a great point. Commitment is a two-way street. The more committed the leader is to their people the more willing the people are to commit. People seldom commit to an uncommitted leader.

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