A Leader in Name Only

Congratulations on your promotion into “management.” I trust you’ve earned your promotion through hard work and dedication. Maybe your promotion isn’t so recent; perhaps you’ve been a member of your organization’s management team for a long time.

Either way you absolutely must understand this basic leadership fact: being part of an organization’s management team does not make you a leader.

What it does do is give you a rather brief period of time to earn the right to lead. Yes, you read that right… the opportunity to truly lead must be earned. While you can be promoted into a leadership position you cannot be promoted to “leader.”

Earning the right to lead begins with an understanding that people will not be managed, they expect to be led. In fact, they need to be lead. If you’ve been in a management role for a period of time and have struggled to get people to buy into you and your leadership it may well be that they feel managed, not led. They may feel like “a cog in the wheel,” on equal footing with a copy machine or some fancy new software your organization just purchased. They just don’t believe that they truly matter.

The best you can hope for from people who feel managed is their compliance, they will do what they are told because they “have” to. Compliant people are not really following you, they are merely obeying you. Their compliance shows in the level of effort they offer to the organization, compliant people do what they are required to do and that’s about it.

When people feel as if they are being led they will commit. They don’t necessarily commit to the organization but they do commit to their leader. Committed people will follow their leader past the leader’s stated level of authority. They will do far more than their job description requires them to do. Not only is their effort generally better, their results are often far superior as well.

Don’t be a leader in name only. Work each day to earn the trust and respect of the people you would lead. Authentic Servant Leaders know this fact without a doubt: if your people can’t trust you then they absolutely won’t follow you. It’s more than that, they actually can’t follow you; their brain won’t let them commit to someone that they can’t trust and if they can’t commit, then they are not truly following.

No matter what you call yourself, if no one will follow you then you are not leading.

Once your people trust you, and by extension your motives, then you can begin the task of showing you care about them as people. They must know, without a doubt that they matter more than “stuff.” If anything in your organization takes precedence over your people then the people will notice, the morale will suffer and soon after, the trust is gone.

Authentic Servant Leaders work each day to demonstrate that their people matter… more than any other part of the business.

Never forget, it’s not your position or title that makes you a leader. What really makes you a leader, especially an Authentic Servant Leader, is the difference you make in the lives of the people you lead. When you make a difference then you are leading.

25 thoughts on “A Leader in Name Only

  1. This article reminds me of when I was promoted to a high school principal at the age of 31 (twenty seven years ago). I quickly realized that having the sign “Principal” on the door meant little it took about 18 months for me to earn the title that was on the door.

    1. Thanks Rob, that’s a great point. Those who promoted you believed that you earned the right to lead, but they don’t really matter. It’s the people you would lead who really matter and we have to work twice as hard to earn their trust so that they can follow.

  2. My wife is an elementary principal and is a wonderful personification of your blog and I sent your blog to our son and daughter, aspiring young leaders. She loved your artwork associated with this article and wondered how she could get a copy?

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Your wife should be able to find the leadership art online, there are lots of those “word clouds” available for free online.

  3. This is a great article. Direct, simple, to the point and no sugar coating it.. Now, why is it so difficult to get managers to understand this simple concept!. It works people!!

    1. Thanks for you comment. I think too many people confuse management and leadership. One (management) is about things and one (leadership) is about people and only people. Buildings, computers and systems don’t need leadership, people need leadership.

  4. Your last paragraph nailed it. Looks like you’ll be quoted in my colleges classes and presentations!

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