I have been contemplating what it means to be a leader. There was a time in my life when I thought that leadership was a title. When I played sports in school there was always someone named captain of the team and of course all teams need to have a coach. Those were leaders right; after all the title said so. My experiences in sports showed that the title and the person really did equate to a leader. I played on some very strong and competitive teams that were successful due in large part to how great a leader the coach was and how great a motivator and role model the Captain was. However, these experiences did lead me to grow up associating titles with leadership. It would not be until I got a bit older and entered into my first job that I started to see that not everyone with a leadership title was a leader.
My first real job was working in a fast food restaurant while I was in high school. I reported to a shift supervisor. Wayne had been working at the restaurant for about a year. His shiny badge read “Shift Supervisor” which showed he was in a position of responsibility. Wayne was a goof. The only reason he was shift supervisor was because of his tenure. He was not a good leader, he did not set a good example and he was unreliable. I was utterly confused. How could Wayne be a leader? This is when I started to realize, ever so slightly, that titles do not make someone a leader. Nevertheless, I did not really make the complete connection at that time. I was still holding on to what I had experienced with past coaches and team captains who wore the titles well.
After high school and some college I entered into the corporate workforce. I had my focus set on a position of leadership. I wanted to be in management. That is where you lead. I could not lead unless I had the title, so I thought. Being focused and driven, I was eventually promoted into roles of leadership and what I found along the way was that managing and leading were two entirely different concepts. Early on I managed the staff and the work. As I gained more experience and began to seek guidance from more experienced leaders (those that I admired) I started to learn how to lead. I discovered that a really good leader can lead without title. As my career progressed I took on different roles that were outside of management. I focused on leading meetings, leading projects, and leading innovation in my area of work Through my actions and attitude, absent the official title, I was starting to be recognized as a leader. Eventually these leadership qualities led to more and more responsibility landing me years later in the executive role I hold today.
I continue to learn more about myself as a leader and what true leadership means. World renowned leadership coach Bryan Tracy was quoted as saying, “Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” I have strived to do that. I never want people to follow me just because they feel they have to. That is not leadership, that is dictatorship. My philosophy of leadership has evolved over the years and now I understand where I am most comfortable leading. I am most effective serving and collaborating. Kenneth Blanchard said it well, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority”. I have found that people will follow a person they trust before they will follow a person they must.
Most recently I have discovered something else about myself that some may see as career suicide or at the very least something taboo to say. What I discovered after “arriving” at the executive level is that just as a title does not equal leadership, a title does not equal success. Success is in the eye of the beholder. For me, making a difference in someones life and having a positive impact is more important than title. Impact on those I serve impact in my industry and most importantly impact on my family. The most important leadership role I hold is that of being a husband and father. If I lead my family with integrity, showing my children through hard work, consistency, compassion, and perseverance how a person should carry themselves, then all that will transfer right into my career.
As I mentioned earlier I watch leaders I respect, both in the workforce and in my personal life. What they all have in common is their awareness of how they impact others. Their focus is not on title but on service. One such leader who comes to mind says that he does not even use his title when he introduces himself because he does not want the focus to be on his role, but rather on the value he brings to the meeting.
- If title does not equal leadership or denote success then why does our ego tell us otherwise?
- Would you be willing to take an impactful role over a title?
- Do you agree that leadership and titles are two separate concepts?
I would love to hear from you on these questions of any other comment this post might have sparked.