Leadership Has Nothing to do with a Title

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 26 March 2015

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When I deliver workshops or keynotes on the behavior of effective leaders, I often look across the room and watch people nodding their heads in agreement and then commenting about how much better things would be if their boss would just shape up.  Although it’s great to see the agreement with these principles of effective leadership that drive team alignment, here’s the problem.  Leadership has nothing to do with title or position and everything to do with behavior.  Remember, this blog is about effective leadership and employee engagement, not about organizational structure, which is clearly defined by title and position. 

Having a C-suite title does not mean that you are a great leader.  Leadership is earned through behavior and accomplishment.  Leaders inspire people, not manage by fear and intimidation.  You can tell someone they have to do something, but you cannot force him or her to be passionate about it.  A title alone does not make someone a leader who can inspire others and create a culture of employee engagement and team alignment.  I have worked for some bosses who held very senior titles in the company and yet I never felt passionate or fully engaged.  Sure, I will respect the title and position and will even comply with an autocratic style out of self-preservation.  But I’m not willing to go the extra mile to take the hill for someone that I don’t respect as a true leader.

On the other hand, not having the title does not mean you are not a leader.  Leadership is learned behavior and is something that is developed over time.  Did you ever get into a group of friends and someone just assumes the role of leadership and the rest of the group just follows?  Or have you ever worked on a team of peers and the group just naturally follows one person who assumes the leadership position?  Why does that happen?  Clearly it’s not about a title or a position of power.  It is because that person has learned how to influence others with those over which they absolutely have no control.  The individual has learned to create an environment of respect and collaboration in which everyone shares the same vision, passion, and objectives. 

Imagine an organization in which everyone exhibits effective leadership behavior, whether they are in a position of power or not.  That organization is stronger, more responsive, more competitive and nimble.  I would challenge you as we explore effective leadership throughout this blog series, to think of leadership as a behavior that everyone can exhibit, not as a title or something defined by organizational structure.  Remember:

  1. Leadership is about influence not control
  2. Leadership has nothing to do with title and everything to do with behavior
  3. Everyone has the ability to be a leader
  4. A leader with no followers is just taking a walk alone

Effective Leadership is tantamount to creating a culture of employee engagement that makes an organization better, more competitive, smarter and ultimately more successful and valuable.   I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic.