Leadership is not title or position

Many see leaders as those with power and position. This view of leadership assumes that leaders are the few people at the top of an organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth!

“All the effective leaders I have encountered — both those I worked with and those I merely watched — knew four simple things: a leader is someone who has followers; popularity is not leadership, results are; leaders are highly visible, they set examples; leadership is not rank, privilege, titles or money, it is responsibility.” – Peter Drucker

Position, title and authority are often confused with leadership. We often read news reports that refer to anyone with a title as a “leader”. However, leadership is not an actual position or title. Whether you’re the president of a country or a chief executive officer, your title does not make you a leader. All a title does is make you a senior executive. 

Whilst position and authority provide you with the potential to lead, it does not make you a leader. You don’t suddenly become a leader just because you have a fancy new title. In fact, you don’t need a title to lead. Every day you can find examples of people with fancy titles that fail to demonstrate leadership. 

Leadership happens when people allow you to influence their lives. It’s only when your influence causes people to work towards a shared vision that you become a leader. Leadership is more about influence and relationship than it is about control and giving orders.

The danger of leadership as position

A danger of seeing leadership as the result of position, rank, power and authority is that it leads to dictatorships and control freaks. Leaders who think that because of their elevated position they can do whatever they like.

Leadership as position encourages “leaders” to use command and control as a way of getting things done. This style of leadership results in the following negative outcomes:

  • Leading from position undermines meaningful relationships.
  • Leading from position encourages negative political behaviour.
  • Leading from position crushes the human spirit.
  • Leading from position results in compliance.
  • Leading from position frustrates creativity and innovation.
  • Leading from position erodes trust.
  • Leading from position produces mediocre result.s
  • Leading from position feeds the ego.
  • Leading from position destroys empathy for others.

Those who lead from position don’t invest the time needed to create a shared vision that inspires others.

“The problem is that while authority can compel action it does little to inspire belief. Only leadership can do that. It’s not enough to get people to do what you want, they have to also want what you want or any change is bound to be short-lived.” — Greg Satell, To Create Real Change, Leadership Is More Important Than Authority

Another big danger of seeing leadership as position is that it undermines the development of others. When we see position as leadership, we falsely assume that leadership responsibility resides with the few people at the top of the organisation. When this happens leadership potential residing in others is not nurtured. Instead, what we need in the fast-changing world of today is leaders at all levels of the organisation.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch

Leadership is not the exercise of control over others. Leadership is the empowerment of oneself and others towards a shared vision.

Leadership as influence

”The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” — Ken Blanchard

It often comes as a surprise to new leaders that a large part of their job involves influencing others outside of their control. I often hear senior executives complaining about their lack of control. They say things like “ If only the operations area reported to me, I could get a lot more done ”. These leaders believe that if they could control people, they would get the results they wanted. The reality is that you cannot control anyone — except yourself. Leading by command and control is the lowest form of leadership. Control is an illusion. Control is limiting. Control is demoralizing. Control doesn’t scale. 

The best leaders don’t lead from position.

When you think of a leader, who comes to mind? When I think of leaders, I think of people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus Christ, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Ghandi and many others. The majority of these leaders did not have any formal position or authority. The lives of these leaders were not defined by their position. Yet, these leaders changed the course of history. Their leadership was defined by the impact they had on the lives of others. Leadership then is about what you do, not where you’re seated. 

“Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less.” — John Maxwell

The hallmark of effective leadership is the influence you have on the lives of others.

Leadership is about influence, not control. The greater your influence, the greater your leadership. Thus if you want to improve your leadership, you need to improve your influence. So how do you improve your leadership?

Firstly, you need to accept that influence doesn’t come from position. Influence comes from caring for others. If you don’t care for people, you cannot influence them. If you cannot influence others, you cannot lead. It’s through relationships that leaders gain influence.

”No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Developing influence means making the decision to care for others. Leaders care about the impact their actions have on others. Leaders care about the quality of their relationships. Leaders care about the kind of contribution they’re making to others and to the world. 

Success is about adding value to yourself, whilst significance is about adding value to others.

Your turn

Leadership has nothing to do with your position, title or authority. True leadership is not appointed, mandated or assigned. If you’re going to make a difference, you will need to sharpen your leadership skills. This means improving your influence.

Consider your leadership style:

  • Do you rush to lead from your position? Or do you take the time necessary to influence others?
  • What are you doing daily to expand your influence?
  • What do you do to show others that you care?

Remember: Leadership cannot be demanded, it can only be earned!

Leave a Comment