It’s a common postulation that people will follow you based on a title. CEO, President, CFO, COO, CIO, Vice President – these are all titles that, at face value, command respect and obedience. But I would say that the level of someone’s title is not automatically synonymous with leadership. To be sure, effective leadership goes way beyond what comes after the name on a business card – it’s a healthy mix of actions, aptitudes and attitude. You report to, listen to, and execute directions set by your boss or a higher ranking individual, but these actions are not necessarily achieved simply because your boss’ title is the Vice President of Marketing. Rather, you follow the VP of Marketing because you respect and agree with his/her business acumen, experience and character.
In doing some research for this blog, I landed upon a fitting book by Mark Sanborn, You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader. In it, Mark asserts that “leadership isn’t about having a title. Often, the strongest leaders in an organization, and in life, are those who don’t have official titles.” He argues that a majority of “leadership books and development resources are aimed squarely at leadership with a capital ‘L’ – at those who have or aspire to achieve a title or official position within an organizational hierarchy,” but he believes that “anyone who wishes to shape their own lives and positively influence the lives of others is a leader.” He believes that “people who lead – whether or not they have a title – strive to make things better for those around them” by increasing ROI – Relationships, Outcomes and Improvements. Sanborn maintains that leaders can achieve ROI through six principle-based skills that must be mastered: self-mastery, focus, power with people, persuasive communication, execution and giving. Sincere leadership then is characterized less by one’s title than by one’s principle-based skillset.
In summary, I do think people will more wholeheartedly and more fully follow those who have leadership qualities, regardless of the coinciding title. In terms of how I see leadership at Goodwill, Peter Drucker captures it perfectly in his book, The Effective Executive: “the man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, is in the most literal sense of the phrase, ‘top management.’ He holds himself accountable for the performance of the whole.”