Success is not a function of the size of your title but the richness of your contribution.
–Robin S. Sharma
I’m sure if you’ve been in leadership circles long enough you’ve heard the adage, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”. And it happens for good reason. A person with a title gets a position and then suddenly they think they know it all. Instead of growing into their leadership potential they fall back on their title to push their agenda and ideas.
A must-read for all leaders is John Maxwell’s book The Five Levels of Leadership. It should be required reading for all organizations and their leaders.
In the book, Maxwell walks the reader through the five levels beginning with level one, the lowest level – position. While it is a starting place for leaders it’ not where you want to stay. One of the main problems, as Maxwell points out, with positional leaders is that they want to “focus on control instead contribution.” And this is why people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.
Positional thinking for any organization is like death by a thousand cuts (titles). It’s not necessarily one thing that is the deal breaker for people, but the culmination of bad leadership behaviors over time that seals the deal. It’s management by decree in place of leadership by example. It’s painful to watch, and horrible to experience. But what do those mindsets and thinking sound like? I will highlight a few that Maxwell describes.
Top-down – “I’m over you”
The person with a title can either be humble or arrogant. They can take advantage of the opportunity they now have to learn, mature, grow, and develop into a good leader. Or they can be arrogant and think they are important because they have a title. When a leader relies on a position rather than influence to get things done its death by a thousand titles.
Power – “I determine your future”
Positional leaders on power trips will kill your organization. This mindset is counterproductive to any that wants to move forward. Sadly, the good people working for this type of positional leader will soon move on. Leaders who like to wield this kind of power soon find that there’s no one left to control. It’s death by a thousand titles.
Selfishness – “You’re here to help me”
For the positional leader, it’s all about them. You will fall into their good graces of leadership so long as you understand that is your role. Not the other way around. The antithesis of this, of course, is servant leadership. As you mature as a leader you learn that it is not about you and that the best way to lead is by serving others. A selfish leader is only thinking about his or her self-preservation. Everything else and everyone else is subservient to that end. Organizationally, it’s death by a thousand titles.
Rules – “The manual says”
Positional leaders are big fans of the rule book and the manual. This, of course, kills morale, stifles creativity, and otherwise makes life unbearable for those actually trying to make a difference. Howard Behar described it best when he said that what organizations need is not a rulebook but a playbook. Unfortunately, the positional leader doesn’t yet have the skill and foresight to lead any other way than by the book, not realizing that much of leadership is by the heart. Organizationally, it’s death by a thousand titles.
Having a title doesn’t make you a leader. It simply means as Maxwell points out, that you have leadership potential. Your growth as a leader will be accelerated as you stop relying on your title and use your people skills. This begins by practicing servant leadership. As a leader you must come to know, it’s not about you.