Leadership is More Than a Title: 10 Actions for Leaders

This I know for sure: Leadership is NOT a title. In fact, true leaders have an ability to inspire many—even those who don’t work directly for them. That is precisely why the word leader is a noun that describes someone who undertakes the action of leading: “To Lead.” If you thought leader (or “leadership”) meant having a title such as CEO or VP or regional manager, you’re confusing power with leadership.

It’s true that someone with a big title and management authority has an advantage when it comes to enacting work. This is because they can use their “legitimate power” to move resources directionally as they see fit. Coupled with the desire to earn rewards and the fear of some type of punishment, the role of manager has leadership implications. Just know those implications in themselves aren’t leadership. Make sense?

If you want insight into the best leaders, look at those who inspire people to follow them even when they don’t have to. When people respect, listen to and follow a person who holds no direct accountability over them, or has no ability to give or take anything from them, that person is a leader.

Can you think of an example of this?

Is there someone in your organization whom people inherently listen to, even though they aren’t “The Boss?” Maybe there is an account executive who has been with the company for years and when they speak everyone pays attention. Why do they garner so much respect? What is it about these folks that makes them worth following?

If you ever want to be a true leader, then you have to start by leading. And this starts with a good look inside. Examine your actions, not your position. Trust me, I have had the title and the power and failed to lead—and I have been a powerful leader when I had neither. What was the difference?

Here are some thoughts and ideas about fostering true leadership:

  1. People don’t follow liars.
  2. Ra-ra speeches work once, maybe twice.
  3. Your IQ will only impress about 10 percent of the population, and they don’t work for you.
  4. Straight answers go a long way, and if you don’t know something, admit it.
  5. You can’t be everyone’s friend.
  6. Winning does matter, and people get behind winners.
  7. Giving shouldn’t be accompanied by strings.
  8. Humble pie is best served in public. (Own your mistakes.)
  9. Money “Can’t Buy Me Love,” but it helps to give recognition.
  10. Excuses, whining and complaining are for the birds.

And yes, I know some of these seem oversimplified or lack depth. But I want you to address each of these points and see how they fit within your leadership style. Do you dance around topics like a politician? Do you tie strings to everything you give? Are you clear in your answers? Are you chronically worried about what everyone else will think or if they will still be your friend if you speak your truth? Do you brag? Do you admit your mistakes?

We are all works in progress. Be honest with yourself. If you relate to many of the bullet points above, congratulations, you’re human. True leaders learn from their mistakes and honestly address them in order to foster change. In the end, it takes courage to lead.