Does a Job Title Make You a Leader?

Are you working in an organization that includes the word leader in job titles? Perhaps you’re a professional who has this word in your own job title? If you or someone you know uses a position of authority to lead and manage others, then this post is written for you all.

As I reflect on a fulfilling week of coast-to-coast teaching, I am continuing to sense a strong message that has been at the forefront of most of my classes.

This message … from 2008 to the present … feels something like this:

Our leaders need to be here right now.

Our managers don’t understand what a leader is, but they have us in this class anyway.

How can we sell our leaders on everything you’re teaching us?

Our organizations’ politics make it impossible to use what you’re teaching us.

So, for all of the job-titled leaders who send talented professionals to management training classes, I gently offer 3 tips to consider for your own personal leadership development:


1. Leadership is not a job title.

Great leadership is exemplified in how you think and behave in the workplace, and it doesn’t magically happen through a job title. Do you know your people and what’s important to them? Do you understand their emotional triggers and what excites or upsets them? Do you feel a strong sense of empathy toward others? In the Agile world (where I teach & coach), we often refer to these people as Scrum Masters, and their role is very different than that of a job-titled Project Manager. They are emerging leaders who have a strong sense of purpose to bring out the best in everyone and guide their organizations to high levels of performance.

At one point much earlier in my career, I had a job title that required others to follow me, but I did not think and act like a leader. It was painful to others and painful for me. It took me some time to realize this, and once I did, then I felt a strong desire to disconnect from my job title and transform myself into something more worthy of the workplace. It wasn’t easy – I had to face some demons in myself, and you might have to do the same.


2. Leaders enrich others through personal and professional growth opportunities.

I have observed many incredible leadership moments in organizations. Here is an example that might surprise you: imagine a struggling software programmer who is buried into a computer screen and trying to fix a difficult problem. Another (more experienced) programmer senses that person’s struggle and kindly offers to help. When the invitation for help is accepted, powerful mentoring emerges that strengthens the relationship between those two people. At the same time, the struggling programmer experiences a growth moment that helps that fuels improvement in the workplace (both professionally and personally). Lastly, their peers see this behavior in action and feel an urge to act in a similar manner. These are glorious leadership behaviors that are focused, yet humane – and they lead to higher levels of performance in the workplace.

In this case, the person who reached out to help might be considered a peer in the job-title hierarchy and probably doesn’t have any direct reports, but that person is a LEADER in the organization.


3. A great leader is kind, caring and approachable.

Service-first leadership (often called servant-leadership) is a powerful and positive force that will make its way into every big company on the planet — eventually. But we’re not there yet. Many people who lead with an authoritative stance (e.g., I am your boss and I am sending you to a class) often think and act in ways that benefit themselves more than others. If people are forced to follow you because of your job title, then you might be in need of some hard, but much-needed self-reflection to make yourself more approachable to others. Read through some of these leadership tips to see how they feel to you. Consider investing in Robert Greenleaf’s life-changing book on servant-leadership and start with the foreword. It’s written by the legendary Dr. Stephen Covey and eloquently expresses the essence of service-first leadership in a way that no one can deny.

Are you an approachable person in the workplace? Can others be completely open and honest with you about the good, the bad and the ugly? Do you think it’s important for people to like you?

What does this mean to you? What is your next step?

I hope these tips help all of us understand that a job title doesn’t make someone a leader. And if you aren’t in an official position of authority, you can still emerge as a great leader in your organization. As a next step, try changing one small behavior in how you act in the workplace: lighten your tone with others, genuinely ask someone “how is your day going?” and actively listen and show caring from that person’s angle. Extend a token of genuine appreciation to others for trying their best.

What will you do differently to disconnect from your job title and start improving your own leadership presence? I am your biggest fan – let me know what you learn from this post or share your own leadership experiences in the comments section below.



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