Be a Leader Regardless of Title: Service is a Choice

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It gives me pause when someone generalizes others as “not leadership types.” Their intent is never to be mean-spirited, more of a casual toss of opinion. There are roles not necessarily deemed as leadership ones in every organization, and that’s fair enough. But by no means should we discount anyone from being potential leaders or leaders amongst their inner circles.

Every person can lead. Our starting point being self-leadership: taking responsibility for our decisions, standing by our principles and beliefs, holding strong to our values such as honesty and integrity, and challenging ourselves to be our best. If our behavior is consistent, then it makes no difference if we are at home or at work. These actions and decisions are not affected by title, rank, or status as leadership comes from within.

I bet you can easily think of a leader who possesses the corresponding title, yet you are not at all inspired by them. People follow them because of the authority that accompanies the title not because of the person.



Now, think of a person you have unshakeable faith in, for whom you would go into battle with without hesitation. Their title or rank has nothing to do with your decision, does it? What matters is that you trust them. You trust their abilities and their character. You know they have your back and for that reason, you absolutely have theirs. This is why we find powerful leaders everywhere…working on factory floors, in hotels as bellhops, or as high school dropouts. Their character is what makes them so, it has nothing to do with a title.

“Leadership does not mean you are in charge, it means you are responsible for the people in your charge.” – Simon Sinek

You can be that person. You can be a great leader with or without the accompanying title or status. Who you are is determined by how you act. If you stay consistent in your behavior, people see that. It comforts them knowing you, as simple as this sounds, do what you say you are going to do. They gravitate towards you because they trust you, the proof is always in the pudding.

I love how Simon Sinek speaks of leadership: “Leadership does not mean you are in charge, it means you are responsible for the people in your charge.” Another favorite: “Look to the person on your left and on your right, and ask yourself: how can I help them succeed?” Leaders understand when they help others succeed, they themselves succeed, and it brings about further success for the company. Often, their actions do not even stem from a desire for success, but from a concern for their mates. I have your back, you have mine, now let’s do this.

The funny thing about taking care? It’s not that hard to do, but it does take time and effort. Since those two resources are in limited supply, we choose carefully how we use them. Sometimes, we get a bit stingy. Does it really take that much time and effort to keep the break room tidied? To stock the employee bathrooms? To hold the door open for the person running in behind you? Of course not. These are simple ways to take care of one another. While it requires just a moment or two, your time and effort are greatly appreciated. The result of these acts of kindness when given over time, is trust. And once trust is established, well, now your team is going to be able to perform at their highest potential (check out Google’s Project Aristotle on Building the Perfect Team).

John Wooden led UCLA’s Division I men’s basketball team to 10 championships in 12 years, including 7 in a row (no other team has won more than 4 in a row for men’s or women’s Division I basketball). He is one of the most revered coaches in all of sports, not only for these victories, but for his impact on his players through his leadership.



Part of his everyday routine? To go to the supply closet, grab a broom, and sweep the gym floor.

If we expect the simple tasks to be done by those around us we often set ourselves up for disappointment. However, when we lead by example, from small acts of kindness to sticking by our word, it doesn’t matter where you are on the ladder, people will look to you for leadership.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Karyn: thank you for this post. I watched the Simon Sinek video from the link you provided. I found his points refreshing, and they resonated with with my experience. Marketing and sales practitioners are particularly guilty of short-termism, self-satisfied with their KPI’s and focused on protecting market share and maximizing revenue above all other results. Sinek makes it clear that there is a better way, though it requires managers to depart from the indoctrination they’ve received throughout their careers, including producing (or in some instances, being credited for producing) the targeted numbers is the ultimate goal, and doing so casts you as a winner.

    For leaders, “Taking care” of others is easy to do if you know how. I think that time and effort plays a minor part. Leaders must possess fundamental kindness and compassion. Otherwise, they will go through the motions you described, but staff will not be swayed. The most exemplary leaders I have known have also demonstrated extraordinary personal humility. To your point, Southwest’s Herb Kelleher famously slung baggage during peak travel seasons. And certainly, his ego wasn’t dented when he took instruction from his co-workers on the baggage line. That’s rare.

    A related post that I made on this topic might be of interest, Feeling Morally Queasy at Work? Tips for Voicing your Values http://customerthink.com/feeling-morally-queasy-at-work-tips-for-voicing-your-values/.

  2. Hi Andy, you are very welcome, I’m thrilled you found value in my article and in Simon Sinek’s work as well. It’s very easy for people to get caught up in the numbers, especially since that’s what’s often talked about. I always like to say follow the numbers to find the people who need help. We are at the tipping point of embracing a ‘better way’, and I firmly believe whole companies will support this new approach, a big improvement from the onesy-twosy’s who have been flying solo in this endeavor.

    Yes, humility is a clear indication of a strong leader, I love the story of SWA’s Herb Kelleher, I hadn’t heard that before, makes me proud to hear it. Makes me sad to think his ability to absorb feedback and instruction is a rare thing, that needs to change. Strength is in the desire to improve, the desire to learn, the desire to listen, the understanding that others are the experts at what they do best and to save a heck of a lot of time and effort…it’s better to listen and learn than to pontificate.

    I enjoyed your article and love your writing style. You exposed an interesting conundrum that is usually swept under the rug as you say, amazing the difficult choices and temptations we all have to navigate. Thank you for discussing further and sharing!

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