Causes of Leadership Failure – Emphasis of Title


Nameplate - PresidentCompetent leaders require no “title” to gain the respect of their followers. Leaders who make too much of their title generally have little else to emphasize. The doors to the office of real leaders are open to all who wish to enter, and their working quarters are free from formality or ostentation. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the 10th in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

Titles. They’re everywhere. And yes, they have a purpose. They help identify the role someone plays within an organization. They outline a clear chain of command, so everyone knows who to call on for direction, ask for clarification, and to render final decisions. The trouble starts when we equate a title with respect, as in having a title means you automatically have the respect of those who report to you.

Let me clarify. Should people show respect for the authority vested in a particular office or position? Yes, absolutely. Without that inherent and automatic respect, teachers, police officers, and public officials couldn’t function. There’s a difference, however, in respecting an office (or position) and respecting the person occupying that office. The first is automatic. The second you earn.

As a leader, therefore, understand that the respect people show toward your position isn’t the same as having those same people respect you. If you’re emphasizing the position you occupying in an effort to command respect personally, then you’re a victim of this particular cause of leadership failure. How can you avoid this trap? If you’re already caught in this particular snare, how can you get out?

 “Excuse me, I’m the…!”

An extremely wise man, Jesus, had a fantastic discussion on the use of self-imposed honorific titles. It’s found at Matthew 23:8-12. True, Jesus directed this discussion at the early Christian congregation, not the business world. However, there’s a principle we can draw from his words. Older men served as overseers and shepherds. The apostle Paul also mentions ministerial servants in his letters (1 Timothy 3:8). However, these were positions of oversight and responsibility, not mere titles. Those appointed to such positions needed to maintain the attitude found in Jesus’ words, particularly the thoughts in verses 8, 11, and 12. He said, “all you are brothers,” and “But the greatest one among you must be your minister. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Let’s fast-forward to our modern, ever-changing business world. How do the preceding words apply? They help us appreciate that we’re not better than others, and that our function as leader involves serving others needs. Servant-Leadership deserves a post all it’s own, yet for this discussion the important thing to understand is it pertains to developing the abilities within our direct reports. For from coddling them or enabling wrong actions, by employing the Developer style of leadership you help others grow (read more about this from David Byrd by clicking here and here). You can’t imagine this type of leader ever insisting on an honorary title, or emphasizing the one assigned by his or her company. Rather, this leader defines him or herself by action. They gain respect through the things they’ve done, not by emphasizing a title. What motivates their actions? A desire to serve others and promote the interests of the organization, coupled with wanting to help their direct reports achieve their full potential. In short, they have the right mindset.

Earning Respect

Throughout my life, I’ve always been taught and have come to appreciate this simple truth: In order to receive a position, you must first act as one who has the position. If you want your company to recognize you as a manager, then first act like one (while still respecting existing authority, of course). If you want to be a leader, then first act like one. This requires setting the right example.

An article entitled Good Leadership – Where Can We Find It? quoted a report by Shelley A. Kirkpatrick and Edwin A. Locke of the University of Maryland. In that report, Leadership: do traits matter?, the authors made this statement: “Leaders must behave the way they wish their followers would behave.” Therefore, one of the first steps in earning the respect of others as a leader is doing the right thing. When people see you walking the walk, not just talking the talk, they’re more inclined to respect you. This then allows you to do something as magical as it is difficult. You become a catalyst for change.

The article mentioned above noted the challenges involved in being a change agent. Quoting a management textbook, it states: “The change agent [leader] needs the sensitivity of a social worker, the insights of a psychologist, the stamina of a marathon runner, the persistence of a bulldog, the self-reliance of a hermit, and the patience of a saint. And even with all those qualities, there is no guarantee of success.” Clearly, a leader must develop many skills, and the report by Kirkpatrick and Locke lists them. At the heart of it all, to be an effective leader you must lead by example, and have a genuine desire to help improve those around you.

Which leader are you? Just as importantly, which leader do you want to be? The answer to those questions give you a starting and ending point for your journey towards effective leadership. Maybe “ending point” is misleading; we’re always on the journey. However, knowing where we are allows us to devise a path toward our goal. So be honest in your self-assessment. Engage a trusted friend or adviser, one who will tell you the truth, not just what they think you want to hear. Ask them if you have a tendency to emphasize your title as opposed to being what your title implies. If the answer isn’t what you expect (or want to hear), don’t get upset. Thank the person for being honest, then analyze how what they tell you applies. Once you understand that, you can decide how to make adjustments.

True leaders don’t need to tell others who they are. By their actions, they prove their leadership. You can do the same by making sure you have the right mindset, and set the right example for others to imitate.

This brings our “Causes of Leadership Failure” series to a close. How do you rate yourself when it comes to this particular cause? If you find you tend to emphasize your title rather than living up to it, what can you do to change? Finally, how did you enjoy the series in general? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the Comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Causes of Leadership Failure – Emphasis of Title

  1. A truly solid article, Kerwyn. I was just about to start my comment with “That opening line is SO true” when I realised it was a quote – so a very well chosen quote.

    I love hearing Bible references in everyday. I enjoyed that bit.

    I was reading a blog the other day and the writer was saying “I’m going to stop saying ‘I’m a person, you know'”, and she was about how she wasn’t be treated right and how she found herself saying this a lot. Wish I could remember her blog, I’d send her this way!

    Great post – I can imagine it being delivered as a talk at a conference.

    • Wow. I truly appreciate your comments and encouragement, Noeleen. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll have the chance to present before an audience!

      Each of the articles in this series (“Causes of Leadership Failure”) and it’s companion (“Attributes of Leadership”) start with a quote from the man many consider the Father of success coaching, Napoleon Hill. What better way to start, right?

      And yes, I’m unabashedly Christian, so I’ll interject Scriptural references and outright quotes wherever possible! 😉

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