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Leading Without a Title: Promote Me, or Else!

By Carla | November 24, 2020
Leading Without a Title: Promote Me, or Else!

Robert had worked in the organization for just over two years. His work performance was good, and he had let me know more than once that he wanted to be a first-line manager one day. Apparently, today was the day, as Robert walked into my office and demanded that I promote him, or else. “Or else what?” I asked. “Or else I will be forced to go somewhere where I can be promoted to a manager.” 

Ready to Lead or Just Ready for a Title?

One day, Robert would become a manager in our organization; it just wasn’t going to be today. Today, I began a journey with Robert to correct his faulty view of leadership and continue developing his leadership abilities.

Many people have a faulty view that leadership is a title or position at the top of the org chart. Leadership is influence. You don’t need a title if you have influence. If all you have is a title, your influence is limited to what you can command people to do. People will only follow you because they have to, not because they want to. As John Maxwell likes to say, “The only thing a title can buy is a little time – either to increase your influence with others or undermine it.” 

I Can’t Reach My Full Potential

Many people, like Robert, have embraced what we call the Potential Myth. This is when someone believes they can’t reach their potential if they are not a titled leader. The truth is that your potential to lead is only limited by your willingness and desire to grow your influence. You should be investing in getting to the top of your game, not the top of the organization. 

To help Robert begin to develop his influence with his team (his peers), his customers, his business partners, and with me, I introduced him to the 5 Levels of Influence (Leadership) model. You, too, can follow this plan to develop your influence no matter where you are in the organization.

  • Level 1 – start from wherever you are. Team member or team leader; your level of influence is only as strong as your title. Influence is limited to only what people have to do.
  • Level 2 – develop relationships with the people in your circle of influence. Learn about them. Connect with them. As you do, these people will move from having to be influenced by you to wanting to be influenced by you.
  • Level 3 – work with others to produce results together. Your influence climbs to another level when people achieve results with you . This is where real and lasting influence is developed. Your credibility is established at this level. When you reach this level with people, they know that you are trying to help them succeed. They know you care about them as an individual and a teammate. And they know they can trust you, and trust is the linchpin of leadership.
  • Level 4 – you begin to help others grow and develop their leadership capabilities. Your level of influence with these people is based a lot on what you do for them individually.
  • Level 5 – when you produce results with people and invest in developing their leadership capabilities, it is possible one day, they will be influenced by you based on who you are as a person and what you represent.

Leadership is more about disposition than position – you can influence people from wherever you are – bottom, middle, or top of the organization.

Robert learned that if he could become a strong influencer of people without a leadership title, he would be an even more amazing leader when he did have a title. This is true for all of us. If you are leaning on your title to engage your team, you will probably lose a lot of their discretionary effort to other things in their lives. When people willingly give you permission to lead and influence them, you can engage your team at the highest levels.

Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.

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