Leadership Myth: You Need a Title to Be a Leader

April 7, 2014

Truth: Leadership is about influence, not position.

Authority Influence

Leadership is about one thing and one thing only: influence. Leaders use the influence they have to create positive change. The more positive change, the more influence.

Go into any corporate boardroom, military garrison or government building and you’re bound to find someone who has a title and a position, but lacks the influence he or she needs to get the job done. Even though they’re in charge, their followers resist them at every turn. The ones who stick around, that is. People follow them when they have to… but that’s it.

On the other hand, go to the front lines of any war zone, the kitchen of any restaurant or the teachers’ lounge at any school, and you’re bound to find someone who truly leads, regardless of where he or she falls on the totem pole. All you have to do is ask, “who is the real leader around here? Who has the influence to get the job done?” You’re sure to get an answer.

Leaders are everywhere. They come in all shapes and sizes. That have all kinds of job titles and you’ll find them at every salary range. Giving someone a title won’t make them a leader, and keeping a title from them won’t take their influence away.

Why this is important

Think about it: if you needed a title to be a leader, we could create leaders immediately by handing out titles and positions at will. We wouldn’t need to spend anymore time or money developing new leaders. And all of us who don’t have a title could just zone out on cruise control until a leadership position came our way.

But that isn’t the case. Leadership doesn’t just “happen.” It has to start with someone, somewhere making a change.

What this means for you

The implication here is not that everyone is a leader, but that everyone can become one – regardless of their level in any organization. On the most basic level, we learn to lead ourselves and create positive change in our own lives. Next, we lead others when we influence them and influence circumstances to create positive change on their behalf. Finally, we lead organizations and the world as we know it when we use the influence we have to make things a little bit better for everyone.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. It doesn’t matter what your present situation is. It doesn’t even matter if anyone is following you or not. Find a way to create positive change and you’ll have influence.

That’s what makes someone a leader.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.