Leaders Don’t Need Name Tags
We have a guest writer for this week’s newsletter, my son Ben. Ben is celebrating his 30th birthday in several weeks. To help commemorate that special occasion, I asked Ben to share some of his own ideas on leadership with the readers of this newsletter. Here are his thoughts:
“Many of you know that my father became a certified leadership coach a number of years ago. What you may not know, although it won’t be a surprise to anyone, is that he has been a leadership coach for most of his adult life, including while he was raising my brother and me.
Coaching is in his nature, and he always prioritized the growth and development of people around him. As his son, I received two decades worth of wisdom before I left home (and I still do to this day). One of his most impactful lessons for me was this:
A title does not define a leader.
In fact, the opposite is more often true. Leadership is defined by behavior – the behavior that creates your reputation. The best leaders carry reputations as reliable, supportive, and vulnerable people.
As we grow, we encounter plenty of opportunities for “leadership” in the traditional sense: president of this club, captain of that team, or school officer. Don’t get me wrong – those positions are valuable in their own right, as they challenge us to rise to the title or position we hold.
What I found to be more emblematic of true leaders, however, was the answer to one simple question: who do your peers look to when they need direction or advice?
I have determined the same lesson applies in the work world. However, in the work world, it’s not as easy to sign up to take on a leadership role. We can’t walk up to a sign-up sheet to list our name in the running for Manager or Team Leader. We need to earn the right to hold a leadership title, and those titles carry much responsibility for the professional success of others.
Nevertheless, those carrying the big titles do not hold a monopoly on leadership – at companies, service firms, nonprofits or government agencies. We can all play leadership roles if we are willing to step outside our comfort zones and mentor, guide or assist newer, less experienced or less confident peers. Such responsibilities need not lie within the four corners of our position descriptions.
I was reminded of this lesson happily and unexpectedly during this past year when I was recognized by my company for helping numerous employees learn their jobs or perform more effectively, even though I was not their supervisor. I found that by listening hard and sharing my own story with them, I was able to build trust, creating a bond that produced communication and understanding. I didn’t do it seeking acknowledgment- I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do.
This past week, our company was fortunate to host Emmanuel Acho – NFL Analyst, former player, and host of the series, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man”, as our guest speaker. When asked about his inspiration for starting the series – which was a huge departure from his “title” and professional brand, he replied, “You have no idea the impact your voice has on people.” He just felt like something needed to be done, but had no clue how groundbreaking the series would become.
No one told Emmanuel to lead – he put himself in a place of major vulnerability, and took a step towards addressing an important issue. As a result, people started flocking to him to provide that direction. In fact, he admitted that the iconic rapper, Lil Wayne, called Emmanuel out of the blue asking to film an episode because of the safe space Acho had created.
Just as Emmanuel developed a reputation as a courageous leader during a time of conflict, we can all take actions in our daily lives that will not just support and motivate people around us, but also earn us the reputation as someone with leadership qualities. Title or no title.
As a reminder of this idea, we can ask ourselves, ‘how can I focus on leading, rather than being in leadership?’ “