The Problem With Titles…

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Or Why Managers Aren’t Leaders!

I recently spent six weeks going through a program that was devoted to being a leader and developing leadership strategies.  The goal was to teach each of us that were participating that we are, in fact, leaders.  The goal was to help us all see that we have roadblocks in our minds that keep us from accepting the truth that by simply showing up and accepting our nomination to this program we are indeed leaders.  We simply have to get out of our own way and accept it.

It has been a few weeks and I have slowly been processing my way through all the information that was taken in.  I have been weeding through the parts that resonate with me and fighting with those parts that do not.  Today, I want to share with you a small piece that I have learned.  In order to follow me down this particular rabbit hole, you will have to accept the following statement:

Leadership is a quality that can be developed and job titles (aka management) are simply places on an org chart.

For most that is not a hard thing to accept, but many people also have an expectation that managers are leaders.  Until we have to work for them.  Until we are their employees.  Then we discover that they are not leaders, but merely someone holding a title that is above you.  In the best case scenario, you find that your manager is, in fact, a leader.  How does one find this unicorn?  What qualities does this mythical manager possess?

While, I think that there are several small pieces that play into the answer to that question, the biggest piece, in my opinion, is that leaders pay absolutely no attention to their title or the titles of others.  And here is a little exercise to hammer that point home.

As part of my time at this particular leadership training, we spent a day out at a ropes challenge course.  It was our second week of training and so we really did not know a whole lot about the people we were there with, outside of what we could remember from the week before.  No one had distinguished themselves as being a “big cheese” or of higher stature than anyone else.  The president of our company was not walking amongst us and my boss was not in attendance.  We were simply people there to learn about being better leaders.

Throughout the day, we were presented with different challenges to solve.  Some were physical in nature, others were mental.  We solved them one by one and progressed through the day.  All the while never once looking to someone to manage the situation.  We never stopped and said, “Who is going to be the boss on this problem?”  We simply all looked at the problem, presented solution and LISTENED to each other.  Where we sat on an org chart was irrelevant.  What our salary was, mattered nothing.  Our team did not have a hierarchy and so we were able to speak to one another as equals.

So how do you and your team solve problems?  Do you solve them like that?  Or do they look more like what happened once I returned to life in the “real” office?  Something like this.

There is a problem, we hold a meeting with everyone sitting around a table.  The problem is thrown out onto the table and one of the following situations plays out:

  • Option A – The “boss” asks for feedback and most people are too afraid to speak up.  If someone does speak up, the idea is shot down for whatever reason or maybe it is heard out, but there is little support because the “boss” did not give his or her stamp of approval.  The person brave enough to speak feels left out there dangling and contemplates not speaking up again.
  • Option B – The “boss” simply tells everyone how they are going to solve it and what each person is going to do.  No one bothers to think or correct him or her as they know that everything they say will simply be shot down and the “boss” is going to get his or her way.  End of discussion.

Those are the most common situations that seem to come up unless you have that unicorn of a supervisor or manager or team leader.

So what gives?  What makes solving challenges out at the ropes course happen so effortlessly and then the problems back in the office so impossible.

It is the notion or belief that org chart hierarchy is the same as increased knowledge and leadership ability.  There is a notion that as you move up the org chart, you gain and possess all the knowledge of those beneath you and that is a myth.  The title and position give you nothing and that is why, as I digest all the information from my training, it is my hope to not concern myself with titles and concern myself with inputs.

I need the inputs of all those parties involved and all parties affected by the problem we are trying to address.  The best thing that could happen in your job is the removal of this idea that someone is the boss and an acceptance that we are all part of a team.  Then the leader will make sure that the team will stay on task, focused, and working towards a goal, but not be set in their ways on a path to that goal.  They just keep the goal in focus.