A friend in the armed forces told me he is struggling with his supervisor, because that man is not a good leader. It’s an unfortunate situation for my friend, who I know is a strong leader. Our conversation made me think of the idea of positional leadership. Does an individual’s title or experience make that person a leader? How about their longevity with an organization? The answer is simply no.
True leadership is not based on a position, rank, or years of experience. True leadership comes from an individual’s willingness to invest and grow people. An individual can lead from any position in an organization.
Leadership author John Maxwell defines leadership as influence. Do you, as a part of an organization (whether a CEO, manager, or janitor), influence the people around you, and can you be influenced by the people around you? If you have the ability to influence people, how do you accomplish this?
There are a number of ways to influence people. The first is to be supportive. Positional leaders struggle with offering support because they view people as threats to their perceived power. However, leaders who focus on positive influence look to develop the members of their team. They are working to create a sense of value, and that will encourage team development and growth.
I understood this in a much more practical way when I thought about my time in the restaurant industry, specifically the number of shirts I ruined. I viewed my job as making sure my service staff was as successful as possible, which meant that I had to bus tables, deliver food, seat guests, and even wash dishes on occasion.
Open communication can be extremely successful in influencing people. Most individuals are uncomfortable knowing that they are enveloped in a group that hides information. This lack of transparency causes people to ask questions, and when they cannot find the answers, they fill in the blanks with their own ideas. These are often negative, because of the uncertainty. Positional leaders use this approach to maintain a level of power and control over subordinates. Leaders who strive to develop the people around them will create an open and honest environment. An environment like this allows team members to be comfortable asking questions and participating in dialogue.
There are topics and times when a leader cannot be as transparent as people would like. In situations like this, I believe a leader who strives for influence can still be honest and explain that he or she cannot share that information. If there is a relationship built on trust, the colleagues are going to accept the secrecy because they know that the leader has their best interest in mind. A positional leader is going to use this approach to keep people guessing and wondering, because this gives them the power.
Finally, a leader can influence people through recognition. I’m not talking about gift cards and trophies (although I never pass up a coffee shop gift card). For many individuals, a simple “thank you” can be an incredibly powerful tool. If people feel valued and that they are part of something bigger, they will offer more of themselves to the success of a team.
One important part of recognition is to know how people like to be recognized. For example, I do not like a great deal of public recognition. I prefer a handshake and “thank you” behind the scenes. An influencing leader takes the time to learn how people like to be recognized.
Another aspect revolves around what recognition you accept as the leader. A purely positional leader will look at the success of a team as his or her success, and will at times take credit for work done by others. Influential leaders recognize the team’s success is in large part a result of the work of others. They are quick to publicly recognize the team, and do not accept accolades that are not theirs to accept.
I may not be painting the best image of a positional leader. I think that every person in a leadership position has started out as a positional leader, because it is what we know. However, it is what you do with the opportunity that can separate you from other leaders.
If you want to create a working environment based on influence, you have to recognize that people with a leadership title are not above the team. We are part of the team.
About the author
Robert Jones is an Employee Assistance Program Trainer with The Village Business Institute. Robert has a bachelor’s degree in History and a master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in counseling and leadership. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, and recently began working on his Educational Doctorate in Leadership. Robert has nearly 20 years of experience in the hospitality field and has been doing freelance training for almost 10 years.