The Danger of Thinking Title Makes You A Leader

socrates_fiorina_kodak

Leadership is about enabling the potential in others and getting out of the way so their dreams can enable something bigger. Having people paid to report to you does not mean you are a leader but more likely a manager, which is a very respectable and worthwhile career path but it is not leadership. When people choose to follow you without money or title, that is leadership. As a leader, you are responsible for incubating synergies to get three out of two. Leadership is about influence, not title. Title is a mostly meaningless word that constantly changes in today’s amorphous corporate culture.

Title without great external influence is not title at all. How can you move someone’s cheese when you can’t even move your community. Leadership STARTS at the community level and its nuclear power resides there. Community-based leadership has overthrown a lot of dictators. Real leaders understand the value of academic inquiry (formal or informal), history, change, and that these things together are the precursor to innovation. Former H.P. CEO and Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina said it best this way, “leadership is about changing the order of things”. Changing the order of things is dangerous because it has many unknowns and it ruffles the feathers of those holding power. If you are truly a leader or aspire to be one, get ready to be attacked because you will, because all TRUE leaders are different and DO NOT FIT IN with most people or the status quo.

Carly Fiorina On Leadership Vs. Management – Stanford Univ. 2007.

Although a lot of executives say they are leaders, they can’t handle the criticism that comes with true leadership and they are often afraid of change. They insulate themselves with simple minded yes-sayers, fire people who question them, and all too often are more concerned with the superficial status that comes with being wined and dined by vendors that serve their vertical. Types like these are fools masquerading as leaders but there is plenty of them.

The real life of a leader is lonely and some think you’re crazy. Examples include Billy Corgan (alternative rock music pioneer), The Wright Brothers (building and flying the first airplane) William Kunstler (landmark civil rights attorney), John McAfee (anti-virus pioneer), and Steve Jobs (computer pioneer). These people were all criticized in their early years and pushed many people away from their inner circle. Although this criticism and isolation may have broken some people it did not break them. Most often, real leaders don’t fit in with most people and unless they get fame or money they are ostracized. Yet they inspire movements, better people and processes, and with their vision and advocacy, society, business, and/or technology gets to heights never dreamed possible.

Martin Luther King Jr. did that and paid the ultimate price but inspired a civil rights revolution that redefined America – William Kunstler defended him. Philosopher and teacher Socrates was unjustly condemned to death for questioning the current status quo of Athenian politics and society and for teaching students to do the same thing for a better world. Today his ideologies and approach have proven to be the foundation for much of Western philosophy and education. His name is associated with the Socratic Method, which means question everything. It is the hallmark of how law schools teach students throughout most of the world and it is a methodology that has proven to save the lives of thousands. Yet some corporate leaders do not like to be questioned and this is a problem and their leadership will be short lived. In the data-centric democracy of the United States, business fads come and go, and now is about the new.

Socrates Condemned to Death Speech – 399 B.C.
Lastly, to that person who gloats about their V.P., Director, SVP title, or the like, ask them how many people would follow them passionately without money in times of great challenge while others criticize them. Likely, they will be confused, because most leaders are below the surface working to make the world a better place while the above fakers seek status and “yes” clicks. They know nothing about leadership or moral courage. To think that titles are a right-of-passage to leadership is one of the most dangerous fallacies in society to date. It has caused wars to be lost, technologies to be missed, and it is a solvable irony for a society as advanced and gifted as the human race.

I will take the person with the best ideas and passionate followers over someone who gloats about how prior titles prove anything. Titles by themselves and even with experience do not prove much at all, and in the evolving and constantly changing landscape of technology, they for the most part, do not matter. If you focus too much on title, the guy or girl with the right idea will run you out of business and you and your whole team with be left with little money and no title. Please think long and hard about this, if you are claiming to be a leader. You don’t want to be like Kodak and fail to see digital cameras are the future, and you don’t want to be the leader who failed to see a data breach. Lastly, you don’t want to be that executive whose peers support you only because they are paid to but really don’t respect you and are not at all inspired by you. This happens a lot and their leadership under good governance will be short lived.

If you want to talk more about these and related concepts, please contact me here.

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