Leadership Is Action Not Position Essay Speech

Many see leaders as those with power and position. This view of leadership assumes that leaders are the few people at the top of an organisation. Nothing could be further from the truth!

“All the effective leaders I have encountered – both those I worked with and those I merely watched – knew four simple things: a leader is someone who has followers; popularity is not leadership, results are; leaders are highly visible, they set examples; leadership is not rank, privilege, titles or money, it is responsibility.” – Peter Drucker

Position, title and authority are often confused with leadership. We often read news reports that refer to anyone with a title as a “leader”. However, leadership is not an actual position or title. Whether you’re the president of a country or a chief executive officer, your title does not make you a leader. All a title does is make you a senior executive. 

Whilst position and authority provide you with the potential to lead, it does not make you a leader. You don’t suddenly become a leader just because you have a fancy new title. In fact, you don’t need a title to lead. Every day you can find examples of people with fancy titles that fail to demonstrate leadership. 

Leadership happens when people allow you to influence their lives. It’s only when your influence causes people to work towards a shared vision that you become a leader. Leadership is more about influence and relationship than it is about control and giving orders.

The Danger of Leadership as Position

A danger of seeing leadership as the result of position, rank, power and authority is that it leads to dictatorships and control freaks. Leaders who think that because of their elevated position they can do whatever they like. 

Leadership as position encourages “leaders” to use command and control as a way of getting things done. This style of leadership results in the following negative outcomes:

  • Leading from position undermines meaningful relationships.
  • Leading from position encourages negative political behaviour.
  • Leading from position crushes the human spirit.
  • Leading from position results in compliance.
  • Leading from position frustrates creativity and innovation.
  • Leading from position erodes trust.
  • Leading from position produces mediocre result.s
  • Leading from position feeds the ego.
  • Leading from position destroys empathy for others.

Those who lead from position don’t invest the time needed to create a shared vision that inspires others.

“The problem is that while authority can compel action it does little to inspire belief. Only leadership can do that. It’s not enough to get people to do what you want, they have to also want what you want or any change is bound to be short-lived.” – Greg Satell, To Create Real Change, Leadership Is More Important Than Authority

Another big danger of seeing leadership as position is that it undermines the development of others. When we see position as leadership, we falsely assume that leadership responsibility resides with the few people at the top of the organisation. When this happens leadership potential residing in others is not nurtured. Instead, what we need in the fast-changing world of today is leaders at all levels of the organisation.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch

Leadership is not the exercise of control over others. Leadership is the empowerment of oneself and others towards a shared vision.

Leadership is Influence

”The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”  – Ken Blanchard

It often comes as a surprise to new leaders that a large part of their job involves influencing others outside of their control. I often hear senior executives complaining about their lack of control. They say things like “If only the operations area reported to me, I could get a lot more done”. These leaders believe that if they could control people, they would get the results they wanted. The reality is that you cannot control anyone – except yourself. Leading by command and control is the lowest form of leadership. Control is an illusion. Control is limiting. Control is demoralizing. Control doesn’t scale. 

The best leaders don’t lead from position.

When you think of a leader, who comes to mind? When I think of leaders, I think of people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus Christ, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Ghandi and many others. The majority of these leaders did not have any formal position or authority. The lives of these leaders were not defined by their position. Yet, these leaders changed the course of history. Their leadership was defined by the impact they had on the lives of others. Leadership then is about what you do, not where you’re seated. 

“Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less.” – John Maxwell

The hallmark of effective leadership is the influence you have on the lives of others. 

Leadership is about influence, not control. The greater your influence, the greater your leadership. Thus if you want to improve your leadership, you need to improve your influence. So how do you improve your leadership?

Firstly, you need to accept that influence doesn’t come from position. Influence comes from caring for others. If you don’t care for people, you cannot influence them. If you cannot influence others, you cannot lead. It’s through relationships that leaders gain influence.

”No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  – Theodore Roosevelt

Developing influence means making the decision to care for others. Leaders care about the impact their actions have on others. Leaders care about the quality of their relationships. Leaders care about the kind of contribution they’re making to others and to the world. 

Success is about adding value to yourself, whilst significance is about adding value to others.

Your Turn

Leadership has nothing to do with your position, rank or authority. True leadership is not appointed, mandated or assigned. If you’re going to make a difference, you will need to sharpen your leadership skills. This means improving your influence.

Consider your leadership style:

  • Do you rush to lead from your position? Or do you take the time necessary to influence others? 
  • What are you doing daily to expand your influence?
  • What do you do to show others that you care?

Remember: Leadership cannot be demanded, it can only be earned!

Tagged With: Change, Choice, Influence, Myth, Power

As we move deeper into 2009 one thing I know for sure is that many lawyers, law firm staff members and clients are facing deep uncertainty. So many of us feel we have lost control; that larger forces are at work. At this time more then ever it is important to come to grips with what we can influence and impact.

We all have a leadership role to play in our organizations. When we catch ourselves complaining about the system, about how decisions are made and how things are done it is a good time to come to grips with our own responsibility for making a positive contribution.

Some people might say: “I’m not the boss; I have no power to change anything”. Certainly at times we all feel that way but this is rarely the whole truth. I had the opportunity to interview leadership effectiveness trainer Robert Gifoyle to ask him for his thoughts on leadership. He opened with the statement: “Leadership is an action not a position. “ Leadership is not about the role we hold in an organization; rather it is about the action we choose to take. He followed by saying that if you ask people to cite examples of extraordinary leadership at least one third of the time they will comment on the leadership actions taken by a colleague who is not in a leadership position.

Jane took the initiative. We were struggling and wondered if it was even possible. She just dove in and started things off. She got us into the difficult conversations about barriers and challenges and helped us get through. She made things happen.

Gilfoyle pointed to three key characteristics of leadership-in-action:

  1. The action is other focused: “How can I help people succeed?”
  2. It is future oriented: “I know we are focused on this phase of the project but how does it connect with the end result we are after?”
  3. It is client focused. “How is that going to look from our client’s perspective? How will it help them with their business goals?

At the heart of leadership is the urge to get things moving and to take the initiative to help.

When someone in a peer role takes a leadership approach it is just as effective or even more effective then leadership exercised by a figure of authority. Taking a leadership approach, regardless of your position in the firm or organization, will engender respect. You will be perceived as having leadership qualities. You will provide a huge value to the people around you.

Gilfoyle told me that he has given this approach to leadership the “acid test” with law firm partners. He asked them how they would respond to associates demonstrating leadership in this way and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Gilfoyle also told me that in his experience even when just a small percentage of the staff of an organization take on this leadership approach the quality of the work and productivity are both greatly enhanced.

In our turbulent times this approach to leadership is as more important then ever. Gilfoyle shared with me his thoughts on the vital role of leadership in the current economic environment climate:

We could all sit back and take a victim mentality, and with the state of the world right now who could blame us, but it is important to realise that we are not doomed. Rather it is that the environment in which we live and work has changed. Our job is to figure out how to make the most from this changed environment and discover how we can create value for our clients, our organizations and ourselves. You don’t have to be the President of the United States to become engaged in the process and to demonstrate leadership.

We all have the capacity to contribute. You don’t need to read about it, or sign up for an advanced leadership training program.

Gifolyle reflected:

We can all get far too cerebral, intellectual and mystical even about leadership. It really is just about what we do. It’s behavioural. It’s a choice we make each day. “I think I can help here. I am going to take a chance and see what I can do to move things along.”

Leadership is quite simply about choice and behaviour. The best start is to test it out. Give it a try and see what happens.

(Authors note: For more examples of putting leadership into action check out Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay’s post to the Harvard Management Update: “How to Lead When You are Not the Boss”. She provides a summary of the five key leadership actions outlined in the book Lateral Leadership: Getting Things Done When You’re Not the Boss (2nd ed., Profile Books, 2004), by Harvard negotiation specialist Roger Fisher and coauthor Alan Sharp.)

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