5 Reasons You Don't Need a Management Title to Be a Leader
Leaders can be categorized, somewhat, by their motivation. I recall an offsite meeting a few years ago that began with everyone contemplating the question, "Why do you lead?" There were about 15 people in the room, and each attendee could be grouped in one of the following categories:
- People seeking autonomy and independence (freedom of movement)
- People seeking to mentor and develop others
- People seeking improved status, responsibility, or reverence
Nothing is wrong with any of these categories necessarily. They’re all concepts that can drive either positive or negative outcomes.
However, it’s important to note none of the categories, nor any of the attendees, had anything to say about current or aspirational job titles. That’s because leadership titles aren’t necessary to effectively lead. Let’s look at five reasons your title doesn’t make you a better leader.
1. A Title Won't Make Decisions for You
We all make many decisions each day. We forget most of them almost as soon as we make them, but we make them all the same. What's for breakfast? What should I wear today? Should I fuel up close to home or close to the office? Should I spend my life savings on cryptocurrency? (No, you shouldn’t!) At any given moment, what you’re doing is the result of a decision you explicitly or implicitly made earlier.
The decisions you make in the context of leading others impact much more than what you'll have for breakfast. Those decisions affect the people you work directly with, customers you might be serving, and other stakeholders in your organization. Your job title doesn’t improve or diminish your decision-making acuity.
The only time your title is relevant when it comes to making decisions is when your decision making is compromised because you’re driven by a desire for self-advancement and that leads you to a biased decision affecting how you and others proceed toward a goal.
Consider instead that making a well-informed, objective decision based on data, logic, and critical thinking is a more effective way to work toward a promotion than biased decision making. Incidentally, a sound decision-making process doesn’t require a fancy title, either.
2. A Title Doesn’t Determine Your Leadership Style
Leadership styles are almost as nuanced as personalities. One person might be very hands-off, another might want their hands in everything, and yet another could be acting as a servant for the team. Your leadership style is like a fingerprint—it’s unique to you. It isn’t determined by your title. It should be something you’re aware of and constantly seeking to refine.
Also, a new title might change your scope of responsibility, but it won’t necessarily change your unique leadership style. However, there are times when you might need to adapt your leadership style to fit different environments or teams. For example, leading a sales organization would require a more short-term outlook than leading a product organization.
Your title doesn't bring anything to or take anything away from your leadership style. Don’t let your title control how you lead.
3. A Title Won't Help You Learn From Mistakes
It’s not my intention to judge the leadership styles of others, but I will say some leadership behaviors are universally bad. I will also admit I have, on occasion, engaged in one or more of those bad behaviors. The title I had at the time did nothing to prevent the mistakes, and it certainly didn't promote growth from the experience afterward.
Mistakes are inevitable, and as we've all known since childhood, our mistakes teach us what to avoid in the future. Your title should never become a sponge for absorbing mistakes. Humility is your armor against this. Great leaders, regardless of title, are typically humble, and somewhat vulnerable, and are willing to acknowledge, own, and learn from their mistakes.
4. A Title Doesn’t Automatically Give You Authority
Authority is a slippery slope. It’s needed in a lot of situations that call for strong management. But although the concepts of management and leadership often get grouped together, they’re actually quite different.
Managing is a tactical activity, whereas leadership can be witnessed in every department and every role. Leadership is doing things right when nobody is looking. It's having the courage to speak up when something doesn't feel right. It's helping to advance your peers and team members rather than planning how to get ahead of them.
A title alone can't grant you authority, respect, or reverence. Great leaders shouldn’t need true authority. Respect should be extended to everyone by default and only lost for known reasons. Reverence is developed over an extended period of time as you work to build relationships with your team and peers.
5. A Title Doesn't Change Who You Are
When I was in grade school, I asked my grandfather what it felt like to get older. He told me it doesn't feel any different than when he was younger. That has stuck with me ever since.
Call me what you will, but a title doesn't change who I am in the slightest. It doesn't make me any smarter, faster, or more capable. In fact, most people will have no idea what your job title is. I had the same job title for years, and my colleagues still asked me what it was on a weekly basis.
My point is your title should mean little in terms of how you view yourself and lead. You’re exactly who you were the day before. Don't let a new title get you down or go to your head. The easiest thing to do is to simply keep being you and leading by example.
Great leaders stand out regardless of their job title. The following are two takeaway lessons to help promote the concept:
- Your title isn’t a golden pass to practice arrogance.
- Your title isn’t everything. You can show leadership no matter what title you have.
No matter what your job title is, always remember the title isn’t you. You are you. Don't let an arbitrary label tell you what you are or aren’t capable of as a leader.
Until next time,
Jason has worked in technology for over 20 years. He joined SentryOne in 2006 having held positions in network administration, database administration, and software engineering. During his tenure at SentryOne, Jason has served as senior software developer and founded both Client Services and Product Management. His diverse background with relevant technologies made him the perfect choice to build out both of these functions. As SentryOne experienced explosive growth, Jason returned to lead SentryOne Client Services, where he ensures that SentryOne customers receive the best possible end to end experience in the ever-changing world of database performance and productivity.