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Titles Don’t Make Leaders

By Amanda Munsch

Amanda Munsch We are all familiar with the classic causality dilemma, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Yet, how many sleepless nights has mankind wasted on this question, only to go around and around again in circles of thought and debate?

Even Aristotle weighed in, supposing that both the chicken and the egg must have always existed. Of course, 2000+ years later, we know he was wrong and Popular Science magazine says it was the egg that came first after all.

What does all of this have to do with leadership? Well, I have another causality dilemma for you:

Which comes first, the leader or the title?

Though this question may not be as profound as our chicken and egg dilemma, it seems our present day society is far too convinced that the title begets leadership, not the other way around. What I am suggesting, on the other hand, is that the terms “manager” and “leader” are not synonymous. They are two separate things. Leadership is defined by something much more significant than title alone.

Mother Teresa Think about the term “leader.” Who comes to mind? For me, it’s influential people like Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa. The next people I think of are those I have met throughout the years: friends I have had, teammates, and role models. I have been fortunate in my career to have had managers who were more than just “bosses,” but also role models and leaders, so I think of them too.

However, a quick audit of my leader list and it becomes apparent that the vast majority of those I associate with the term “leader” are not formal leaders at all.

Let’s go back to Mother Teresa for a second. Pope Francis announced earlier this month that she will become a saint on September 4 . However impressive her new title, Mother Teresa won’t have left her mark on history because she was canonized as a saint, but because of the way she dedicated her life to helping the poor.

I have come to the same realization as many before me: A leadership legacy is not defined by title or position, but by the impact we have on people’s lives.

So, think for a moment about your own legacy. How will you be remembered? Have you prioritized getting ahead, getting that next “leadership” position, or are you spending your time actually leading?

As for the causality dilemma, practice true leadership and the title will often follow, but title alone will never define a true leader.

Amanda Munsch is DDI's Social Strategist.

When leaders spend more time interacting with others, it increases the opportunities they have to make an impact on other people's lives. Learn more about Interacting vs. Managing.

Posted: 24 Mar, 2016,
Talk to an Expert: Titles Don’t Make Leaders
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