Influence > Position or Title!

achievement authority buy-in earning leadership effective leadership employee engagement engagement ethical influence influence leadership leadership in management leadership misconceptions leadership myths management performance positional leadership relationships supervision Nov 29, 2023
common leadership issues

As we started down this path, I shared a piece of John Maxwell’s story about how he learned that influence was far more important than a title or position when it came to getting anyone to follow you. And let’s be honest: if no one is following, we ain’t leading!

To provide a personal response to Does Leadership Always Matter?, I’ll share a piece of my own “Claude” experience… 

I was just shy of 25 years old when I accepted the “facilitator” role where I would be responsible for seeing that our relatively new behavior-based safety process achieved results. My age wasn’t a big deal, I’ve known plenty of people who have done well in supervisory and even management roles in their mid 20s. One thing that made this a bit more complicated was that many of the site’s executive team were vocal in their opposition to the process ever being implemented, as it was one of those initiatives forced down from corporate, let alone continuing indefinitely and coming out of the local budget. Another issue that made this even more difficult was that I would be the third person to fill a still relatively new role in less than three years. None of these were insurmountable, but each certainly added a level of complexity to achieving the expected results. The final piece, though, could have been the straw that broke this camel’s back…

Each of the guys who preceded me in the role took lateral moves into the position. The first had been a business unit manager (one of three in the facility) who reported directly to the plant manager. The second had been a department supervisor with responsibility for one of the most critical production areas on site. My move was lateral too, but I had been a set-up operator with no positional authority whatsoever and I was at the third lowest hourly pay grade in the building. It didn’t take long for me to realize that any results I would be able to achieve in that role would not come through the “because I said so” approach!

I’ll spare you all the details of the bumps and bruises I encountered along the way. I will say that I’m forever grateful to three specific managers who mentored and supported me through the first year or two where I could have easily been tossed out on my tail. The big lesson I got from all that was that even in a business when folks were paid a solid wage, getting support and involvement for something that fell outside of any written job descriptions was all about earning influence and had very little to do with my job title and absolutely nothing to do with the authority that came with it - because there was none!

Here’s the thing: the type of organization or the work being done is never the most significant factor in whether or not the people who are involved buy into the cause and engage at a level that achieves results. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in all those years I was responsible for that behavior-based safety process was that purpose has far more to do with engagement than the level of difficulty or the amount of compensation. And that purpose, regardless of the type of organization, needs to be communicated by the folks who have accepted responsibility for leading! Whether we’re talking about the private sector and chasing peak profitability, the public sector where a segment of the population is depending on the service we provide (I’m not referring the veterinarian kind this time!), in a nonprofit or civic organization where our clients may not get the attention we need without our help, these really are just different verses of the same song! How we choose to lead will make a critical difference, and I can’t think of a reason we’d ever expect to get best-in-class results any other way so we’ll wrap this up by looking at that next time!