Why a Title Doesn’t Make You a Leader
By: Ron Edmondson
My first paid leadership role came to me by default. I was a full-time college student working in the men’s department of a large retail department store. I had been at the store under two years when my boss quit suddenly to pursue other interests. Turnover is often high in the retail world, but it seemed even more so in this department. I was the most tenured person, so they made me the department manager.
At 20 years of age, I had basically “arrived” in the field of leadership.
The store was located close to a university, so it was a great place to attract college students as employees. I remember the first time we had a big sale after I took over the leadership of my department. Popular in the day were “midnight madness” sales. We would close for a couple hours late afternoon, cover all our doors with butcher wrap paper to add suspense, then reopen in the evening with significantly marked-down items throughout the store. People would stand in line for hours prior to the sale and scramble to find the bargains as soon as we opened the doors. These type sales are not as common anymore, because people have come to expect bargains daily – either in the store or online. Although it was not quite midnight – it truly was madness. (We later changed these sales to “moonlight madness”.)
I had added additional staffing for the evening – relying on the advice of others for how many people I should schedule. You can only imagine my disappointment – and embarrassment – when the doors to eager shoppers opened and my department was flooded with customers and grossly understaffed. Two of my employees, both fellow college students, had not shown up to work this night. They did not call. It was before the days of cell phones, email or Facebook. I tried their dorm rooms and got no response. I was mortified – and angry.
The next day I ran into one of my “no-shows” on campus. I asked him where he was the night before and why he never called. He told me he had a test and realized he needed to study. He said he meant to call, but got distracted. It was not his regularly scheduled day to work, so he assumed he would not be missed.
I stood there with him in awe – wondering how he could justify what he was saying to me. It was in this moment I realized he was not seeing me as his boss. In spite of my position of leadership, he saw me as another college student. I was his friend – his colleague – his equal. He seemed to think I would understand – he had a test – and could not seem to grasp my frustration. (Which made me even more frustrated.)
I learned through this experience a title does not make one a leader. There are people like me – who have been in positions for years – who actually believe simply having a title makes them a leader. People will look up to them, do what they request, and show them a higher level of respect. It is what I thought, but I learned the hard way – it simply is not true.
You can take on any title you want – call yourself president, manager, boss – Mr. or Mrs. Boss – regardless of your title it will not necessarily change how people view you.
This is just one of the seven myths addressed in my book “The Mythical Leader”. Over the last 30 years of leading I’ve learned some things we think about leadership simply aren’t true. When we live as if they are our leadership is greatly hindered. I hope people find the book to be very practical. It’s full of real life examples. Some lessons we learn the hard way. Some we learn from others. My hope is to help others learn from my experiences.
Ron Edmondson is a pastor, teacher and church leadership consultant. Ron has led in two church plants and two revitalizations. He is currently Senior Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Ron blogs at ronedmondson.com.