Defining a Leader

I know many leaders who strive daily to earn a better title. Everyone is looking for a promotion with a more recognizable tag line whether they are hoping to be named Director of this or that, Commander of this unit or that one, or an upgraded Senior Vice Presidency as opposed to the Plain-Jane Vice President title (banks are notorious for this one).

But the most sought-after job title in America? That’s easy. Three little letters. C-E-O.

And when you sort out the people striving for a promotion, there seem to be two kinds of “types” of leaders that become rather clear- Leaders who expect that a bigger title will garner more respect and loyalty and leaders who manage to do both of those things without a care as to the letters behind their name or the floor number on their business cards.

The first group- those hoping that their position will empower them- are rarely successful. Positional leadership has its uses (directive leadership under fire in combat), but those who rely on a title to onboard people and motivate them to accomplish common goals find it very challenging to do so (mostly because I’ve yet to attend a board meeting where we took anything other than verbal “fire”). Back in my military days, I knew plenty of leaders who tried to leverage this leadership philosophy without great success. I’ve seen many a young officer and senior non-commissioned officer tell a subordinate to “execute” based on the “ISD (I Said Do It) Principle”, and unfailingly they were shocked when results were poor and their rapport was worse.

I’m not saying that people can’t grow as leaders. In fact, I believe quite the opposite- that it our goal in life to continually grow our competencies as leaders AND team members. Yet it’s quite clear that newly promoted leaders require some time and experience to “get their feet wet”, but history has proven that almost from the very beginning the two “types” of leaders emerge. This first group will always be challenged by those below them, passed by those more competent, and at the end of their careers will still be wondering why they didn’t “make it big”. Positional Leaders focus on control instead of contribution. This group fails because their biggest goal is for their title to define them.

The second group of individuals are those who use leadership roles as an opportunity to empower the people around them- above and below- to accomplish both personal and professional milestones. When they grow they take people up the ladder with them. They have a habit of making their boss look good and their direct reports look even better. For this group a title is nice, but accomplishment is paramount. They actively seek to recognize the efforts given by others, develop the people below them to be capable of taking their job one day (because they don’t plan on working at that level forever), and they are typically the ones who surround themselves with competent people who surpass their skills in needed areas to get the mission completed. They may not be perfect- but they tend to lead teams that exceed expectations and “manage” people by developing relationships. The people who work for and with these leaders do not punch a time card- they support the leader they have grown to respect with effort above and beyond their job descriptions. Why? Because loyalty doesn’t come with a title and you can’t buy it with that extra cushion in your paycheck. It’s given to you based on the individual relationships you have with every person around you and it doesn’t happen overnight. At the end of their careers, these individuals can be proud to say that their title did not define them- they defined the title.

Monday Morning Perspective

“Leadership is accepting people where they are, then taking them somewhere.” -C.W. Perry

“No man is a leader until his appointment is ratified in the minds and hearts of his men.” The Infantryman’s Journal (1954)


After all, becoming a great leader means that you must first “know thyself”. No one is above improvement because we all have room to grow. But as one of my favorite sayings goes, “If you think you’re leading but no one is following, then you are only taking a walk”, we definitely have to know where to begin. Perhaps it begins with taking the challenge to accept a leadership role, or perhaps it’s realizing that being a positional leader isn’t the type of leader you really want to be. Or for those higher in the rank and file, it might be time to begin empowering young leaders to grow beyond their positions to define the future of your organization.

But when it comes to positional leadership, it should only be the starting point. A position should never be your life’s goal. As a down-to-earth farmer once told John Maxwell, “John, all the letters before or after a name are like the tail on a pig. It has nothing to do with the quality of the bacon.”

Have a wonderful week!

Warmest Regards,

Crystal Dyer

 © Crystal Dyer 2011. All rights reserved.

ISSN: 2158-1355


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