The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) met in San Diego this past week and I addressed several hundred of their members on the topic of my next book, “You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader”. (We want your opinion; see the end of the article for more information.)
One of the points I made is that despite conventional thinking, finding and keeping good employees is not the biggest challenge employers face today. Engaging employees is a bigger challenge. It doesn’t do much good to have great people on your team if they aren’t enthusiastically engaged in what they’re doing for your organization.
I began my presentation by saying, “I can’t tell who the leaders in your organizations are by looking at an org chart…and neither can you.” I explained that titles tell us a little bit about status (although many organizations give better titles to employees in lieu of paying them more; consider the number of V.P.s in many organizations today and you’ll quickly realize that there isn’t always a great deal of status in a title). Titles also suggest position within the organization and the power related to that position. Management is power over people, but leadership is power with people. So a title doesn’t make someone a leader.
Nor does a lack of a title mean someone isn’t a leader. There are many within an organization who exert tremendous influence but who lack formal position or title. Many of these individuals who choose to influence others and effect change aren’t even interested in attaining a title. They do it simply because they want to make a positive difference.
I’ve come to call these people NTL’s (non-titled leaders). They are known for improving ROI: relationships, outcomes and ideas.
It doesn’t take a title to change a customer’s mind about an organization. I’ve been ignored by management only to find a committed employee who was able to fix a problem and regain my loyalty. The inventor of the integrated circuit, who passed away recently, was a new employee without a title when he came up with that world-changing idea. And chances are good that an unhappy customer will not talk to a C-level manager; she will talk to a service rep in a call center who can regain or lose her loyalty
It doesn’t take a title to improve an outcome for a colleague, vendor or customer. It doesn’t take a title to improve the customer’s experience or make the delivery of a product or service better.
The challenge for any titled leader is this: how do we encourage and teach NTL’s to lead when appropriate?
I suggested several things to the HR professionals in San Diego. First, don’t reserve leadership training and development only for managers and titled leaders. Your future titled-leaders are NTL’s today, and whether or not they ever move into management, they are impacting your organization’s success each day. Recognize that leadership happens at all levels and adjust focus and resources accordingly.
Second, embed leadership development into your existing training modules. Whether teaching call center techniques or workplace safety, include a piece of what leadership is (positive influence) and when and how to lead (improve ROI).
Third, watch for examples of NTL’s doing good things and share those stories with everyone. Story is a leader’s most powerful tool. Better than simply suggesting how to lead without a title is telling a good story about someone who already is.
Since I am deep into writing my next book, I’m thinking a great deal about non-titled leaders today. And I am increasingly convinced that we have unintentionally ignored the periodic, small and yet significant acts of leadership that happen at every level in every organization each day. Perhaps this lack of recognition and reinforcement is one reason why many employees are simply no longer engaged.
Give your NTLs a chance to making meaning as well as money.