You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader

Early on, a wise mentor of mine in the advertising business pulled me aside before an important meeting with a new client and suggested that I focus on the executive officially in charge while he looked for the person at the table who was really in charge. His comments seemed odd to me at the time, being a wet-behind-the-ears account executive, but many times since I’ve reflected back on this sage advice. Titles mean nothing in achieving or holding onto leadership. Learning this lesson has saved me a lot of frustration over the years at the very least, and in many cases, was the key difference between project/account success or failure.

By his choice of assignments, my mentor also knew that I hadn’t been around long enough to recognize true leadership. Nevertheless, I learned many of the fundamentals by observation and experience. Those I revere as leaders today exhibit all the key characteristics of leadership, titled or untitled: an unshakeable and passionate belief in their vision and mission, an uncanny ability to persuade and inspire others to share that vision, great skill in nurturing and motivating teams that achieve stretch goals, and unfailing positivity and respect for everyone they come in contact with along the way.

The bottom line: recognizing true leaders in any organization regardless of title connects you with those who have real influence and can get it done. The next step after recognizing these special people, for me at least was to learn how to become one of those leaders.

Leadership skills can be learned or enhanced in anyone willing to think, act and care like a leader. Before I did any formal study on leadership, I always assumed you were either born with leadership skills or you were out of luck. And while I believe there are inborn traits that predispose some people to become true leaders, I was (and still am) surprised and delighted to learn that leadership skills can actually be learned.

Conversely, those leaders that I know well who have never done any formal leadership training, practice all the highest principles of leadership without knowing they do so. Both observations give me great inspiration to study leadership and genuinely attempt to further develop these skills in my business relationships, community activities and personal life.