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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #110: Leading Without a Title, But I Really Want a Title!

October 29, 2020
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #110: Leading Without a Title, But I Really Want a Title!

When leading from the middle of the organization, it’s tempting to think that you don’t need to learn to lead until you get your leadership title. Unfortunately, when the opportunity comes, it may be too late to prepare. Today, Chris and Perry talk about things you could be doing to overcome the Destination Myth.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results.

Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, vice president of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thanks for joining us. We’re grateful for you for downloading our podcast, listening to it and just letting Perry and I kind of talk to you about some of the things that we’re learning in the field, working with organizations around leadership and leadership culture.

Just as a reminder as we get started, if you want to learn more about The 5 Levels of Leadership, which is the methodology and the framework of what we help organizations build their culture off of, maybe you want to download the guide that Perry’s created to go along with the content for this episode. Maybe you even have a question or a comment. Please visit, and you can find all that information right there.

Well, I really like this title. I’m not going to give Perry a hard time because I think all of us have really had this thought or this statement that we’ve said to ourselves as we’ve kind of gone through different transitions. And so, today’s topic, and the title is “Leading Without a Title.” But I really want that title. And I say that because, Perry, I read this and I was like, “Yeah, I mean, I’m okay with influence and leading without a title and , but, man, I want to be that title.” And so, tell me what you were thinking here behind this.

Perry Holley:    Well, I’ve thought back, we’ve been talking about leading up, down and across, that 360 leadership. But I thought back, when I was a young salesman for IBM, back in one of my first jobs. And I recall after about six months of being a sales guy, I started to badger my boss about, “Hey, it’s time to promote me. I sure would be a good sales manager. Don’t you want to promote me?” And I desperately wanted that title. That was a big goal for me. And what my manager knew, that I had yet to learn, was that I had zero leadership and management knowledge, experience or training of any kind.

And I didn’t realize it at the time, but now, as John has taught us, that I was embracing what John calls the destination myth that says that “when I get to the top, that’s when I’m going to learn to lead.” And I just wonder if you’ve ever seen that in your organization or any of your teams.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. So, let me take you back to… I’m sure all of us have seen it. We’re all probably just smiling and shaking our heads right now as you’re going through that because we’ve been there before, but we’ve also seen it in others. And it made me think even back to with my kids growing up and coaching youth sports. Man, I used to hear all the time from guys, “Coach, I want to hit a home run. I’m going to show up at the game, I’m just going to hit a home run.” And I’m like, “All right, do we want to work it now? Do you want to get prepared?”

Perry Holley:    Work on that swing?

Chris Goede:     Yeah. Or are we going to just show up, or… We want to win the game on Saturday, but can we have ice cream? And can we take Wednesday off and Thursday? And so, it just made me think about that. And, as a kid, they would come up and be so excited about what they wanted to accomplish, not yet necessarily knowing what it’s going to take to accomplish that. And I think oftentimes, we want a title without really knowing what that looks like.

It reminds me of a great basketball… a quote from the basketball coach, John Wooden, that said, “When an opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” And I’m even talking to my son a lot about that right now, about making his way into collegiate sports. And you go from playing high school sports to this. And he wants to participate, but his opportunity’s not there yet. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to be preparing because when that opportunity comes, as Coach Wooden said right here, it’s way too late.

So, this is the same thing with leadership. Because you don’t necessarily have a title doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be learning as much as possible about leadership and about influence and about vision and about all that you need to be thinking about that and learning. And in that process, what’s great about that, is you’ll begin to influence those around you. So, you got to start now.

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Perry Holley:    Right, right. And it’s not just success in leadership; it’s really success in all of life. If you want to be effective and successful, that you really need to be learning to lead and influence others. It will help you. It’s really what the Law of the Lid is saying from the 21 Laws. Run through that. I think that really changed my thinking about-

Chris Goede:     Yeah. If any of you have seen John teach this, it’s just… he’s known for sitting there, teaching it. And he’s continually just hitting his hand with the other. It’s just kind of a lid, and it’s bouncing up against it. And he just does that the whole time he’s teaching it. And really, what he’s talking about is that leadership, your leadership ability or the leadership ability in your organization, is the lid that will determine the effectiveness of the organization. Whether it’s your own leadership, whether it’s a team that you’re leading, whether it’s, again, the organization, it starts with you, and you are that lid.

And so, what we need to do is we have to be able to… we’ve got to increase that. We got to increase the ceiling. We got to raise that lid of influence. And, in that, your ability to lead will continue to increase. I think also, what’s key here when you talk about the Law of the Lid, from a leadership perspective of leading a team or organization, I want you to understand it also is a direct correlation to the type of the type of talent that you attract. It’s the retention that you have. All of these things fall into this Law of Lid.

So, let’s talk a little bit about how does one begin to develop? We talk about, “Hey, just start now.” But how does one begin to develop their leadership ability that increases their influence, maybe when the opportunity isn’t there right now?

Perry Holley:    When I’ve heard John talk about people watching him do what he does, he’ll be on stage or at a book signing, he’ll say, “Man, I want to do what you do. And I want to become a leader. When I do become a leader, I’m going to start to read your books.” And he said, he just thinks to himself, “Well, if you maybe read my books, you could become a leader.” But it is the Law of Process, that leadership doesn’t develop in a day; it’s day by day.

And so, what are the small things you’re willing to do? And if you do want to be a leader, a titled leader one day, or even if you aren’t a titled leader today, you’d have to have this mindset, the skills, the disciplines, the habits of a person that you hope to be one day. I’ll get your feedback as well, but, for me, it started with just reading. I just started a daily reading habit. Not a lot, but I just determined I was going to do something every day, and we talk a lot about that here. But it exposed me to concepts and ideas that I could actually start to implement long before I landed that first title. If I hadn’t had done it, I wouldn’t know. So, the reading habit’s what really started it for me.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And what I love about what you just said, I think there’s two key words. Again, they’re simple, but they’re key. You said it’s a process. It’s a learning process you got to go through. And it’s a daily. It’s daily habit. What are you doing on a daily basis? And I love how you often talk about, man, even if it’s just five minutes a day. And even how you challenged your son back on a previous podcast, we talked about even, what are you learning? And then what are you then teaching? I think it was send a tweet out about it. Whatever it was to get him to begin thinking about that and that process. And so, what we’re talking about here again is the fact that we define leadership as influence, and we’re giving you some thoughts, some ideas around that.

For me, the first book that I remember was John’s book, The Success Journey. And I’m not sure if that’s the same title as now. Maybe The Journey to Success. It’s definitely not that; it’s definitely the other way around, Success Journey. And that was really my first exposure to any of that. And that was back when I began working with John some years ago. Remember, I started when I was five with him. That was over 20 years ago. But I think that was the book. And then it just got me hooked on obviously, the content and the influence and the leadership.

I heard John say this quote last week when he was teaching, and I thought it was really kind of relevant to what we’re talking about here today, where John said, and this is really kind of defining the process, he said, “Success is a series of steps, not just a giant leap.” Those steps that we’re going through every single day, even maybe when we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re grinding. That work that you’re doing is not wasted. That work that you’re putting into yourself is not wasted. It’s stored up. And you have to store up the work that you’re doing or influence before it shows up. And I thought that was… I just kind of think, “Hey, it is a process. And be patient with yourself, but do it on a daily basis.”

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Absolutely. I still have these books in my library, but I started with… I think the first book I picked up was John’s 21 Irrefutable Laws. And that’s a easy read, but it had a lot of great content. But then I picked up the Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner that I still look back to from time to time. But they really got me on the journey.

Another myth that I see people buying into is the idea that once they get to the leadership position, they’ll be more in control of life and life will be easier. If I could just get to that title, I’ll be there. And I’ve found this to be completely true, that I buy into that. But when you get the leadership role, you learn quickly that things are more complicated than they appeared when you were watching your manager. Somehow, when I was watching the leader, it seemed like, “I can do that. I got that.” But it is this myth that it’s just going to get easier.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. I remember when I was having a conversation with John one time about The 5 Levels of Leadership. And, in there, one of the things that he says about the model is the higher you go, the easier it is to leave. And I was like, “Can we talk about that?” Because, to your point, every opportunity that I’ve had to increase my influence and leadership, it has become more complex. But we had a good conversation about what… But what he’s saying there is he’s saying the higher you go and increase your influence with people, the easier it is to lead them, the relationship between them. It’s not necessarily the complexity of all that you’re dealing with in regards to leadership because, to your point, we only have a limited perspective of what it’s like in that position when we’re not there. And when we get there, then obviously, it definitely brings some complex things. But I think that’s why you can never stop kind of learning and challenging yourself and increasing your leadership capabilities. It’s like what I just mentioned with John’s quote. Every step in your development is a process that will show up in the future. And it’s something that you’re going to have to increase your influence in order to be able to lead successfully at that level.

One thing that I want to go back to is five levels thought real quick, and it’s one of the reasons why we talk about. And we see this in leaders all around the world. And this pains me more than anything. Level one, people lead because of their title, period. That’s it. It’s command and control. And with that, your influence is limited, which makes things even more complex. So, if you’re dealing with complex issues right now, think about how much easier it would be if you truly understood the influence model with the people on your team and you continued to grow through the five levels. Versus being a level-one leader, dealing with the complex part of the influence, but then also complex situation as leaders. And so, that’s almost like kind of a double whammy. And so, I want you to begin thinking about the fact that it’s going to be complicated. So, don’t buy into that myth. It’s going to be. But it can be easier on you if you truly understand kind of the five levels, and you don’t limit yourself to your connection with your people.Perry Holley:    Yeah. I’ve also found being in an organization and not having a title, but aspiring to want one, when I’m trying to climb to that level to have a title as a leader, that you can feel almost hidden. You feel like you’ll never get noticed. They’re not noticing what I do. And we talk about this being a bit of a, what we call the ego challenge, that it can be a blow to your ego, to not get the recognition you think you deserve. And that could alter your ability for actually people to notice you.

And I know one leader that I was coaching just a couple of weeks ago, he commented that… we were talking about the results. And he goes, “I just let the results speak for themselves. I don’t feel the need to self-promote. I don’t ever talk about myself.” However, he said there are others in the organization who were constantly self-promoting and talking about themselves. And he wondered if he would ever get noticed because he just wants the results to talk, and the other people are talking. How does an aspiring leader in the middle of an organization overcome this little ego hit that “I’m not going to get noticed because other people are making noise.”

Chris Goede:     Well, that’s a great question. And remember, we’re all wired differently. So, we do have people on our team, or maybe even you’re this way or that leader that you just mentioned, to where you’re not going to be the one that verbalizes it. And then you’re smiling, thinking about some other leaders in the organization that always verbalize it.

Here’s what I would encourage you to do. And if you go back to the model again, you increase your influence by getting to level three, which is, man, we got to produce. And I think good leadership, good influence, man, you always deliver results. And when you do that, you will always get noticed. Maybe not right there in the moment, and maybe not publicly, but behind closed doors, the leaders know what’s going on. And I’m always a fan, for me, of someone that is, “Hey don’t talk about it; show it to me and let me see the results.” It goes back to, I say all the time, leadership is kind of a visual sport, and you need to see that producing.

One of the things self-promotion says, “If you don’t toot your own horn, then no one’s going to toot it for you.” So, you’re like, “I’ve got to talk about myself.” There’s a little bit of insecurity in that, maybe a lot, of why they’re doing that. But a selfless promotion says, “Man, I just want to help the team win. I want us to get results.” It’s this kind of abundance mindset as a individual contributor or as a leader, not a scarcity. And I think if you go about it with the right motive behind why you’re doing what you’re doing at the root of all of this, that tells a lot about whether or not you’re a leader that’s out there self-promoting, or if you are one that is kind of a selfless promoter.

Perry Holley:    Right. Well, I totally agree. And I was thinking back, I listened to that first… I’m grateful to have a manager that told me the truth, that, “You’re kind of new in this, but if you aspire to have that, here’s what you need to do.” And got me on a learning process of developing myself before I got the title. And then he also taught me to have some satisfaction in knowing that the reason for the success of our project or the success of that customer had to do with me, and that I was adding value to not only to the customer, but to my team and to our organization. And guess what? I got promoted. I did get that title. It wasn’t in six months. It was three and a half, almost four years. But it really taught me a great lesson, to do the work and the rewards will come. People will notice.

Chris Goede:     Yes, that’s right, that’s right. Well, listen, as we kind of wrap up today, let me just encourage you. Perry gave us this title, and I think it’s so relevant. Yes, I have influence. Yes, I’m leading without a title, but I really want that title on my business card, on my email signature. If that’s your desire and that’s your goal, love it. And I think you should shoot after that goal. But, man, don’t wait to get there to start. Let’s start today.

Start learning how to better lead yourself. Let’s start there. We often say that leading yourself is the hardest person to lead. If you can lead yourself, well, then I promise you those attributes, those characteristics that you have are going to kind of roll over and you’re going to be able to influence others. But start learning and growing today.

I’m going to close with this one quote. John did an interview last week with Steve Harvey, which, by the way, they have a communication curriculum coming out that I’m very excited about. And they just connected right from the start. I was telling you, Perry, as we got started, they both love to laugh. And so, man, there’s just a lot of laughter, but a lot of connection going on there.

But when it comes to leading yourself and starting with yourself and starting right now, even though you don’t have that title, this quote came to mind. He said, “I’ve never met the person who should be in charge of me.” He’s like, “Yeah, no, no, no. It’s my responsibility. I should be the one in charge of me.” And so, as you desire and you really want that title, start with yourself first,. and then begin thinking about “How do I produce results?” You don’t need to be promoting yourself. And just be on this growth process and journey. And, to your point, it may be three years. It may be four. But when the time is right, you’ll be rewarded for that.

Perry Holley:    That’s right. And I just encourage our leaders, you should be teaching this to the people on your team. This is-

Chris Goede:     Yeah, that’s good.

Perry Holley:    Your development of them is that they should be developing themselves and owning and being in charge of themselves and doing that. So, thanks, Chris. Great reminders.

And just a reminder for you. If you’d like to learn more about The 5 Levels of Leadership or the 360 Degree Leader, you can go to You can leave a comment or a question for us there. We always love to hear from you. And we’re very grateful that you would join us here today. This is the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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