What if you lost your title?

May 25, 2012

Imagine someone designed a device that could selectively wipe out human memory. Imagine that person used the device on everyone at your company – except you – to wipe out their memory of the organizational hierarchy. You go into work today and everything seems the same. People know what they do for a living. They know what function or business they work for. They know who they work with. They know what tasks they are supposed to accomplish. Whatever expertise they had, they still have. They know everything they knew yesterday. But they are totally unaware of any reporting relationships. Not only what the reporting relationships are, but even the fact that there were any. They simply have no idea that there were officially-designated reporting relationships.

The status quo before you went to bed yesterday was that you were a manager. There were people who had to listen to you. Who had to follow your orders. Who had to take direction from you. But today, those people are completely unaware that this was ever true. And just to complete the scenario, imagine that all documentation that could prove this has mysteriously disappeared.

Your department still has work to do. And that work demands the involvement of many people. You have a point of view about how that work should be done. You have a perspective about the strategies and tactics that will enable the company to achieve its objectives. You believe you know which people should take on each of the various projects and tasks.

Those are your points of view. Your perspectives. Your beliefs.

In this new reality, will anyone listen? Will people do what you suggest? Will they implement your ideas?

If not, you are not a leader. And now you know that you never were one. Now you know that when people did what you said before, it was out of fear. Not because they were inspired by you. Not because they believed in you. Not because they admired you. Not because they trusted you. Not because they respected you. But simply because they were told they had to and they feared for their livelihood if they didn’t obey. You were not a leader. You were a manager. And probably a tyrant – either by actively engaging in the behavior of a tyrant or by just tacitly accepting the tyranny of the organization.

How do you feel?

If you feel proud of your former life, if you like the idea of getting people to do things by scaring them, then please stop reading this blog post and just go away. I don’t like you.

But if you feel a bit empty, if you feel sheepish, if you feel like you’ve been missing out on the opportunity for nobility, then maybe you ought to ┬áreconsider how you get work done in your company. And this is a good thing. Because the opportunities for tyranny are shrinking as we move away from a labor model based on feudalism and industrialism to one based on opt-in networks. If this little thought experiment has illuminated that you are relying on a formal title to get other people to do things, take some time and think about what really makes people throw themselves into work with gusto and passion.

People want to believe. They want to be inspired. They want to take direction from an expert. They want to feel connected to others and to a purpose that matters to the world. They want to know where they are headed and how they will get there. Leaders create such conditions for people.

How will you lead?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: