Influence comes from people, not titles

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve had numerous conversations with young leaders who are frustrated with their current position. While their job titles and industries may be different, many Millennials in today’s workforce are frustrated because they don’t feel like their current job title gives them the influence they were hoping for at this point in their career.

On one hand, their drive to “move up the ladder” and make a difference helps them bring a new energy and zeal to today’s work world. On the other hand, this drive can lead to entitlement or lack of appreciation for those who are ahead of them, who’ve been working their way up over the past 20 years.

A few days ago, I ran across a tweet from my friend Mark Sanborn that I think could dramatically decrease some of the pressure young leaders feel when it comes to obtaining influence:

“The bottom line is, influence and inspiration come from the person, not the position.”

While this might be an encouraging reminder for young leaders, it can also serve as a sobering reminder for seasoned leaders.

For young leaders, let this be a reminder that a job title does not equal influence. I’ve known plenty of C-level leaders who had no real influence over the employees in their organization. At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of young leaders who have earned a seat at the table with their elders because they consistently looked for ways to make a difference. If there’s one word of encouragement I could echo from Mark’s tweet to young leaders it would be this…

As you go throughout your career, value the opportunity to make an impact more than achieving a specific job title. Keeping that as the top priority will posture you to have the influence and inspiration you’re seeking.

For seasoned leaders, remember that just because you hold a particular position, that doesn’t mean you have real influence with the people you lead. Sure, they may listen to you out of fear of losing their job or being reprimanded, but that’s not what real influence is all about. To seasoned leaders, I say this:

Influence comes from getting out from behind the desk every once in awhile, increasing our credibility by practicing what we preach, investing in others, and setting an agenda that helps others understand the difference they’re making.

As John Maxwell always says, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more. Nothing less.” Your position doesn’t determine your ability to influence, nor does it determine how good of a leader you are.

It turns out leadership titles have very little to do with leadership.

What advice would you give to a young leader who feels trapped behind a particular job title?