Leading Without a Title

One of my favorite leadership experts, Robin Sharma, proposes an interesting theory called “Leading without a title.” Sharma uses this concept to explain a new model of leadership versus the old model. The old model of leadership was based on command and control. It was believed that change and real impact could only be brought about via people in positions of power such as CEOs. However, the new model is about collection and collaboration. Despite vocation, location and background, one can make a change by simply focusing on leading without a title. Leading without a title is an essential concept to understand when it comes to the public sector. As public servants, we have to overcome gatekeepers, naysayers and multiple levels of bureaucracy to continue doing the good work we do. Projects can take years to complete and it could take twice as long to measure the impact. Even if we do see the desirable impact, the time to truly feel the weight of our title may have passed.

What leading without a title really advocates is shifting your mentality from wanting to have the best to focusing on becoming the best. “If you’re someone who needs to be publicly recognized for their work, this may not be the place for you,” I heard an NSA recruiter say once. If your job involves keeping citizens safe, you cannot publicly speak about your work or its accomplishments. Yet, you must lead, even without a title. A sense of purpose and passion behind the cause your work is supporting will measure your success and overall impact. Operating at a world-class level in your personal and professional life is what will give and keep your sense of vitality consistent. “Leaders are devoted to results and have a laser-like focus to just get things done,” says Sharma. If we really want to be the change we see in the world, we must go to work every day and be excellent at our respective tasks. Sharma advocates being the “Mozart/Beckham/Picasso” of whatever you do. We all want success, a promotion and a respective pay raise. However, the only way to get there is to focus your mind on becoming the best at what you do.

I asked my friend and colleague, Luis Eduardo Torrens, what he thought about this theory. A fellow CDC associate, Luis’ passion for public service, dynamic work environment and overall adoration for his job often becomes the focal point of our lunch table conversations. I introduced this theory to him, knowing it applied to him and that he would have something to contribute. Here is what a fellow passionate public servant had to say about leading without a title.

“Collectivism is the word that comes to mind when I think about public service. In many circles that word has a negative connotation. However, the definition of collectivism directly reflects the work of public servants. In my current position my division was completing the funding application for the upcoming budget period. The application contained multiple parts that demanded the collaboration of close to 50 different staff members in the division. It was a collective effort. No one took the lead, but individuals focused on areas where their expertise lie and contributed to reach the final goal, which benefited everyone. I would say that the goal in public service is to work in interdisciplinary teams to sustain your agency. That way, your agency will be able to provide basic services to the public, and work with each other to build an agency that can robustly handle the unforeseeable issues that impact the public. At the end of the day it’s not about us it’s about them (the Public).”

I couldn’t agree more.

Priyanka Oza is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Marjorie Williams

Interesting, thought-provoking article. I think, from my own experience with working at various levels in public health (state, local, non-profit, academic) this should be the ideal. I see the usefulness and the opportunity to allow for creativity and group ownership of projects/programs – especially when working with community organizations. On the other hand, thinking of some of the situations in which I have found myself, it is apparent that a well-defined leader or “go-to person” sometimes needs to be identified. For example, many times I have come across projects that no one person in an organization wants to be responsible for – especially if the potential outcomes could be negative. Oftentimes, these type of situations are left hanging because no one or no group of people wants to step forward to address the challenge. At this point, a specific leader needs to be assigned to move the project along. And everyone involved needs to see this person as the leader (go-to person, final decision maker, tie-breaker, the buck stops with me person). I guess the trick is to balance the need for a specified leader with the desire to put out work that is clearly reflective of the “collective” and not one single person.

By the way, this may be a bit old school, but lately I have been reading more about the concept of soft power by Joseph Nye. I see many ways in which this can be applicable to public health. Might want to check that out too.

Earl Rice

I was told in a leadership course, the more that is at stake, and the more critical the task, the higher the probability for tight Command and Control. But, Command and Control cannot be micromanagement. That’s the key. [I have observed time and again where micromanagers can excel, up to a certain point, and then when their “Command and Control” gets to the point they can’t micromanage, the fail miserable.] Also, what I hear on the message, in short is that the key is professionalism. Be the best at what you do. The leading without titles can be very appealing to the younger employees. And, I can see why, since it would give a sense of elevation that they may not get from a rigid hierarchy. But, the whole Civil Service system is based upon an equal rights case back in the early 60’s. Every position, or job, is described (position description of functional statement) and is classified into a specialty and grade. That way everyone gets equal pay for equal work. The more difficult and complex the work is, the higher the grade. This is something that will probably not go away for a long time, except in certain cases. One is in research, were most research facilities are in what is known as a demonstration project where they can alter the grading criteria, and sometimes even the classification processes. But, that is usually reserved for the scientist. The lead without rank also forgets ambition, greed, hunger for power, and even the fiscal side of things in the Government. What was it that was said by the last stone cutter, “I a building a Cathedral”. That’s nice, but if you don’t need a Cathedral, you need a wall built, I would go with the stone cutter that can build a wall.

Priyanka R. Oza

Earl, I agree. Everything in the workforce, as in life, is subjective and dynamic. The key is to enjoy your work, be the best at what you do and work for the common good.