Leaders Don’t Need Titles

November 1, 2013


Mark Sanborn speaking at a conference

Photo from marksanborn.com

Last weekend, I participated in the PMI Leadership Institute Meeting in New Orleans, where over 1000 volunteer leaders from Chapters and Communities of Practice had the privilege of hearing Mark Sanborn’s closing keynote: You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader.

Mark started off his presentation with a quiz of five simple trick questions. When he told us the answers, his point was clear: it doesn’t do any good to have the right answers if you’re answering the wrong questions. Therefore, the quickest way to change your business or your life is to change the questions you ask. Using past performance to predict future behaviours is good for hiring, but not for leadership. It tells you what is probable but doesn’t reflect what is possible.

Leadership is an invitation to greatness we extend to others.

– Mark Sanborn

If you want to make a difference, you must be different. There are only two ways to grow:

  1. Grow yourself
  2. Grow your team

Unfortunately, there are too many duct tape leaders. They do everything the team can do… except they don’t grow the team.

You need to lead whenever you can improve ROI – Relationships, Outcomes and Improvements. For improving relationships, it is important to be aware of the four sources of passion:

  1. What you do
  2. Why you do it
  3. How you do it
  4. Who you do it for

The last point is especially important if the passion does not come from one of the other sources.

How do you get people to trust you? Be trustworthy.

– Tom Peters

So, if you do not have the title, why would anyone follow you? People will follow you because of your character, competence, and ability to make a genuine connection. You show these by:

  • To lead others, you have to show that you can lead yourself.
Shared focus
  • To create this, list your 6 to 8 most valuable and profitable activities.
  • Then schedule 60-80% of your time to do them.
  • First, check your list with your team’s list. If they are too different, then there may be a problem.
Power with people
  • Be honest and tell people what they need to hear in a way they are able to hear it
  • Be interested in what people are telling you
  • Be empathic – knowing how people feel, even if you don’t feel the same way
Persuasive communication
  • Stop telling and start selling.
  • Mark used the example of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It’s one of the most famous speeches in American history and it was only 10 sentences.
  • What are your 10 sentences that will helping people make a decision that is good for them?
  • Leaders know what really matter and know how to make it matter to others.
Strategic execution
  • Knowing and doing are not the same.  You must be able to implement good ideas.
  • A radical alternative to giving is returning – paying back more than we took.

Mark concluded with briefly discussing the ways to increase your leadership impact:

  • Clarify your desired impact
  • Have a detailed plan
  • Keep very good notes!
  • Try to say “thank you” too much
  • If you did your best, FIDO (Forget It, Drive On)!
  • Focus on relationships
  • Never lose heart

Mark’s book, You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader, was also on sale at the PMI bookstore set up for the LIM. I picked up a copy and read it on the flight home.  It covers the concepts of his presentation in more detail along with many brief inspirational stories. It will be a good read for some of my team members who often complain that their lack of a title is inhibiting them. As a leader with a title, I will also keep working on the team’s culture so it doesn’t reinforce that belief.

Do you feel you need a title to be leader? Why or why not?

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About Liza Wood

After a dozen years leading video game development projects in a variety of roles, I decided to pursue a Master of Data Science at the University of British Columbia. Studying data science doesn’t mean I’m moving away from leading people. Growing data science teams need collaborative, pragmatic, Agile leadership to connect data to all areas of the business. I would like to share that point of view, along with my experiences, on this blog.

View all posts by Liza Wood

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2 Comments on “Leaders Don’t Need Titles”

  1. milfordstreet Says:

    I be Mark Sanborn’s talk was great. The book looks really interesting.


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