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  • Writer's pictureSherry

Can Your Job Title Give You Personality?

Are leaders born charismatic or does their title give them charisma?


I recently revisited a wonderful TED Talk that dares us to rethink who and how we lead.  According to Seth Godin, our society is propelled by the idea of change. This started with factories that changed the way products were made, then moved to mass advertising to change the way we sell products and now revolves around leadership. In Seth's eyes, leaders lead tribes (i.e. groups of people linked in some way).  A tribe is built to disrupt status quo, connect others, and lead a movement. A  example of a tribal leader could be Martin Luther King Jr. He lived to disrupt the status quo of his time, connect the group that believed in his cause, and lead a movement to change a culture. Many people say that Martin Luther King Jr. was "born to lead" because of his compassion, determination, and charm. Did his leadership experiences instill him with those personality traits or did his charisma and compassion make him a leader?

Steve Jobs was known for a variety of things: being brilliant, being demanding, and being somewhat elusive. Those aren't typical qualities of a strong leader, but Apple still managed to lead a movement. Was Steve Jobs born to lead people? Probably not, but his brilliance thrust him into leadership.

Recently, many of our clients have talked about "Cultural fit" and "leadership traits" as non-negotiable's in executive level candidates. It's those qualities that are not necessarily tangible, but they deem mission critical in leadership roles. When our clients pass on a candidate they often say things like "(insert name) is an executive of a major company, so I thought they would have strong executive presence but he/she came off a little meager. Definitely not the leader we are looking for." So, does being of a certain job title suggest you possess outstanding leadership qualities?

Sure, all organizations want their leaders to be charismatic, charming, persuasive, inspirational, etc., but not all leaders are made of those qualities. Maybe there are leaders in your organization more like a Steve Jobs (Brilliant, but not people oriented), but you have a manager level employee who is a Martin Luther King style leader (charismatic, dedicated, motivational). At S. Benjamins, we often call these folks "the influencers". The people who make the most change happen in an organization. Often times they aren't the CEO, but they are the most people connected and mission connected person in the organization. We've begun to see companies like Zappos get rid of job titles as a way to put people on an even playing field, give everyone a chance to impact, and ultimately create the most disruption (which usually equals the most profit). This might also be a secret way to take off the pressure of a person to possess certain traits based on title.

Do you think our leadership driven work culture associates personality/leadership traits based on title? What would happen if those with the greatest "leadership traits" automatically became leaders?

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