F%#k Your Title: 3 Reasons Why Positional Power is the Weakest Form of Leadership



I hate the word boss. Not because I’m an anarchist or rebel employee, but because true leaders rarely use that word. Below is a definition of leadership that is often used in academia:

Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes
— JC Rost, 1993

Note that this definition does not say that a leader has to be a manager or executive. However, in millions of offices across the world, there are managers and supervisors who rely solely on positional power to influence their team. They believe that they’re the boss and that their staff should simply follow their orders.   The problem with this is that positional power is the weakest form of leadership, and I would actually argue it’s not leadership at all. Here are three reasons why positional power alone is ineffective.


1.       There Are Actually Two Organizational Charts

Every organization has two organizational charts.  There's the “official” one , and the one based on reality. In the reality based chart, power is centralized in different areas than the official one.  Often times, the most powerful leaders in an organization are not in management. They speak up against office policies that everyone else is afraid to challenge, mentor struggling co-workers, provide support to the management and executive teams, and lead coworkers by example. These are excellent skills to have and Transformational Leadership research has shown that actions similar to these increase productivity and employee commitment.  People are drawn to unofficial leaders and often times they have more influence than the “boss” in the office, and with the boss’s superiors!  Unfortunately, many official “bosses” do not consider skills such as advocacy and mentoring as part of their job description, they simply dictate orders.   In my career, I’ve seen several situations where the "boss" lost influence and respect for this reason. 


2.       Everyone is Not Naturally Wired to Care About a Title

It is true that society is based on order.  Titles exist to reduce chaos and for the most part, do a great job at it.   However, each employee values titles differently, and often times their personality style plays a part in this. On one side of the spectrum, people with the Manager personality style (ESTJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, ISFJ) tend to respect titles and will honor them despite their supervisor’s talents (or lack thereof).  On the other side of the spectrum, those with the Analyst style (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, INTP) respect competency above all else.   If a supervisor proves to be incompetent, the Analyst will not respect their authority.  This will cause conflict, and will likely cause the Analyst to quit due to their inability to work under someone whom they do not respect.  In rare cases, the Analyst may develop a strategy for the incompetent supervisor’s removal (provided they have the influence to do so).   This is unfortunate as people with the Analyst style tend to be bright and highly intelligent employees who can add value to the organization.  


3.       Leading Based on Position Alone Creates Resentment

Everyone has had a slacker boss. The type who comes in late, dumps their work on you, and who expects you to do things they are not willing to do themselves.    No one respects someone who uses their position to justify otherwise unacceptable behavior.  While being in management does allow for some perks, abuse of the position will cause resentment.  Also, using “I’m the boss” as a justification for why someone should do something will also create negativity.   If someone asks for clarification regarding a directive, the best approach is to share the rationale and reason for why it needs to be done. This simple act of transparency will make the employee feel respected and empowered.