Would you still want to be a leader if you didn’t have a title?

Browsing my Twitter feed the other day this question leaped out:

What if leadership wasn’t a promotion

Leadership happens everyday in every sector, with and without designated roles and titles. As we sail headlong into the 21st century it is timely to reconsider the requirements for leadership today, in a work context characterised by projects, rather than job functions, and roles instead of titles.

Many forward-thinking organisations are steadily moving away from rigid hierarchical structures and are seeking to become more agile. Roles are specialised and people are working in cross-disciplinary teams. The quality of a team’s output is a result of its breadth of talent, evident in the specialised contribution of each team-member and effective leadership harnesses these elements to achieve the desired outcomes. Teams are formed, dismantled and rearranged, depending on the project and need.

The reality is that many organisations are eliminating hierarchies. They have cross-disciplinary teams, with multiple relationships and reporting points. As a result, leadership is a role like many others in an organisation, with its own particular set of skills, contributing to the vision. When leadership is released from hierarchy, people are better able to lead in situations that can leverage strengths, and leaders are freed from being the constant go-to/decision-broker and they become the facilitator of team success.

Can a school dismantle a leadership hierarchy?

The responsibility of the school leader today is to prepare young people for the dynamic world they will enter. The concept of a ‘job for life’ and role-based skill-set is now less relevant. This generation will have a succession of career changes. In this process young people will need to develop a suite of skills and expertise that will help them to make a unique and positive contribution to this world.

Historically, education has responded to the needs of society. The industrial era was a time of unprecedented population growth, with a shift toward machine-based manufacturing. In the post-war period the growing population was experiencing increasing personal income, resulting in increasing consumerism.

At the time people were colloquially referred to as cogs in the machine. They worked hard for a day’s pay. There was little opportunity to contribute ideas or collaborate in the process. People may have worked side-by-side, but each were specifically attending to their own duties. They started work at the whistle, they clocked on and then ended work with the whistle, they clocked off. The industrial era needed a compliant workforce.

School responded by preparing students to work in this culture. Learning was segmented, teachers focussed on their discipline and students were grouped according to their age. In this setting, students needed to be passive recipients of the teaching. Leadership meant authority and hierarchy. Schools valued compliant students.

Fast forward to 2012 when the world of work is constantly changing and leadership is an essential quality within reach of many. The leader is not the one who knows the most, knowledge is accessible. The leader today is an enabler.

Leadership must be both taught and caught. This means developing a deliberate strategy to grow leaders, as well as providing a context where effective leadership is authentically role-modelled.

How can you facilitate a culture of leadership?

  • Develop leadership the potential of staff, as well as students
  • Help everyone to understand that they are a leader
  • Teach leadership
  • Role model positive leadership
  • Recruit for the capacity and potential, not just expertise and reputation
  • Break down silos. Find ways to develop cross-disciplinary teams
  • Ensure teams have purpose.
  • Dismantle teams once purpose fulfilled, reassemble new teams
  • Place value on horizontal movement, not just vertical
  • Provide opportunities for those leading teams to also participate as team members
  • Reward and exemplify team effort ahead of individual effort
  • Consider redefining your school’s leadership structure

What happens when leadership isn’t just seen as a promotion?

  • Anyone recognises their leadership potential and people step up when there is need or opportunity.
  • Students experience positive role-models
  • A culture of leadership becomes part of the school’s DNA
  • The capacity of leaders will keep growing

Most significantly, schools will reflect the prevailing workplace culture of the 21st century and students will be better placed to succeed.

3 thoughts on “Would you still want to be a leader if you didn’t have a title?

  1. Fascinating provocation of questions and reflections. There are more questions though. How far do you take this? Could you remove th CEO of a company or boss of a school? Who is responsible in legal situations?
    The advantage I see is developing cultures of cooperation and teams. Utisling strengths of individuals better.
    As a Christian I would want to look at this through a different world view.
    Within the trinity the father is the head. Jesus is head of the church and of his disciples. They then took leadership and went out into the world.
    The above article is excellent but in th end how far do you take this?
    Can you accomplish all of the above without changing the leaders?
    Can this be archived without the leaders? ( as in current leadership roles)


  2. The principles that you address here are, I think, often prevalent in smaller schools where teaming occurs naturally in order to get things done. In smaller schools the possibilities for ownership of programs and ideas are more attainable. The opportunity to lead is real even for younger teachers. Larger schools are often restricted by bureaucratic structures which can disempower and demotivate. I like the idea of a culture of leadership becoming a part of the DNA of a school and if it does then size shouldn’t matter.


  3. This was thought provoking. I think the ideas that you are discussing in effect do happen in some schools, or perhaps are superficially addressed or even aspired to. However, I do not think that many of us are really exploring the wider concepts and the power they might have if utilised and acted upon.

    The interesting dynamic with schools are the students, teachers and community. They all surge as one being but have different ideas and learning/leadership expectations. We need to align everyone within the organisation or it is easy to fall back into a default setting. We are so complex as we span generations and thought patterns.

    Rich (above) comments on larger schools being restricted and this would appear to be the case as the leadership model is large and more cumbersome therefore we prefer an easier model to manoeuvre.

    Schools should always be forward thinking and aiming for the ideal. Even large schools can find pockets of excellent practice and/or leadership and use them to shape the future in this way. In this way our complexity makes us unique and able to initiate a leadership culture.


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