1. Leadership is a Responsibility, Not a Badge of Honour – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter One

Leadership is a Responsibility, Not a Badge of Honour

Leadership is action, not position.


Donald H. McGannon

Leadership is neither a rank nor a title. Leadership is a position with responsibility. It is not a position to be appointed by others. It is the people who give such position to deserving leaders. Thorn (1996), in developing his 14 guides for successful leadership, includes concepts like ‘charismatic’, ‘visionary’, ‘driven’, ‘inspirational’, ‘coach’ and ‘cheerleader’ in an effort to describe a leader. He goes on to note, ‘Leadership … is a gift presented … by your employees after you have proven yourself worthy of having it’ (ibid.: 14–16). Hence, leaders cannot claim that position, but people will give that position to the deserving ones.

Leadership is not by chance, but a choice. Leaders undertake their responsibilities voluntarily; leadership is not thrust upon them in this civilized world unlike in ancient times, when heirs were thrust upon the world. Whenever there is a crisis, the real leaders emerge to smoothen the situation, and whenever a ship sails into a storm, the real captains emerge to steer the ship successfully to shore. Therefore, leadership is less about position and more about disposition. Leadership is all about making things happen, walking the talk, achieving the objectives and, above all, making a difference in the lives of others.

Leadership is not a badge of honour. It is not a popularity contest. It is about taking the blame in case of failure and achieving fame in case of success. Leadership is about your actions. Your actions speak louder than your words. When people see your actions and are convinced by your convictions, they will honour you as a leader.

Leadership is Responsibility

It is the responsibility of leadership to provide opportunity, and the responsibility of individuals to contribute.

William Pollard

Many people think that leadership is a badge of honour. In fact, it is a responsibility, where leaders undertake actions and keep pushing things forward. True leaders do not pass the buck, but take responsibility and move forward. They influence people, build teams, motivate them, and ultimately achieve the desired objectives. People often think that everybody can become a leader easily. However, the path is riddled with many challenges. Even if a minor mistake is made, people will not forgive their leaders. Warren Buffett once remarked, ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it’ (http://quotationsbook.com/quote/34014/). So if you keep that in mind, you will do things differently. While taking responsibility, leaders are very aware of the consequences of decision-making, and know that every decision will not go well. They have to accept moral responsibility for decisions that go wrong, and have to spread fame when group members do things well. Hence, there are several challenges involved in taking responsibility.

Some leaders are overly conscious of their leadership titles, such as Dean, CEO, Senior Manager, Managing Director, and so on. Leadership is a behaviour that anyone can demonstrate at any time, without recourse to any organizational or hierarchical position or title. In fact, we are all leaders in some journey of our lives, where we rise to the occasion and demonstrate our hidden talents and potential. Leadership does not go by rank, position or title. Leadership is not the privilege of a few individuals, as many people think.

People do not work under leaders who display their leadership positions. They like to work under leaders who remain servants rather than bosses, who mentor rather than dictate, who guide rather than force others into doing the work, who are people-oriented rather than task-oriented, and finally, who adopt soft leadership rather than hard leadership.

Although M. K. Gandhi was referred to as Mahatma (super soul), he disliked being called Mahatma Gandhi. For Mahatma Gandhi, the title was not important; freedom for India was more important. He moved with the masses, associated with them, and served them like an ordinary man. Hence, top leaders do not believe in titles or positions, but they emphatically believe in undertaking responsibilities and doing their jobs successfully.

Stephen R. Covey, in his book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (2004), emphasizes that leadership is not a position but a ‘proactive intention to affirm the work and potential of those around us …’. It is clear that leadership involves affirming faith in the work of your group members and enhancing their potential. Robin Sharma, in his book The Leader Who Had No Title: A Modern Fable on Real Success in Business and in Life (2010), substantiates the same. Several leadership gurus have clearly asserted that leadership is not a title or a position, but is all about taking responsibility. Robin Sharma also says, ‘In this materialistic world, we chase titles, fast cars, and big bank accounts in a search for greatness when, in truth, all that we really want we already have’.

Titles are Temporary

Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.

William Wallace (‘Braveheart’)

Robin Sharma says, ‘You are a leader, no matter what you do in your life either with title or without a title, you are still a leader.’ He further states that the primary thing that you need to do a job is passion. Titles do not bring you respect; it is the extent of your contribution that earns you respect. Real leadership is about ‘walking the talk and leading from the front’.

One thing that people must remember is that nothing is permanent. No titles are permanent, and we have to depart this world leaving everything behind, and with either a good or a bad reputation. Hence, people must learn to live life happily by helping others, and making a difference in the lives of others without craving so-called titles, positions or badges.