Titles Don't Make Leaders

I hear all the time that real change in education can only come from the adults that have a specific title such as Board of Education member, superintendent, other central office administrators, principals, supervisors, etc.
04/29/2016 01:01 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2017

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams

I hear all the time that real change in education can only come from the adults that have a specific title such as Board of Education member, superintendent, other central office administrators, principals, supervisors, etc. Immediately upon hearing this I share stories of many "leaders" by title that I have come in contact with over the years, or observed from afar, that did anything but lead. I would also bet that I am not the only one who feels this way either.

Titles are often squandered that result in lost opportunities to transform organizations in positive ways. Leaders by title alone often exhibit many defining characteristics such as egos, power trips, taking credit for the work of others, handing down mandates/directives, invisibility (i.e. never seen or around when needed), and insecurity when their ideas are challenged out in the open. They commonly tell others what to do without having done it themselves or assisting in the process. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Changes that are implemented by leaders by title are never sustained. What scares me the most about leaders by title only is that they have the ability and power to inhibit the changes that are desperately needed. The perception of the term leader needs to change and it begins with you.

A title doesn't automatically anoint one as a leader. Leadership is comprised of a dynamic mix of behaviors, mindset, and skills, which are used to move people where a leader wants them to be for the betterment of the organization. In the case of schools, great leaders help others see the value of change by clearly articulating the why and how to build broad support through consensus. However, a real leader knows when to step in and make the hard decisions that have to be made having calculated the positive outcomes prior. They also stand by these decisions in the face of adversity.

In my opinion all leaders have one thing in common - they do, as opposed to just talk. Leadership is about action, not position. Some of the best leaders I have seen during my years in education never had a title. What they did have was the tenacity to act on a bold vision for change to improve learning for kids as well as overall school culture. These people are overlooked because they don't possess the necessary title that is used to describe a leader in a traditional sense.

Make no mistake about the fact that many of you are surrounded by these people each day both physically and virtually. They are teachers, students, parents, and even administrators who have all taken action to initiate meaningful change in their classrooms or schools.These people don't just talk the talk, but they walk the walk. They lead by example in what might be the most impactful way possible - modeling. These true leaders do not expect others to do what they are not willing to do. The best part is that these unsung heroes do not need a title to make a difference. They also don't need a title to be agents of change.

Everyone has the capacity to be a leader through his/her determination to be better for the greater common good. Leaders choose to become so and are ultimately defined by his/her resolve to initiate change in the face of adversity. I believe that leadership is not innate, but rather learned through the actions that we choose to take as well as a critical analysis (both good and bad) of other leaders. So the next time someone with a title is referred to as a leader think about what he or she has really done in his or her respective position to champion real change. Upon pondering that the realization might be that the true leader is actually you even though you don't have the title.