In the workplace, we tend to define ourselves according to job titles and descriptions. Your title establishes what you do, what you’re in charge of, what your responsibilities are—and also what’s outside of your purview. Your job title defines what you need to do and what’s frankly not your concern; it lets you know when you’re fulfilling your obligations and, perhaps, when you’re truly going the extra mile.
But what if we didn’t have job titles?
What if you arrived at work one day and there was no longer any hierarchy, no way in which the members of your team were categorized? Would it be disastrous? Would it mean that work would grind to a standstill—or would people step up to do whatever it took for the team to succeed, regardless of whether it was truly “their responsibility” or not?
I’m not saying this is how things should be. Job titles and hierarchies serve useful functions in coordinating the office and facilitating delegation and project management. However, your response to this hypothetical scenario may be telling. It may speak volumes about your propensity for real leadership.
Real leadership means understanding your job description, and the job descriptions of everyone on your team—but it also means not being bound by those descriptions. Leadership isn’t about doing only that which is part of your job description. It’s about doing anything and everything you can do to elevate your team members to a place where they can succeed, and about ensuring that everyone is working together toward meeting the team’s goals.
Real leaders know that job descriptions can be helpful, but they don’t tell the full story of your team members and their unique talents. You may have someone whose job title technically involves sales and customer service—but what if that person also happens to be an extraordinarily gifted writer? Allowing that team member to write some company blog posts will be a boon to the entire team, and it will also help that team member to feel respected, affirmed, and appreciated. It’s a win for all parties, but to tap into that potential you have to know your team members beyond just their job titles.
And by the way: You also need to know your own strengths and weaknesses beyond whatever your job description entails. Leaders are willing to earnestly assess and appraise themselves and to know where to be hands-on and where to delegate. This may mean coloring outside the lines of your official, formal job description—and if it does, then so be it.
Leadership means understanding your team, its members, and its goals—including, but not limited to, the titles that people hold.