What are the pros and cons of positional leadership?
Prime the pump
October 10, 2023
What are the pros and cons of positional leadership?

The McLennan Community College biography of John C. Maxwell describes him as, “A No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, coach and speaker who has sold more than 24 million books in 50 languages.

Often called the country’s No.1 leadership authority, Maxwell was identified as the most popular leadership expert in the world by Inc. magazine in 2014.”

In his book ‘The 5 Levels of Leadership’ Mr. Maxwell said that there are five levels of leadership which he described as Level 1 – Position, Level 2 – Permission, Level 3 – Production, Level 4 – People Development, Level 5 – Pinnacle. Today I want us to begin to examine the different levels of leadership, starting with Level 1 – Position.

John C. Maxwell described Position Leadership as the starting point on the leadership journey. A positional leader could be someone who was hired or promoted into a position of authority and as a result his/her influence is tied to the title or position. In many cases the position/office is respected but not the individual holding it. A positional leader relies on the position to lead but lacks the influence to effect real change.

In an article titled “Type of Leadership: Position vs Influence”, the author said, and I quote “A positional leader will lead from position of power and not out of influence stemming from their character and leadership qualities. Positional leaders often lead in a selfish way, not considering team members and relationships. They can lack collaboration skills, courage and creativity. Moreover, they are merely leading from the power that comes from their position.”

Many positional leaders behave as though they have reached where they are going. They do not realize that the position was given to them because they show potential and it is an invitation to grow, to develop and to positively influence others. One of the biggest mistakes positional leaders make is to assume that they were hired or promoted because of their leadership ability and begin leading from a place of intimidation because they lack the ability to influence.

Below is an excerpt from Neo Ralston’s article ‘Upsides and Downsides of Positional Leadership’ Upsides and Downsides of Positional Leadership – Neo Ralston (wordpress.com)

1. Having a leadership position is often misleading. Leadership is action, not position. Leaders are always taking people somewhere. They aren’t static. If there is no journey, there is no leadership.

2. Leaders who rely on position to lead often devalue people. They do not lead well because they fail to acknowledge and take into account that leadership – of any kind, in any location, for any purpose – is about working with people.

3. Positional leaders feed on politics. Positional leaders focus on control instead of contribution.

4. Positional leaders place rights over responsibilities. Poet T. S. Eliot said, “Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important.” Positional leaders who rely on their rights develop a sense of entitlement. They expect people to serve them rather than serving the people they lead. Changing your focus from rights to responsibilities is often a sign of maturity in a leader. President Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

5. Positional Leadership is often lonely. Being a good leader doesn’t mean trying to be king of the hill and standing above and set apart from others.

Good leadership is about walking beside people and helping them to climb the hill with you.

6. Leaders who remain positional get branded and stranded. The position doesn’t make the leader – the leader makes the position.

7. Turnover is high for positional leaders. John Maxwell said, “People quit people, not companies.” It means that people never quit because of the company, but because of leadership. People will not quit because of the chairs and tables inside the office, but because of leadership. If the leadership is poor like a Level 1 or Positional leadership, level 2 or level 3 employees will quit the company.

8. Positional leaders receive people’s least, not their best. John Maxwell calls those people under a poor leadership as clock watchers, just- enough employees and the mentally absent. Clock watchers are people who are waiting for their time to go home and always doing that. Just enough employees are employees who don’t give their 200%; they just give what they were told to give. In short, they are not much motivated.

Mentally absent are people who are physically present, but mentally absent. If you have these kind of people in your organization, there is really something wrong with leadership.

Join us again next week for more on the five levels of leadership.

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