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Leadership Is Not A Position!

“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” Terry Pratchett

There is a general misconception that leadership is automatically linked to a position or title. Well, let’s clear this misconception once and for all, ‘A position doesn’t make you a leader!’ The real measure of leadership is influence, a position merely gives you an opportunity to test your leadership skills. In this regard, management is all about processes whereas leadership is about people.

The highest level of leadership focuses on the development of others. In such a case, the leader must act as a mentor and assist subordinates to develop their skills and this is adding value to people. I get invited by organizations to speak at their leadership forums especially on servant leadership and this clearly becomes a tick box exercise for these organizations because of a number of similar leadership talks which just end up on paper, this is a sad reality.

Business leaders are important and are expected to do better and more, but unfortunately, they are not mostly trusted by those they lead. I once came across a study that revealed this above fact. This study that was conducted over a period of time on two groups – employees from different organizations and MBA students in business schools, they were each given a task to answer the following question:

‘Pick one leader of your choice, that inspires you, a prime example of leadership.’

Can you take a guess who they picked? Well, most of them did not pick famous business leaders, this was the same for both groups. They mostly chose social impact leaders like Mandela, Gandhi, Paul Farmer, Douglas Tompkins, etc. These are the social impact leaders, change makers in their domains. This shows that leaders that are admired are those that inspire, the ones that have empathy and have the will to make a difference around them.

It’s so sad to find so many people in these influential roles who are meant to tap into employees’ collective genius by bringing out the best in them doing the opposite, treating people like things.

When I do leadership talks and training around the Neuro-Conscious Leadership concepts, I allude to two contracts that the employer and the employee get into when they get into a relationship. These contracts are:

  1. Commercial contract
  2. Psychological contract.

The commercial contract is mainly about tangible results that the employee will be measured on (performance) which will determine how healthy the relationship between the two parties in terms of deliverables.

The second one is the commitment the employer makes to ensure the wellness of the employee to successfully deliver on the commercial contract. This is about training, coaching, mentoring, inspiration and providing conducive culture.

The challenging times we find ourselves in now require employees to be more decisive and agile in their approach. Decisiveness and agility require confidence, teamwork, support and trust. These are the main qualities that leaders are supposed to develop in their employees. They help employees develop inner fortress and resilience.

To develop agility to your employees as a leader requires that you balance hard-power with smart-power.

Hard power is where you are resorting to hierarchical structure/status/position/issuing instructions/ command and control. This is where most ‘leaders’ treat employees as robots, just merely following commands and instructions without encouraging them to have an input so as to increase a level of engagement in the workplace. Here, leaders are so quick to remind their subordinates that they are in charge. Many employees are so disengaged in a workplace because they feel they are robots and their contributions are not valued.

Smart power is the understanding that you have to use a great deal of social intelligence to lead effectively particularly during a crisis that we are under. As a leader here, you have to be present and understand that people are in pain. You need to offer support, empathy, compassion and be there for the people you lead. This is what a smart leader does. You need to understand that there are people in your team that can handle certain situations better than you and that’s where trust comes in. This unfortunately, cannot be built overnight.

There are many people who get to leadership positions based on their paper qualifications and some on their technical abilities. Leadership is less about technical process and more about adding value to people. They instead use their paper leadership qualifications and technical experience to threaten their employees to follow their instructions because they must be assumed to be well thought through.This is just a reminder to all those who are in positions of leadership and those who aspire to get there to remember that leadership is not automatically linked to a position or title, it’s about adding value to those you lead. It’s about treating them as human beings, not just mere robots. Leadership is about building lasting relationships. Only after you’ve managed to build relationships with your colleagues can you attempt to influence them.

If you care about your colleagues, know them on a personal level, respect them, add value to them and truly empower them. This will reduce resistance in leading them.

Veli Ndaba is a Neuro-Conscious Leadership Speaker and Trainer, Life & Business Coach, Motivational Speaker and Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!), Newspaper Columnist and Entrepreneur. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on, or +27 83 304 9773