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You Are Not Your Position

April 13, 2014
Updated January 26, 2016


If you know everything there is to know then you can take a pass on this post and move on to something else.You’re still here–thought so.

We live in a society of experts, pseudo experts and wannabe experts. Although I’ve been in the leadership space for some 25 years, encompassing a Masters in the field, a wide variety of project-based leadership work, community service and five years of blogging on the topic, I see myself as a student of leadership. Nothing irritates me more when I hear people refer to themselves as “experts.”

A few years ago when I was being interviewed on the phone for a contract involving writing for a leadership website, the woman on the other end of the phone referred to herself as a leadership expert. “Hmmmm,” I thought. It seems, I later reflected, that what we had here was a case of Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline 7 Learning Disabilities, specifically the one that states, “I am my position.”

When we assume the stance that our self-worth and self-perceived status is tied to our position, regardless of organizational hierarchy, we’ve encountered a very slippery slope. To begin with, it places our credibility in a vulnerable position. There are too many examples to enumerate, but a good place to look at is the business sector, where highly paid CEOs totally blew it back in 2008 when colliding events almost took down the international financial system.

100_5986 The former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan is an excellent example of someone who was (and still is) so completely enthralled with his self-perceived brilliance and the unqualified adulation of the media and who served as the chief architect of the 2008-09 financial meltdown. And he still doesn’t get it, based on several recent interviews with him that I’ve watched.

I am my position.

What does it mean to you?

If you can detach yourself from this learning disability you will be in a vastly stronger space with which to tackle turbulent change. You won’t be shackled with the notion that your organizational position defines who you are, or that you are somehow a superior being who possesses extra-terrestrial knowledge and foresight.

I’m reminded of when I worked in the public sector back when I was a neophyte manager in my mid-thirties. I was at a managers’ conference at a retreat. The guest speaker for the first evening was the Deputy Minister (CEO equivalent) who had flown down from the nation’s capital. As much as he gave a very interesting speech, subsequently deftly handing a slew of questions from my peers, years later I reflected on that specific experience. Yes, this guy was very smart and had a ton of experience in the public sector. But he was a mere mortal, and didn’t possess a crystal ball with which to predict the future.

He was a pretty modest, low-key guy. However, he still engaged in trying to read the tea leaves of change. Twenty three years later, in retrospect, he missed a lot. And that’s not his fault, nor a reason to condemn him. But what it does reinforce is the idea that no one on this planet has any capacity to forecast what’s to come. And the same applies to those who want to wear the emperor’s clothes of “I am my position.”

Always be humble. Say “I don’t know” when you don’t know. This is very important for those in formal leadership positions. Your followers will actually respect you more. And at the same time make a point to engage them in trying to find solutions to problems.

Share the leadership and power.

Genuine inquiry starts when people ask questions to which they do not have an answer.

– Peter Senge

Portrait: Napoleon

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2014 8:42 pm

    I do agree with you, but some people really are experts. What about an expert violin player, for example? Or for myself, I do consider myself an expert in teaching cursive writing. But I don’t usually go around saying it unless it is pertinent to a particular discussion.

    • April 13, 2014 11:49 pm

      The word “expert” is an elastic concept in my view. I’d rather look at it from a mastery point of view, where one is continually struggling to improve. Having studied jazz piano I can relate when it comes to having read up on the Masters of jazz.

      • April 15, 2014 10:56 pm

        Yes, you are really right on this point. A true expert is never satisfied to stay in a static place of knowledge and is always seeing to learn more and improve in his field.

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