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The Privilege of Leadership: A Different Perspective

By Angela Fletcher, SPHR

“Leading others is a privilege with great responsibility.”


Leaders who have embraced the ‘leadership as privilege’ philosophy appreciate that their impact is significant within the organization, but also understand that it expands beyond the walls of the company.

While developing a leadership curriculum with a vendor six years ago, I recall a discussion regarding the concept of embracing leadership as a privilege versus the more common and traditional approach of viewing a position of authority simply as a job. Today, I remain convinced that helping leaders embrace a “leadership as privilege” perspective would achieve significant individual and organizational results beneficial to the wide array of employee engagement challenges companies are facing.

What would be possible if your manager felt it was a privilege or honor to lead you? How different would your interactions be with your manager, peers and direct reports? How would this impact your contribution to the team, department and organization? How would this propel you to do your best work and maximize your potential?

Know Them, Grow Them…

This is more than a thought-provoking topic; it has bottom-line implications. Leaders that embrace this approach to leadership tend to be great talent managers and build teams that perform better. Retention. Productivity. Loyalty. Engagement. All of these feed directly into profitability.

In addition, these leaders are driven to fully understand, value and optimize their responsibility to lead others. They take the time to build effective partnerships and leverage the strengths of individual team members. I submit that they also adopt, in some fashion, the five keys that authors Julie Gebauer and Don Lowman share in their book, Closing the Engagement Gap:

  • Know Them – Become as familiar with each individual as you are with your customers
  • Grow Them – Help team members develop and learn; foster a culture of ongoing learning and education
  • Inspire Them – Help team members find meaning and purpose in the day-to-day activities and long-term work
  • Involve Them – Treat team members as valued contributors and give them freedom to act in ways they believe enhance overall performance
  • Reward Them – Express individually relevant appreciation and recognition.

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Beyond the Walls

Leaders who have embraced the “leadership as privilege” philosophy appreciate that their impact is significant within the organization, but also understand that it expands beyond the walls of the company. They realize that the quality of their leadership really does matter in more ways than one. Because we spend the majority of our valuable waking hours at work, a leader plays an important role in an individual’s life. 

So what can your organization do to help leaders connect to the idea that leading others is a privilege and reap the many benefits associated with this mindset? Some thoughts:

  1. Raise the point of entry. Traditionally, the requirements for joining the ranks of leadership have been minimum for many organizations. Development Dimensions International’s Leadership Forecast reported that only 13% of the leaders it surveyed received any formal training prior to assuming a people leader role. It may be challenging for leaders to appreciate the honor associated with something that doesn’t require them to “jump through any hoops.” What could your organization do that would be the synonymous with “obtaining a license to lead?” This may include a process for seasoned leaders that are new to your organization, too. 
  2. Review career-pathing options. Are there hearty roles that do not include people leadership responsibilities? If not, consider developing mid- and senior-level individual contributor roles. This would allow you to retain superior talent that may serve the organization better in roles that don’t require them to lead people, while supporting the standard you’ve set for leaders.
  3. Audit your organizational practices and processes. Do management routines allocate time for people leadership responsibilities (i.e., knowing, growing, inspiring, involving and rewarding)? Do leadership competencies drive the talent management processes? What reinforcement and accountability frameworks are in place?

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Enhanced Engagement

I submit that effective leaders believe that the opportunity to lead is more than a job or a host of mundane tasks. From these leaders, we would probably observe behaviors that demonstrate their ability to inspire, involve and reward individuals in unique and productive ways. This leads to enhanced engagement levels, which translates into increased productivity, greater innovation, better retention and more.

Again, ask yourself: What would be possible in your organization if leaders really “got” that leading others was much more than a job – if they instead viewed it as an opportunity to leave a mark on people and organizations that can’t be easily erased?
That’s a privilege, indeed.

Angela Fletcher is the President of The Angela Fletcher Company, an executive coaching and human capital consultancy in Atlanta. She previously held multiple senior-level leadership roles at Coca-Cola Enterprises. Contact her at:  

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Summer 2009

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