enotalone logo

Genuine Leaders Look for Ways to Lead

Excerpted from

You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere, Can Make a Positive Difference


For years a first-rate hotel tried to identify returning guests before they presented themselves to the front desk. Of course, the hotel's computer records would indicate if a guest had stayed before, but was there a way for staff to acknowledge a guest before he or she made it to reception?

An ingenious bellcap came up with a clever idea. When he greeted each guest arriving by car, taxi, or shuttle, he would say, "Welcome to the hotel. Have you stayed with us before?" If they responded in the affirmative, he would, as he handed them off to someone to help with their baggage, tug on his left ear. His ear tug signaled a returning guest, who could then be treated as such by hotel employees even before checking in.

Here is another example of someone who acted as a leader on his own initiative. A friend of mine was staying in the Omni hotel in San Diego when he discovered he didn't have any collar stays for his dress shirts. About to go into an important meeting, he didn't have time to go shopping for this common but sometimes difficult-to-find item.

He expressed his dilemma to a hotel employee, who, after suggesting several alternatives, came up with the perfect solution. Since the plastic cards used as room keys are approximately the same thickness as a collar stay, the innovative employee cut up a room key card to create custom collar stays for him.

Of course, my friend was delighted-both with the solution to his problem and the ingenuity of this nontitled leader. That small improvement made an enormous difference to my friend's experience.

Store Greeters, Blended Beverages,
and Coffee Cup Sleeves

Did you know the person who suggested the idea of a store greeter that has become such an important part of the Wal-Mart brand wasn't a manager; he was a cashier-a nontitled leader.

Here is another example of how a small improvement can make an enormous difference. In the late 1980s in Portland, Jay Sorensen ordered a cup of coffee at a drive-through. Although wrapped in a napkin, it was still hot enough to cause him to drop it in his lap. In the early '90s, as the Starbucks-driven coffee craze was taking off, he watched over and over again at the way customers carefully held their coffee cups, even when "double-cupped," because the beverages were so hot. It's a phenomenon many of us experienced, a source of irritation we endured but never thought to address. Using supplies at home, Jay designed a cardboard sleeve to solve the problem. It became known as a Java Jacket, and the company he formed to make them today sells about 700 million units annually. Again, small improvements lead to big results.

Another untitled leader is the Starbucks store manager who invented the Frappuccino. When CEO Howard Schultz found out about the experiment and tasted it himself, he didn't like it. However, plenty of other people did. So he tested and refined it, and rolled it out in 1995. Within three years, it had generated $100 million in revenue for the company. That is the power of untitled leadership. The manager wasn't responsible for creating more drinks or expanding Starbucks' coffee line. But he did it anyway, just because it seemed like a good idea.

Taking the Lead

In the early years of our nation, a pastor named Russell Conwell noticed that Charles Davies, a young man who was a member of his church, seemed troubled after an evening service. Being a sensitive and perceptive person, Conwell asked Charlie what was wrong. Charlie explained that he didn't make much money and had little potential for earning more. In addition, he had to take care of his mother. He had longed to become a pastor but didn't hold much hope of getting the education he needed. What could he do?

Pastor Conwell responded immediately: "Come to me one evening a week and I will begin teaching you myself." Davies asked if he could bring a friend, and Conwell told him to bring as many as he wanted.

Conwell taught six young men that first evening. Forty attended by the third session. Before long, other educators offered to help teach. They rented a room, then later bought some buildings. That is how, as Gregory Dixon writes in his biography of Russell Conwell, Temple University was founded.

But Russell Conwell had a title, didn't he? Yes, he was a pastor, and a lawyer and entrepreneur. He was also the author of a bestselling book called Acres of Diamonds. He was considered perhaps the greatest motivational speaker of his day.

But he wasn't an educator or academic. He didn't have a teaching degree or experience running an educational institute. Nonetheless, he founded a university. And the reason he did it? He was responding to a need.

Conwell explained it best himself: "Greatness...consists in doing great deeds with little means and the accomplishment of vast purposes from the private ranks of life. To be great at all, one must be great here, now, in Philadelphia." Or Denver, or Cleveland, or wherever you currently reside.

Can you think of a relationship that needs to be strengthened or improved? Can you recall an outcome that might have turned out differently if you had taken the lead? And what about that idea you've been earning around in your head that will improve your product or service? These are your opportunities to increase ROI: Relationships, Outcomes, and Improvements.

Tags: Career & Money