Is your title getting in your way?


The story goes that over 200 years ago, close to a battlefield, a man dressed in civilian clothes rode past a small group of battle weary and exhausted soldiers who  were digging a foxhole as a defensive position.   The section leader, making no effort to help, was shouting orders and threatening punishment if the work was not completed within the hour.

“Why are you not helping?” asked the stranger on horseback.

“I’m in charge here.  The men do as I tell them,” said the section leader.  “Hop over there and help them yourself if you feel strongly about it.”

To the section leader’s surprise, the stranger dismounted and helped the men until the job was finished.  Before leaving the stranger congratulated the men for their work and approached the puzzled section leader.

“You should notify top command next time your rank prevents you from supporting your men, and I will provide a more permanent solution,” said the stranger.  Up close, the section leader recognized General George Washington and the lesson he’d just been taught.

How many times do managers see the need for extra effort and push it on their people without pushing any extra themselves?  How many times do YOU as a leader need to jump in the trench and help dig, but yet find it easier to scream through a bull horn?

You, as a leader, are a smart person.  You attract and hire smart people. So they are intelligent enough to realize what you are doing by not getting your hands dirty when it’s crunch time. You are taking the easy way out and they see it!  Your people understand that you can’t afford to consistently work IN the business and your job is to work ON the business.  But when the clock is running down and it’s do or die time, they need a spark.  They need that catalyst that will give life to an exhausted team.  That will light a fire in their hearts and give them a burning sensation to get the job done.

If you stand behind a bull horn shouting orders, people will start to resent you.  They will realize that you are reaping the benefits from their extra effort and you may risk them throwing down their shovels and giving up the cause.


Dwight Eisenhower put it like this, “An army is like a string.  If you push it, it will double up on you. Leaders pull from the front.”

The next time its crunch time or the team needs a spark, I encourage you to get in there, get your hands dirty, and do the work.  Your spark may ignite a fire bigger than you ever imagined. Stop worrying about your title or your position or what you think those words mean. Stop analyzing and trying to sync what you imagine your position does in your head.  What’s important is not what roles and authorities everyone has.  It’s the big work that gets accomplished that matters.  Forget the rest.  The rest is meaningless, like chasing the wind.




21 thoughts on “Is your title getting in your way?

  1. Great post and I could not agree more!

  2. rlosey says:

    I like this post a lot — however, as I was reading it, I was wondering how this would work in a technical arena — the manager really cannot help with the technical problem, so what can they do to “get their hands dirty”?

    • When you say technical arena, what do you mean? Can you elaborate a little more?

      • rlosey says:

        Take, for example, computer programming; the boss may be an excellent (or not so excellent) people-person and manager, but may not be able to meaningfully contribute to the actual work to be done because either (a) They don’t have the necessary technical knowledge, or (b) Their skills have become rusty.

    • Constanza says:

      I guess the idea would be to try to provide solutions instead of screaming and scolding. The manager could try to set the right environment for more efficient working, for example.

  3. ChristopherinHR says:

    An excellent write – as is your habit. Leadership is a contact sport:get engaged.

  4. Ian Munro says:

    Well done Cranston! I like the way you have captured the balance in this. Our teams don’t want us jumping in all the time. They want the respect of being allowed to show they are capable of their roles. The trick is in the understanding if when they need help, or when the work is draining, and offering support then.

  5. Thanks Mr Munro. What you say is so true and very insightful.

  6. strategyaudit says:

    There is some good thinking here, keep it up.
    Thanks for visiting my thought bubbles at StrategyAudit.

  7. Nin Ashmore says:

    Hi Cranston,

    I read several of your posts and enjoyed them very much. I am now following your blog, and your new posts will appear in my reader.

    Thank you for the follow on my blog.

  8. Very good point! Well written and a good reminder that we all contribute to the success.

  9. ednwokoye says:

    Oh I love this so much. I always get excited when it’s crunch time. Thank you for reminding me why I do it.

  10. Reblogged this on World Class Support and commented:
    This has been myself that past few days, in the trenches with my team working on support incidents.

  11. cherylfoston says:

    Reblogged this on whatcherylsaid… and commented:
    Some one needed to hear this one!

  12. cherylfoston says:

    Reblogged this on my blog, because someone (who I hope reads it) really needed to hear this. Kudos once again!

  13. How Biblical! God himself also “got into the trenches” to lead by example. He knew what it was like to work hard, suffer, be betrayed as well as all it takes to be human. Thank you for this message, blessings,

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