Take 5 minutes and reflect on a situation where you served as a leader,
despite not being in a “traditional leadership role.”
This could be in a professional setting, in your student organization, in
a group project, in the classroom, or anywhere on campus.
Answer the following questions as you reflect:
• What was my reaction when I was called to “step up” and lead?
• Did the lack of a leadership title cause me to refrain from “stepping
• What was the outcome?
• How did this situation affect my approach to leadership, and how I
work in a group situation today?
Continue thinking about this activity throughout the course of our
WHAT IS NON-POSITIONAL
Non-positional leadership is a concept derived from many different
leadership experts, such as Astin & Astin (Social Change Model),
Greenleaf (Servant-Leadership), Susan Komives, and John C. Maxwell.
Non-positional leadership can be defined as an approach to
leadership that focuses on the ability to make a positive impact from
any place on the “organizational hierarchy.” By serving the needs of the
group, contributing to its mission and goals, and working productively
and collaboratively with others, leadership can take place at any level.
Non-positional leadership isn’t necessarily about committing large,
sweeping acts of change, but rather taking on whatever is necessary –
including smaller, supportive, or administrative tasks – to contribute to
the group’s functioning.
WHY IS NON-POSITIONAL
Non-positional leadership is important for a number of reasons, the
main one being that it focuses on relationship and skill building
rather than organizational hierarchy.
By encouraging each member of the group to “step up” and lead in
different ways, we can:
• Let all members of the group shine, take credit for their work, and
continuously sharpen their skill sets;
• Share the work amongst the entire group, rather than confine it to
those with official titles and positions;
• Bring new ideas and perspectives to the table, particularly those of
our underclassmen who aren’t yet in official roles;
• Foster a sense of community, buy-in to our ideas, and enthusiasm
around our goals.
Non-positional leadership comes from the theory of relational leadership,
as described by Komives et al. (1998).
• Relational leadership is defined as a relational process of people
attempting to accomplish change to benefit the common good, and is
deeply focused on the building and cultivating of relationships. It is
comprised of two models: positional and non-positional.
• Positional leadership: when one strives to take on a traditional
leadership role, assuming the duties associated with what they believe
to be “leadership at the top” to obtain such a role.
• This approach centers around the title and perception of
• Non-positional leadership: occurs when individuals seek to deepen their
involvement in an organization as a member, with no particular interest
in establishing a “leadership at the top” role.
• This approach centers around the qualities that relate to leadership,
such as supporting the forward momentum of the group and
providing vision for the future, without necessarily the interest in the
title and perception of leadership.
Relational leadership focuses on five primary components, particularly
when non-positional leadership is considered (Komives, 1998).
The five components include community members who are:
• Inclusive of people and diverse points of view
• Empowering to those that are involved
• Purposeful and build commitment toward a common goal
• Understanding that leadership is process-oriented (how the group
When an organization practices relational leadership, they typically
work together as a community, are committed to a common purpose,
share the work, and understand that the role of each member,
regardless of titles or position, is crucial to success.
When we think about leadership, we often consider the importance of
titles and positions – the power associated with leadership roles. But, it
can be argued that by practicing non-positional leadership, we can
cultivate influence among the group.
Non-positional leadership, by definition, has to do with making an
impact through leading by example and cultivating influence through
action, impact, and supportive behavior. Non-positional leadership is
doing, rather than holding a title.
“All the effective leaders I have encountered – both those I worked with
and those I merely watched – knew four simple things: a leader is
someone who has followers; popularity is not leadership, results are;
leaders are highly visible, they set examples; leadership is not rank,
privilege, titles or money, it is responsibility.” – Peter Drucker
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Leading by example is perhaps one of the most practical aspects of
non-positional leadership, because it brings an “abstract” idea down
into our daily lives.
In Maxwell’s (1998) 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Law 13 has to
do with leading by example, no matter the leader’s role in an
organization. He claims that the most valuable gift a leader can give is
being a good example.
• The idea that leadership is “caught, not taught.” He asserts that we
“catch” leadership by watching good leaders in action.
• It’s not necessarily about where a leader is on the organizational
chart, but rather the activities that the leader is willing to take on to
move the group forward.
HOW DO I LEAD FROM MY
There are many ways to take on the activities associated with being a
leader without a formal title or position. (It’s important to note that
leaders with formal titles should take on these responsibilities, too!)
Non-positional leadership can be practiced in a variety of ways,
• Building relationships as well as our credibility
• Taking initiative to help others in the group
• Using your unique perspective and background to lend another
voice to the discussion
• Practicing grateful leadership and servant-leadership
• Being appreciative of your team members, collaborating closely
with them, and doing your best to serve each member in
• Leading from a place of integrity and ethics
Take a moment to reflect on your current role in your student
organization. Consider the following questions:
• What can I do to be an effective leader in my current role?
• How can I support the other members of my (group, committee,
• What about my skill set makes me unique? How can I lend my
expertise to some of the projects our group is working on?
• Ex. I have experience and interest in event planning, and can
help our activities board with the logistics by creating a “to-do
list” for our next campus-wide event.
• Am I leading with credibility and integrity?
• No matter how small your act of leadership may be!
Thank you! If you have additional questions, or would like to reflect
further on non-positional leadership with me, please don’t hesitate to
226-3037 or email@example.com
Drop-in hours are on Thursdays from 1-3pm, or by appointment.
Komives S. R., Lucas, N., & McMahon T. R. (1998). Exploring leadership. San
Maxwell, J.C. (1998). The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and
People Will Follow You. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.