Organic and positional leaders

As I’ve observed people and situations, I’ve noticed two different types of leaders. I’m sure some leadership expert has written extensively on this somewhere, but if they have, I haven’t read them. So, for the sake of this post I’m using my own terms for these two people: Organic Leaders and Positional Leaders.

  • Organic leaders are the people who walk in a room and become the leader by instinct. It doesn’t matter if they knew the people before or not, give them half an hour and they’ll be in charge.
  • Positional leaders are those who can lead once they have an opportunity, but aren’t as gifted at creating the opportunity themselves. In an unfamiliar environment, they may not vocalize their opinion (even though they probably have one and likely feel strongly about it).

I think misunderstanding these two types allows for potential stars in leadership to fall through the cracks.

I’ve heard this statement multiple times in reference to leadership: “Real leaders don’t need a position to lead.” The thought is that “real” leaders will just start leading.

The problem with this statement, though, is that it confuses organic leaders as real leaders, as if organic leaders are the “true leaders”. Consequently, potential stars are never recruited, trained, or encouraged because they seem passive, quiet, or apathetic in the initial environment. This causes the organization and the individual to miss out.

I understand the thinking that a person should be willing to contribute to the team even without a position, and I agree. My point, though, is this: Some of the best leaders are not going to thrive until you give them a position. That doesn’t mean you have to hire them, it means you have to recognize them and give them a platform.

Don’t allow potential stars to fall through the cracks by confusing organic leaders as real leaders. We need organic leaders and positional leaders, but unless we’re intentional, we’ll only get the organics.

Have you seen this dynamic play out? How do you attempt to recognize positional leaders?

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7 comments

  1. I’ve noticed this conundrum for a long time, although I gravitate towards the organic leader camp, as I have more and more “opportunities” cross my path, I am realizing that in some situations there is merit in sitting back and taking a longer look at what the leadership failures are and why, rather than just jump in and start moving things around and hoping for the best. Even when it means biting my tongue for a brief time.

    1. I lean more towards the positional camp, but I admire the organic guys. I think there are things to learn from both. The ideal would be getting the two on the same page. Thanks for your comment and humble reflections!

  2. A really good leader knows how to delegate –set goals and monitor results and success and share the credit!

  3. once again, I appreciate your insights. Sometimes the “organic leader” is the choleric temperament that naturally desires to ‘take control’ and may not have developed good leadership skills thereby creating more chaos in the end. Will be mulling over these thoughts in regards to those we are blessed to work with …

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