Using Leadership as a Buzzword – Just Don’t


Do you want to devalue what leadership stands for? Are you seeking to deflate the term and blur the lines of what you’re looking for or what your organization does? Are you looking to ensure that your credibility is shot with great candidates? If any of these things sound like what you’re looking for, then just use leadership as a buzzword in your job descriptions.

More and more, I have seen leadership used in job descriptions, job titles, and so on when true Leadership principles are not involved or expected. This can be a bad thing for the organizations that do this, but I can only imagine that they do it because of the confusion over what leadership really is. Or sadly, perhaps it’s because of what some just want it to be.

Leadership studies focus on effectively forecasting and leading change and taking a proactive approach to leadership and decision-making. When you study leadership, you study Leadership theories and practical applications, negotiating skills, forecasting and leading change, multicultural perspectives, global trends, and more. So just as some people go to school to learn management, business administration, accounting, medicine, and so on, some people go to school to specifically learn the art and science of leadership.

Are you trying to hire an accountant to handle your customer service needs? Are you going to hire a nurse to handle your accounting needs? I challenge you to ask yourself a simple question before you use leadership as a buzzword: “Why exactly am I using Leadership in my job descriptions?

These things are important to note because many organizations using leadership as a buzzword in their job descriptions usually don’t know or appreciate this, and they are usually not seeking someone qualified to do any of it. Let me demonstrate with the following job postings I recently found.

Management Leadership Development

We are now offering entry-level positions in our sales and marketing department. This position is ideal for college graduates who studied marketing, business management, entrepreneurship or communications. We are actively seeking candidates that will be trained and molded to join our executive management team as quickly as possible.

Are you as confused as I am? Are they looking for managers, leaders, or entry-level personnel? Did you notice that leadership has nothing to do with the job description or position? So why use leadership in the title? Sure, you may eventually end up in a Leadership position with this company, but that’s irrelevant because being a leader and being in a Leadership position are two very different things. So why use the word Leadership at all? Did you also notice how they didn’t say anything about those who have studied leadership? Did you notice that the leadership position addressed was actually just a management position anyway?

Let’s look at another one.

Leadership Development / Entry-level Marketing

(name omitted), a business development, sales and promotional firm based in (location omitted), has recently made plans to expand its entry-level team. We have openings for multiple outgoing, career motivated individuals to fill our Promotional PR Assistant positions IMMEDIATELY.

Exactly what part of this is Leadership or Leadership development? Entry-level, Assistant positions, sales, marketing, etc.; none of these are leadership oriented. The closest you might get is “business development,” but even that is a far cry from actual Leadership Development.

Or how about this gem?

Entry-level Leadership Development – Customer Service


Experience is not necessary but any background in the following is a huge plus:

Customer Service, Retail, Sales, Restaurant, Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations, Management, Shift Lead or Team Lead.

Exactly what part of this is Leadership or Leadership development? The closest thing I see here is that they are looking for someone who has been in a low-level Leadership position, like a Shift Lead. That is not Leadership or Leadership development. And “Experience not necessary“? A “background in management“? These are not things that scream Leadership or Leadership development either.

Other things you learn during Leadership studies are the difference between management and leadership, calculated risk-taking, and what Leadership development is. Leadership development is defined as a program or activity that makes people become better leaders, meaning becoming better risk-takers, avoiding management ideas, and how to develop others to do the same.

A few questions come to mind when I read job descriptions like the ones I have provided. Are entry-level positions a part of their Leadership structure? Are those in entry-level positions or management positions going to be encouraged to take risks? Are the entry-level people or managers skilled in the art of developing risk-taking leaders? Of course, the answer to these basic questions is usually “no.” That means the organizations using the word are either ignorant of what they are seeking or disingenuous, and neither of these would be an organization I would willingly subject myself to.

To be clear, a quality Leadership Development program is normally facilitated by Leadership development practitioners who are trained to increase individuals’ capacity to perform in Leadership roles within organizations. They have studied Leadership theory and principles – as opposed to management ones. These are important distinctions to make.

If you are seeking people to join what you’re calling your “leadership development program” (knowing that 61 percent of companies offer absolutely no leadership training at all), then make it a point to be very clear about your intentions and also be clear about the expected results of the program. In other words, don’t say silly things like “Leadership Development Program” or “Management Trainee” when they are simply becoming salespeople or customer service representatives. That is horribly misleading.

Leadership development is NOT an entry-level program; unless, of course, you are specifically grooming or encouraging your entry-level people to make decisions, take risks, do the right things (as opposed to simply following orders), and think independently and outside of the organization while developing ideas for organizational improvement. The truth is that most organizations are simply NOT seeking this from either their management or entry-level personnel. So stop lying to yourselves and your potential candidates.

Using leadership as a buzzword only destroys your organization’s credibility and your intentions, and yes, Leadership professionals know the difference. If you are seeking people to fill a management position, use the word “manager” and know that management and leadership are two very different things. If you are seeking to build your ranks and candidate pool, use the words “Business Development” if you must. Finally, if you’re getting over-qualified leadership candidates asking for higher pay than your entry-level sales job is budgeted for, don’t use the word “Leadership.” You’re simply calling upon the wrong group of people.

Leadership and Leadership Development are taught at some of the finest universities across the world, and the discipline is focused on things that are not usually aligned with management principles or entry-level order-taking. Even West Point has begun to make this shift and has added Leader Development Science “among the academy’s most important majors.” This should tell you something. It should tell you that using leadership as your buzzword will only cost you time and money if it’s not what you are looking for.