Not in charge? Lead from behind.

There is a common misconception that being a leader requires a position of authority such as an executive or a managerial role. Maybe it is a job title earned with years of experience or from knowing the right people at the right time. Yet, it’s likely that most people you know have experienced bosses or managers that were anything but great leaders.

Leaders are not designated by the job title on their business cards, but by their character. When we remember that being a leader and being a person in a position of authority are two different concepts, we can empower ourselves and others to lead from any position: from the front, the sides, or the back of the pack.

The consistent traits of great leaders are those who actively participate, speak up, empower or affirm others, ask for support when needed, and enroll full participation of the team involved (sometimes even the boss or person in charge) from any role, level, or ranking.

There is a saying that there are three ways to successfully lead: by example, by example, and by example.

By showing up as an effective leader that listens and adapts, you are setting the stage for expectations and showing the team the way with your actions. It doesn’t mean you’ll always be in charge as a great leader, but we can dramatically impact our outcome and results by how we lead from our current position.

In fact, it can often be the first follower of the person in charge that is the greatest leader of the team. Take a look at the below example as described by Derek Sivers in a Ted Talk of a man who began dancing alone, but wound up starting a movement by one person having the courage to join him. It’s a joyful example of how sometimes the first follower is as important than the visionary.

 

Group projects and committees are perfect laboratories for testing who rises to the occasion with no designated leader or captain. Naturally, people tend to fall into the roles that they are confident in and a great leader will delegate tasks to maximize everyone’s skills and potential. Being a leader looks like doing whatever it takes to get a job done in a way that is productive and healthy for all.

Leaders can show up in many contexts including our jobs, social circles, family units, or even our romantic relationships. Think of an instance or domain of your life where you are not in a official position of authority yet you feel you have significant influence. What experiences have you had that allows you to feel more comfortable taking the reins in a given situation in that context but not in other areas of your life? And how can you challenge yourself to be a leader in all areas of your life?