Have you ever been told that you don’t need a title to be a leader? Yeah, me too. Pretty much every manager I have had wanted me to more work and more responsibility without giving any extra pay. There are lots of idioms we could throw around, but my experience is that we all want everyone to be a leader, but that’s not possible.
Leadership, real leadership, requires a level of authority to be functional and there are two levels of authority.
The first level is what I call street cred. People who perform well at a task, or have specific knowledge, gain the respect of their peers. This is really what all of our managers want. The problem is that this isn’t really leadership, this is influence. In reality, this is what our managers really want. They want someone among the common folk to sway their opinion in favor of the manager. The issue with influence though, is as I’m sure you can easily guess, it has not authority. No one can implement any changes, make decisions, or take any other official action because they do not have the authority to do so. Influence can create change, but its through indirect means, such as peer pressure, shame, praise, and so on.
The reason leadership needs a level of official authority is so that person can make official decisions. Authority is also needed to enforce the those official decisions. Though we would all love to believe that all people will do the good because it is good, but the reality is that many people do the good because they fear the consequences. Ideally, a leader is able to properly pair authority and influence to achieve an optimal result. Influence is still a critical element to leadership. We have all worked for the authoritative people who do not care what you think or feel. That is not a sustainable form leadership. If people don’t want to follow the official decisions, they will either resent it or sabotage it. Neither of which generate optimal results.
This is why I build “champions” on my team. These are people developing their ability to influence with full knowledge that they do not have authority. This is a skill that can, and should be developed, before authority if given. By developing their ability to influence they will have greater success implementing change and keep from straying into authoritative once they receive a title.