The common (mis)perception is that in order to lead, you have to be the one in charge — the one calling the shots, the one giving orders … in short, the “boss”. While the designated authority figure in the group should have leadership capabilities and (in some cases) actually lead the group, there are opportunities for leadership on the part of the other members.
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
Let’s take a step back and look at the definition of what a leader is. I’ve seen it defined many different ways to suit whatever is being emphasized … but in our case, this definition fits best: “Leadership is getting others to do what they know needs to be done”. So who then is the leader? It should be the person with the right combination of knowledge, wisdom, and enthusiasm that enables them to harness the capabilities of the group to achieve the common goal. Is this always the “boss”? No!
Any good leader will be on the lookout for the right person to lead his team towards an objective — recognizing the capabilities and allowing them to lead. Seth Godin says that leadership is “finding the right people, agreeing on where you want to go, and getting out of the way.” It doesn’t have to be the same person for each task or project, and it definitely doesn’t have to be the designated authority figure.
What do you do when you find everyone looking to you for direction? You accept the group’s nomination as the de-facto leader and help them achieve your common objectives! What if someone else decides to ‘take charge’ of the group … and is making a mess of it? You do what you can to help the group succeed — that’s what a real leader does, because it doesn’t matter who’s in charge … the goal is to help the group succeed.