Whether you have position or not, you lead when you use what you say and do to influence the behavior and performance of others. But leadership without position is different in fundamental ways from leadership with position.
If you have a leadership position, you have the authority to make decisions about what others will do. If you don’t have a position, you can’t make those decisions.
If you have a leadership position, you have the organizational sanction to marshal positive and negative organizational consequences. If you don’t have a position, you can’t do that.
Most importantly, if you have a leadership position you are both responsible and accountable for the performance of the group you lead. If you don’t have a position, you’re off the hook.
Before leadership became a magic word and being a leader became an exalted state, we didn’t have to worry about this. Then we realized that people in leadership positions were responsible for the fruits of their influence, while other people were not.
By equating leadership with influence we’ve gotten away from the idea that leaders are responsible for group performance. And we’ve made it harder to leaders (the exalted ones) to let others assume a leadership role.
Boss’s Bottom Line
You are responsible for the behavior and performance of your team. You are evaluated based on the team’s performance.
The irony is that very often you will lead more effectively by leading less. The team will perform better when you can step back and allow people with competence and commitment to influence the team. It’s another way to build on strengths and help people develop at the same time.