When we think leader, we think power as well; so the fact that leadership is possible without any kind of authority is somewhat an anomaly to most people. The thing with leadership is that we believe that titles and power are required to hold sway over people and that without either or both of these aspects, leadership does not work effectively. However, this myth became popular belief only because we don’t understand the concept of leadership – we assume that it is something that is intrinsically linked to a designation or a position of authority.
There was a time back in college when I played my first basketball game as a freshman. We had banded together as a team just a few days before the game, and so one person was picked as captain randomly. It was a friendly game with the sophomores, one that was arranged as a way to break the ice between us. Midway through the first quarter, I began to take over the role of the captain because our designated leader seemed to be lost. I directed the flow of the game, and by the third quarter, we had pulled ahead with a solid and unassailable lead.
The point I’m trying to make with this anecdote is that natural leaders don’t need designations and titles to take over command. They know what needs to be done in any situation, and if they see that they need to step in and take charge, they do so with authority. However, this may not work in most situations because the designated leader is most likely to take offense to being pushed out of the role. In such cases, leadership without authority has to be done subtly and without expecting any accolades or rewards in return.
When you assume leadership without overtly doing so and want it to work, you must be careful not to ruffle any feathers. Provide suggestions, but put them forward in ways that pander to the leader’s ego. It’s not going to be easy if the person with authority has a massive ego and if you don’t have the emotional maturity to put your organization before personal gain. However, there are some people who pull this off with great panache. They also do it in ways that make them noticeable to the big brass, and are promoted to positions of authority in due course of time.
Leadership without authority is not for people who are not naturally blessed with leadership capabilities and who are wallflowers who are shy and hesitant to put forward their ideas for fear of being rejected. It works well for people who aspire to be in positions of authority and who use their words wisely in order to achieve their goal.