There are so many definitions of what leadership is so I’m not about to add another one. A nice simple one that I like from the Oxford dictionary is:
The action of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this.
Many people assume that playing a role with a title that has “Leader” in it automatically makes them a leader – although this is not always the case. In fact, I have found that sometimes people who pursue roles simply because they have a more senior association with them are not really prepared to lead a group of people.
In my consulting life, I have worked in many teams in many different roles and I have seen many acts of leadership demonstrated by people who don’t have this role.
Example 1: On one of my first projects in the UK that I lead, a developer on the team was passionate about user experience design. He decided to do some ad-hoc user testing on the User Interface (UI) we had written, found someone willing to act as a test subject. He observed what they were doing and reported back to the team his findings. His initiative convinced us that setting aside more time to focus on usability would be a good thing to do. He demonstrated (at least to me) an act of leadership.
Example 2: During one of the Tech Lead courses I gave, I split the class into smaller groups for a number of exercises. I remember one particular group that had a large number of opinionated developers, all trying to get their view across. There was a female developer, who I noticed, listened quietly to all the opinions, waited for a pause before summarising what she heard and asking the group if that was correct. When she reflected back what she heard, she had summarised the different approached, integrated all the opinions and provided a cohesive story that everyone agreed with. She established a clear path that allowed the team to move forward. She demonstrated an act of leadership.
Example 3: On a particular client, there was the traditional divide between the development organisation and the operations organisation (sitting on a different floor). I remember during one of our planning sessions, a developer on the team who had met someone from operations decided to, unexpectedly, invite the operations person to the planning meeting. Although it was a surprise to us, we saw the appreciation from the operations person being involved earlier and probably changed the outcome of what we would have planned without them. He was passionate about the DevOps culture and demonstrated an act of leadership.
I do a lot of speaking and writing on leadership in our industry and what I like about these examples are acts of leadership that come without the authority of a title. Taking initiative, driving people towards a common goal, even in small incremental steps are acts of leadership that mean that everyone can be a leader.