Posted on May 5, 2011 by

You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Leader.

I sat on a panel yesterday at Kellogg that discussed leadership.  The MBAs in the audience were participating in a week long leadership program, and as panelists we were asked to speak about out “finding our leadership voices.”  The moderator had sent us the questions in advance, and Nick and I had a great conversation on our views on leadership.  Here are a few of our own observations:

There are three types of leaders: Inspirational, Operational and Influential.  Inspirational leaders are your game-changing CEOs like Steve Jobs or Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter & Square – or a President of a country who can inspire and motivate with three word statements.  The brilliance of inspirational leaders is their passion and confidence for their mission.  We follow them because they make us believe. Operational leader are managers of teams and projects. Everyday leaders.  They have direct reports.  People look to them for instruction and guidance.  We have a team of 70 full-time employees at FarShore/Dashfire and advise a dozen startups, so operational leadership is paramount for us.

Influential leadership, however, can sometimes be the most powerful of the three leadership forms.  It’s not necessarily bound by vertical silos or chains of command.  And it does not require a title in order to lead.  It’s the ability to lead within your organization or classroom or sport through thoughtfulness and example.  Looking back to my days at Lehman, I, as a first-year analyst, was the least important person on Wall Street and surrounded by ‘masters of the universe’ and there were not abundant professional opportunities to lead.   Some people enter a new position that does not provide explicit leadership roles and begin pointing fingers, telling others what to do.  That’s not being a leader; that’s being a jerk.  You  can lead your peers and influence the organization by becoming a thought leader or by inspiring enthusiasm.  There is no greater sign of respect, than when your peers or even your superiors follow your guidance.

Some of the best entrepreneurs we work with it at Dashfire are influential leaders.  They may be launching their first venture on their own, but they command the respect of their peers.  As a result, they have an immediate and loyal following when they need it to create awareness, generate buzz and build teams.