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Leadership: Why You’re The Team’s Leader But Don’t Have The Title

Why is the person with the biggest title not always the team leader? Find out why this happens to some of the best and brightest here!

Betsy Jacobs
Betsy Jacobs

May 20, 2021

Anyone that has worked in any business or played any organized sports will understand that more often than not, the natural leader is not the person with the biggest title. Why is that? Why is it that the real leader of a team is often found among the rank and file of the front-line workers? To learn the answer to that, we must first start with understanding what leadership is and what makes the “real leader” who they are. 

What is leadership?

You ask 100 people what makes a good leader, and you will get 100 different answers. Still, there are some essential qualities that you can quickly begin to identify when sorting through everyone’s responses. 

If you find that you are always the unspoken leader on your team, you may be exhibiting some of the following characteristics that employees surveyed listed as good leadership qualities: 

Effective Communicator

Great leaders are great communicators, and excellent communication involves clear, concise, and honest dialogue. Great communicators are great listeners too. Great leaders pay attention to people that are speaking. If you want a person to hear you, listen to them first.

Honest and Integrous

Great leaders act with integrity habitually. Maintaining honesty and integrity in everything you do is the fastest way to build trust with your team. The team may not always agree with their leader, but if they trust their leader, they will still work hard, having that assurance that the leader has their best interest at heart.

Self Aware with High EQ

The better that a leader understands themselves, the more effective a leader they will be. This goes hand-in-hand with emotional intelligence and empathy. People want to be understood, and a great leader learns to understand each person on their team.

Empowers their Team

Each team member needs to feel a sense of ownership in what they are doing each day. An example of a leader empowering their team can look like removing roadblocks and giving an employee the tools and access to own their job, so they want to own it; without micromanaging. 

Confident Decision Maker

A confident decision maker only happens when a leader owns his/her strengths and embraces their weaknesses. He/she knows when to call in for help, refusing not to make decisions in a silo, yet will own the decision they make with confidence (not arrogance).   

Demonstrates Enthusiastic Passion

A person who is not passionate about what they are doing will never inspire people. You may be able to motivate small bursts of energy, but that will be short-lived inspiration. Everyone wants to work for someone that loves what they do, and the passion for the business or goals permeates everything they do.

Are leadership and management the same thing?

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

So back to the question, why is the person with the biggest title not always the team leader? Leadership is not about managing people. Managing involves setting priorities, budgets, project assignments, etc. Leadership is about inspiring your team to want more, do more, and ultimately be more. A good manager can be a good leader, but leadership can be found at all organizational levels.

This is why so many are the unspoken true leader on a team, yet they don’t have the title. Their teammates often choose designated leaders naturally, and it’s these individuals that will drive change on many levels that often titled managers simply can’t. 

A perfect example of a leader not being the manager is Michael Jordan. Phil Jackson was the manager (i.e. coach), and he was a good leader in his own right, but everyone knew that Michael Jordan was the leader of the Chicago Bulls. He pushed his teammates to grow, inspired everyone he played with to be better, and worked harder, leading the Chicago Bulls to 6 NBA championships. 

What is the single most important attribute of a great leader?

In conclusion, the single most important attribute of a great leader is this:

Great leaders take care of the people around them.

All the characteristics, skills learned, attributes of leadership boil down to taking care of the people around you. This can take form in several ways. It could be stepping up and helping get a project across the finish line on time; it could be a sounding board for a frustrated co-worker; it could be bringing in doughnuts on a Friday morning after a rough week. Great leaders know their team and learn how to take care of their teammates.

Look for opportunities this week to listen to your team and respond in a way that shows that you care. The world has plenty of managers but is in short supply of great leaders.

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