Natural leadership
February 6, 2010 9:28 AM   Subscribe

I've noticed that some people have what I'm going to call "natural leadership"--that is, even if they're put into a situation where everyone is formally equal, they're the ones everyone looks to. I've been in countless such situations, and there's almost always been one person who was the one everyone else said to check with. I want to be that guy. What do I need to do to be that guy?

Is it a matter of being the oldest? The one who talks most often? The loudest? The one who says the most intelligent things? The one who's largest, tallest, or strongest? The one who has the most unrelated authority? Some of these have been true of those people, but some haven't, and I haven't been able to find a common thread or find out how to acquire the trait.

The best possible answer would cover 1) how I can maximize my chances of being that person in a newly-established group and 2) how I can maximize my chances of ascending to such a position in a group I joined after its founding. I realize the second is a much harder problem, but I've seen it done, so I know it isn't impossible.

More broadly, I want to conduct myself to maximize my authority--that is, so as many people as possible end up under my box in the formal or informal org chart, and listen to me when I say something. How do I do that?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (71 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Why do you want to be that guy? To get promoted to actual leadership positions and advance your career?

I can't think of any other good reason—everyone wanting to be that guy is the quickest way for a group to fail.
posted by k. at 9:32 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Learn how to deal well with people. Dale Carbegie's book How to win Friends and Influence People is always good.

Depending on the nature of the group you're talking about the smartest person may not be the person with the most authority. Intelligence is an overrated trait in most contexts.

Don't bitch and moan about the present situation. Focus on execution.

posted by dfriedman at 9:33 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

More broadly, I want to conduct myself to maximize my authority--that is, so as many people as possible end up under my box in the formal or informal org chart, and listen to me when I say something. How do I do that?

You're going to want to keep in mind that one of the most basic human instincts is to withold respect and deference to someone who clearly demands it. True leadership is not having to assert that one is a leader.
posted by availablelight at 9:33 AM on February 6, 2010 [8 favorites]

Speak first. Confidently. Doesn't matter if you're right.
posted by BaxterG4 at 9:41 AM on February 6, 2010 [12 favorites]

I think having opinions and being decisive goes a long way in floating you to the top of the leadership pyramid. In situations where others don't want to make a decision, being willing to do so goes a long way.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:42 AM on February 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

I should also say that the flip side of making the decisions is doing the work- you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:43 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Pick a recognized leader and emulate them. You won't be successful all the time, or even a majority of the time, but keep trying.

Know what you're talking about. If you don't know what you're talking about, know who does, and defer to them. Deference and leadership aren't mutually exclusive.

Know when to keep your mouth shut. Don't engage in gossip; you won't be able to avoid politics, but you can avoid negative politics.

Keep in mind that the person who wants the boss' job is often the person least likely or qualified to have it, so don't push too hard or respond badly if you aren't picked for the job.
posted by Pragmatica at 9:46 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am one of those people and, believe me, more often than not I wish I weren't.

It's one of the curses of being competent and, more important, confident. I'm just one of those people who seems to know what they're talking about. I have an air of authority about me, even when I know -- and even some of the people around me know -- that I'm pretty much just making shit up as I go along.

But, okay... you want to be one of those people. (You'll be sorry!) I suppose the best way to start is to consciously develop your ability to seem like you know what the hell you're talking about. Stand up straight, look people right in the eye, and speak in declarative sentences. You don't have to be the person who talks the most or the loudest. Quite the contrary, I think those are people who others may tend to distrust. Rather, speak calmly and when you DO speak make sure you've given some thought ahead of time to what you're going to say. If you must ask questions, ask a specific person -- "Bob, you were in charge of blah-blah last year. What did that cost you?" It feeds the ego of the person you ask and makes them more willing to follow you, I suspect, because they get the impression that you value their insight. (You may actually believe Bob is an idiot, but who cares... you want followers, right?) Plus, you're more likely to get a meaningful answer because you've assigned responsibility to an individual instead of letting it diffuse in the crowd.

So, single out individuals to provide you with facts. Then, in a measured and confident tone, declare what the course of action ought to be. Don't ask if the group thinks it's a good idea. OF COURSE, it's a good idea! It's YOUR idea!

Most people really want someone else to be the leader so if you can master the art of confident bullshitting, you can be that guy.

I'll just end with one more warning, though. Once people believe that you're competent, they'll be looking to you to be "the guy in charge" for all manner of crap. You may come to rue the day you ever wanted "natural leadership".
posted by rhartong at 9:47 AM on February 6, 2010 [65 favorites]

To complement Baxter's answer, also speak last, when you can, by summing up the results of a conversation or repeating: Great, so here's what we decided...

People may notice you're the organized, get-it-done type that way, which is useful. It's also just plain helpful for someone to do that after a long conversation/decision/meeting, to make sure "everyone is on the same page" (and other cliches.)

(It helps, of course, if you actually are an organized, get-it-done type person. Otherwise you're setting yourself up for some embarrassing failures.)
posted by rokusan at 9:48 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

I actually think #2 is easier, mainly because the way to do that seems really clear, whereas the way to do #1 seems like more of a mystery to me. I think the way to do #2 is to have certain skills the group needs, or something that the group wants, that either nobody else has. Or has as much of as you do.

My dad gave me an interesting piece of advice once. He said that if you are in a corporation where decisions are usually made and directions are usually given face-to-face, in meetings, and not so much written down, there is a little-noticed way to become a leader. It's to take really good meeting notes. Then you email the notes around to everyone who was in meeting. Then you will be known as the person who knows what's going on. Then people who missed the meeting or who were dozing off during it will come to you, if they have questions. In this way you will slowly become known as a kind of authority.

If I were to speculate, my guess is that the way to do #1 is to jump to take responsibility for things, and to be willing to make decisions and start taking action while other people are still holding back.

Just out of curiosity, did you start wondering about this while watching Lost?
posted by Ashley801 at 9:49 AM on February 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

Leaders project trustworthiness. There is "something" about them that let you know that they are honest and not self serving.

Think about the people in your life who have exemplified the traits you admire. How and why have they become the way they are? In my life...the examples I can think of are people who have strong principles and who care about their families and other's not all about the individual..Leaders want what is best for everyone and they are positive and relentless about seeing to it that everyone is treated with the respect that everyone deserves.

Try not to read too many self help books on the subject. The subject is endless and you can really confuse yourself with too many scattershot ideas. Just pick one author who appeals to you and digest the ideas from that one person. A solid author about leadership (and "personal leadership") is Stephen Covey.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:52 AM on February 6, 2010

If you "want to be the leader", you'll probably just be a prat. Effective leadership comes from a combination of confidence, competence, and charisma; you can fake them, but a real leader will see right through the act. It's akin to wanting a girlfriend/boyfriend: if you go out seeking that, you'll come across as creepy and desperate.

Want to lead? Work hard, learn things thoroughly, don't be afraid to ask questions/be wrong, and when you know something be willing to speak up. Don't get into petty arguments. Stop jockeying for position. Do your own thing, do it well, and when the time comes you may be the right guy for the job.
posted by ellF at 9:53 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's something that's taught; the Army teach it to officers and so do certain private schools. There was a link some years back on AskMe (can't find it now, sorry) to a firefighter who explained how he'd been taught to take charge of men.

The tips are the usual: it's all body language and diction. Take up space in the room. Speak confidently (that doesn't mean loudly, speaking more quietly can help if you're booming). Say less, with more content. Another thing I've heard in a few places is to get yourself into social groups where you can be the alpha-type. If there's something you excel at, join or found a beginner's group so that you can be the teacher. The mannerisms you'll automatically begin to adopt will spread elsewhere.

Be careful, though: you have to actually be able to deliver. If you're going to become the go-to guy, make sure you've got something to give when people come to you. Otherwise you become an obstruction to getting things done, and that'll ruin your career.
posted by bonaldi at 9:53 AM on February 6, 2010

Stop worrying about who "that guy" is and start worrying about the problem at hand. Do your best to organize the group and solve that problem. Take on tasks that no one else wants - keep minutes, for example. Help get the meeting started. Pull people back on track. Put other members at ease. Notice when someone can't get a word in edgewise and ask everyone to hold off a moment while X person shares their idea. Be as generous as possible to other ideas, and as persuasive as possible about your own. If your idea is not selected, be as enthusiastic as possible about working on someone else's. And so on. This is what I've noticed natural leaders do - they don't dominate, they marshal. And they appear to do so because they want the problem solved and want to make everyone better at solving it. Focus on that, not your social status in the group.
posted by centerweight at 9:54 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

You inadvertently hit on part of the answer in your question ("I want to be 'that guy'"): research shows that in a group setting, being a guy commands more deference than being female. And of course, I am unable to find proper citation just now...

So for good or bad reasons, you've already got a leg up.
posted by Rykey at 9:56 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Understand group process, and how to make people feel engaged and respected and heard.

My experience has been that the more people feel like I'm listening to them and respecting their opinions, the more they are likely to listen to me and respect my opinions. I find myself turning down leadership positions more often than I take them, mostly because of the time and effort involved. It takes a lot of work to be a good leader and it's as much making people feel a part of the process as it is making good decisions.

Ashley's dad's advice is good too.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2010

Anyone who wants this position and intentionally develops a skillset to adopt it is not a natural leader. Natural leaders don't seek out leadership roles. People who actively want to be the leader almost always end up being shittier at it than those who reluctantly accept the responsibility because they know they are best for the job.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:09 AM on February 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

rhartong pretty much nailed it from my perspective. I'm one of those people as well. It happened all of a sudden after I graduated college. I don't know what it is that does it, honestly. I think people are a little intimidated by me, but it's not like I set out to be that way. There are downsides, as suggested above, mainly that if you ever do become That Guy, you're going to be expected to know what to do without any input from others. It's fine if you're planning a party, might not be so great if you're leading a platoon into combat.

I kept typing all that waiting to get around to advice on how to be that person. I'm not sure I have any. If I do, it might be useless. It's a sketch drawn in negative space:

Wanting to be that person is the surest way not to be that person. If you're constantly thinking about group dynamics, you're not in charge. I don't mean that as stupidly as it sounds ("If you ain't the lead dog, the view never changes. haw haw haw"), but put into a group of strangers, I don't size the other people up to figure out where I rank. I simply am, even though I can be really shy in social situations. To a certain extent, this quality in me might be a touch of Asperger's or just a lack of social grace: I don't consider where I rank because I don't think anyone's better than me. It drives my wife nuts that I'm not nervous for job interviews, wasn't nervous to meet her parents, etc. I feel like I have something positive to offer and if some other person doesn't notice, it's their loss.
posted by yerfatma at 10:13 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

You inadvertently hit on part of the answer in your question ("I want to be 'that guy'"): research shows that in a group setting, being a guy commands more deference than being female. And of course, I am unable to find proper citation just now...

Here you go. Scroll down to "Prejudice and discrimination against women as leaders."

(And, yeah, associating "that guy" with "leader" is not so great.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:16 AM on February 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

Help people do what they want to do. Never seek to dominate them. Getting people to do what you want them to do is 1/3 of the battle. Capability of doing it yourself is another 1/3.

A boss who doesn't know his job inside out, upside down and back to front is worthless. I've had several (10+) bosses in the past few years, and only one of them was someone I'd respect. She knew how to talk to people, how to be fair and how to do everything from the most mundane of jobs to the most complicated. I knew that if I had a problem with anything, she could handle it. My current boss has been caught out lying to people on several occasions. Guess which one I respect more?

The final 1/3 of the problem is knowing which trait(s) are necessary in a given situation. That only comes with experience.

And if you set yourself up to be the person in authority, you'll lose it very quickly. You don't get to buy authority. It's given to you.
posted by Solomon at 10:19 AM on February 6, 2010

Anyone who wants this position and intentionally develops a skillset to adopt it is not a natural leader. Natural leaders don't seek out leadership roles. People who actively want to be the leader almost always end up being shittier at it than those who reluctantly accept the responsibility because they know they are best for the job.

Hmm... I don't think being a crappy leader and being a natural leader are mutually exclusive. There are plenty of crappy incompetent leaders who get people to follow them easily, like the leader of the Donner party or uh, certain presidents. I don't think the OP was asking about how to be a competent leader, necessarily (unfortunately).
posted by Ashley801 at 10:22 AM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

2nd rhartong and TPS. Just be the guy. Most everyone else will be happy most times to let you be in charge as long as you seem like you've taken charge already as a matter of course. Confidence goes a long way - people HATE being apprehensive that they don't know what they're doing. Warning: when everyone bitches about every little thing they don't agree with (and they will) they're bitching about YOU. You have to learn to handle that kind of low-level conflict gracefully or that will be the last time you're in charge of anything. Also, every time you take charge of a situation, you take responsibility for the ultimate success or failure.

One of the best non-asshole ways to do this a bit more subtly is to sum up the situation out loud, define objectives, and then speak in what sounds like imperative terms, even if couched in softer language. Example: Ok, here's the situation, folks. The forklift crashed through the wall to the server room. Our priorities are to see if everyone is ok, then to get the power turned off so it's safe to go in there. Mr. Jones, go check on the driver and see if there was anyone else involved. Mr Smith, call the building manager on the phone and report the accident. Does anyone know where the power can be turned off? No, ok, Mr. Smith, also tell the building manager we need the power turned off to the server room. etc. Follow up on the orders and get the reports back when tasks are done. "Did you call the building manager? What did he say?" Give status reports "Ok, time out everybody, here's the status: the forklift driver is ok, and the building manager is on the way. The priority now is to just keep everyone out of the area until the power is turned off in case there is any live damaged equipment in there."

It sounds like that style is way overkill for less-chaotic situations, but you'll find that having that kind of personality scales down as well if you're not ridiculous about "taking charge" of the printer being out of paper. If you can pull off phrasing orders as not-questions, such as "Mr. Smith, can you call the building manager and report the accident? Great thanks, let me know when that's done," some people are less defensive being led that way. Other people want the more military direct style or they'll think you're not confident in your decisions. Play it by ear.

A Navy chief once told me "It's better for someone to be in charge and then direct people to do something wrong than it is for nobody to be in charge." At first, that sounded stupid, but I've come to find out it's true. If you tell someone to do something wrong, they'll let you know. If you tell them loudly, it lets everyone else have the chance to overhear and correct you. And just having everyone else know there IS a person in charge makes them start asking what they can do instead of standing around wringing their hands.
posted by ctmf at 10:23 AM on February 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

Listen. I cannot believe this thread has gone on this long without using the word listen. You want to know what is going on around you. Ask what your colleagues are doing. Sincerely care about and note the answers. Keep up with advances in your field, by going to conferences, talks etc. Seek out the leaders in your field and ask them questions, listening carefully to the responses. If you can both listen and speak confidently as rhartong describes, then you will be a natural leader. One advantage of listening is that your confidently asserted opinion will be informed.

Listening has many other advantages:
1. You get a reputation as a good "guy" to talk to, therefore people will seek you out because they know you will listen
2. You rapidly get informed opinions on matters
3. You get to know people in your field who can help you out as you progress in your career
4. You are engaged in office politics and learn how to turn situations to your advantage
posted by crazycanuck at 10:58 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Speak first. Confidently. Doesn't matter if you're right.
posted by BaxterG4

A Navy chief once told me "It's better for someone to be in charge and then direct people to do something wrong than it is for nobody to be in charge." At first, that sounded stupid, but I've come to find out it's true.
posted by ctmf

History is full of evidence to the contrary, despite the fact that people like this often get to write history.
Calm, accurate, articulate reasoning--with an ear for consulting others--will win in the end.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:01 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask yourself which of these two people you'd follow:
"I'm in charge here, and we're going to..."
"What we need to do first is..."

Don't set out to be in charge. People will smell it on you like animals smell fear. Set out to get things done, and people will follow you.
posted by Etrigan at 11:09 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of course, you're right, WGP, for non-emergency or high-risk technical things; I'm not suggesting you just make shit up when you don't have to. However, in some lines of work, one often finds themself in a dynamic situation where they don't have the information they need at hand. In that case, it's much better to get shit started and people working while you make calls and do some consulting, rather than being all "Hmm. Ok, everyone, I'm calling the authorities to tell us what to do." And then they all stand around with their finger in their nose, you look like a weak indecisive stooge, and everyone gets pissed that they should be DOING SOMETHING!!! but they aren't getting to. Changing the plan once you get the info you want isn't a terrible thing.

Also, there are less pressing situations where it doesn't really matter how, people just want to have some kind of direction. Say you walk into a meeting room for a meeting that's supposed to happen in ten minutes, and it's a bare room with a table pushed up against a wall, all the chairs in stacks, the computer and projector powered off, and four other people standing around with a "am I in the right place" bewildered look. You can either join them in shrugging and pulling out your blackberry, or you can take charge. "looks like this room isn't ready. You, pull the table into the middle. You, start getting the chairs out. Do you know how to get that projector running? I'm calling Mr. X to find out if this meeting is cancelled or something." etc. You don't always need to "consult others."
posted by ctmf at 11:25 AM on February 6, 2010

There is definitely something to physical stature, especially in environments where almost everyone is outwardly confident and proactive. I worked for half a year doing energy policy research and briefs for a state government office. At meetings where this work was presented, more than half the men present were taller than I am, often by several inches. I'm 6'5". This was true of some of the government officials and almost all of the corporate suits.

I doubt there is a connection between height and cognitive leadership ability. At some point in an environment full of super type A personalities, height becomes a deciding factor for promotion to positions of greater power/leadership. I guess we have yet to culturally or physically evolved past that.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 11:34 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Know everything and yourself and the world will be yours.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:41 AM on February 6, 2010

Mod note: nothign personal but please don't bring in people's personal profile info into AskMe, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:46 AM on February 6, 2010

If you tell them loudly, it lets everyone else have the chance to overhear and correct you.

Which implies, that you need to be ok with recognizing when they are right and changing the plan. "You're right, Mr. Smith, that would be better. Excellent point. [raise voice] Ok, change of plan! Instead of X, we're going to do Y."

The key to being in charge is not really to bully your will onto everyone else. It's just a) being the central clearing-house for information, and b) turning "we need to X" into an action item with a person responsible. Everyone knows we need to call 911 when the fire breaks out. YOU, told a specific person to do it (so everyone isn't assuming someone else did) and can tell everyone else that that's already done if they suggest it.
posted by ctmf at 11:50 AM on February 6, 2010

A friend and I once walked into a chaotic situation in our community, and she later observed that she realized the reason I was senior to her in our workplace was that I looked around to see what needed to be done while she waited to be told.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Leadership is a complex issue, but fundamentally it means being able to chart a course and stick to it, being able to articulate what you think in a concise way, being able to achieve consensus and motivate others to achieve common goals, and being able to ALWAYS act according to values and in an ethical way.

Becoming a leader means more than just accomplishing a project. It means defining what is important, and not getting distracted from it. It means reaching out to other people and finding out what's important, identifying common goals, and helping people reach those goals - being a leader means developing your social intelligence.

It also helps if you have the right personality (you know what's right and you are willing to take risks) and you have charisma.

For those of you who are cynical about leadership, some day you will be a parent. Being a parent means being able to demonstrate leadership skills.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2010

I think the thing to think about is that people generally look around to other people to decide what to do. So if it seems like a lot of people are listening to one guy, everyone else will start listening to that guy as well.

Another part of is that a lot of people are nervous about 'sticking out', they're nervous about public speaking and being judged, whatever. They don't want to put themselves out there. Other people love it. They can end up as leaders by default. But the thing to understand is that they don't necessarily want it. And if another extrovert is in the group they're happy to share ideas and work with the other person.

But that said, even if you're not a natural leader you can probably fake it pretty decently. The advice I would give would be 1) Talk a lot, act like you're the leader by default but do not cut people off or prevent them from talking. 2) Listen to other people's ideas and get them to talk. Facilitate.
If you "want to be the leader", you'll probably just be a prat. Effective leadership comes from a combination of confidence, competence, and charisma; you can fake them, but a real leader will see right through the act. It's akin to wanting a girlfriend/boyfriend: if you go out seeking that, you'll come across as creepy and desperate.
Well the thing with girlfriends/boyfriends is that desperation can be attractive it the other person is also desperate. Desperation levels have to match. But people aren't usually desperate for leadership.
posted by delmoi at 12:14 PM on February 6, 2010

I was part of a group a while back that had an official President and VP, etc. I was a nobody by position, but I was also the guy that ran the projector and kept notes on what happened. It was kind of an informal Roberts Rules kind of thing. Often a vague consensus would arise on what "the group" needed to do.

Being the guy taking notes, I would then read it back translated as one or more action items, then ask "ok, find out how much that would cost... Who's going to do that? Any volunteers? [pause] Mr. Smith, can you do that? Great. Let us know next meeting what you find out."

At some point during the meeting there would be a lull, and I'd have the last meeting's notes, so I'd call people on the tasks from last time. Mr. Jones, you were going to call so-and-so regarding that other thing, right? How'd that turn out?

In spite of not running the meetings or being the approval authority for anything, guess who was generally considered to be "in charge" of the group? Guess who got called in between meetings if there were any questions? Not the president.

Be the person who knows what is happening already, and be the person who turns vague wishes into action items. Voila, you are in charge.

Sorry for commenting so much. I like this topic.
posted by ctmf at 12:34 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

When it comes down to it, I'm this guy. I'm none of the things that you extend as possibilities. I'm regarded as level-headed, etc. by those who know me, but it happens even when no one knows me.

This is all I know to say about it:

I speak confidently, if I have something to say. If not, I dont' say anything.

In teamwork type situations I don't hesitate to deliver direct instructions with a "please or "can you..." when there's time (no niceties when i'm running a kitchen, for example).

The more important or rever-racking a situation is, the calmer I am. Getting worked up or scared never helps in any situation ever. I think this is the single biggest factor and here's an example to illustrate why: Once, driving to the store or something, I saw a friend of mine, in her car, get into a moderately serious accident right outside of her work (everyone was okay). By the time I got there, she had half a dozen work friends around her, telling her it was okay, the car's not that bad, and whatever. I came to her, asked her if she was okay, and stood back, watching the cops and the other driver. After a minute or two, the group around her turned to me (I already knew one or two of them, but not the rest) and asked me directly what to do. It had to have been that I was the only one who was calm, because I didn't do anything but be calm.

But, as has been mentioned, the person who wants the leadership position is almost never the right one for the job, and on top of that it's not necessarily a good or desirable thing to be the de facto leader in any given situation whether you want to be or not.
posted by cmoj at 12:38 PM on February 6, 2010

My former boss was (still is) "That Guy" at my company. So I will cite his characteristics as a checklist for you: Impeccable integrity- NEVER caught out in a lie, in dissing others, or doing anything to put himself forward at the expense of others. Speaks calmly and rationally at all times, to all- from the CEO to the receptionist, there is no difference in how he treats people. Never takes calls or even acknowledges beeping or ringing devices when he's in a meeting with someone and gives 100% attention to you during a conversation (the "listening" mentioned above). Sees all sides and weighs them equally, in real time, even if he may have already decided on a course of action.

Never expresses surprise that a subordinate came up with a good idea or valuable contribution. NEVER takes credit for other's work, ideas, etc. and makes sure credit is given where it's due; conversely, never lets you slide if you've dropped the ball, but never makes you feel bad- helps you see your errors and gives good feedback on how to do better next time. Knows that the best thing he can do as a boss is to help you get to the next level (which he did for me- I don't regret moving up but I miss working with such a great person).
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:46 PM on February 6, 2010 [19 favorites]

I want to be that guy. What do I need to do to be that guy?

I don't know you, but based on this phrase, I don't like or trust you and would never follow you.

You want to be in charge just to be in charge, based on what you've written and how you've written it. It comes off as needy and people can smell that from a mile away and almost universally disrespect it. There's nothing wrong with enjoying being in charge or king of the hill, but having that as the end goal, the enjoyment of power for power itself, which this question sounds like, is foul and winds up attracting foul people. Remember, you may be leader, but it's your followers who make things happy and you need them. Garbage in, garbage out.

Find a local leader you admire. Ask him to mentor you. You're not leadership material right now, so it's best to follow someone who is and is willing to guide you in how to be one.

The best leaders are those who see a problem and want to fix it or a goal and want to reach. Leadership becomes a tool to guide them and others towards a resolution. Those leaders all happen to attract some of the best people, those who are competent and loyal.

I'll just end with one more warning, though. Once people believe that you're competent, they'll be looking to you to be "the guy in charge" for all manner of crap. You may come to rue the day you ever wanted "natural leadership".

Yep. Being a leader is often equivalent to being the person with a pickup truck or a computer nerd: Everyone comes to you when they have a problem, and want to make it your problem. You should figure out 1.) whether you want that and 2.) if you can deliver.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:02 PM on February 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm a woman and I often end up as "that guy" because it I seem as though I've kept my head when things are falling apart. I keep a calm voice. I move purposefully. My brain supplies courses of action. This means that when I suggest something needs to be done, other people do it because they're anxious to have something productive to do. Often, in retrospect, I realize my suggestion was idiotic. I don't think clearly under pressure- I just act like I do.

That said, if there is some other person who's more "that guy," and there often is, I'm happy to fall in line.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:23 PM on February 6, 2010

A lot of talk about natural leaders and what-not. In my observation it depends upon the culture of the organization. The top dog usually sets the tone, intentionally or unintentionally , for better or worse.

It can range from some machiavellian dog fight to a meritocracy. If you like your organization, just find out what the big guy wants and make sure he knows that you are getting it done.

In new organizations being able to organize and create consensus among the other parties is helpful, but again it depends on the culture of the organization.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:26 PM on February 6, 2010

I don't like to lead -- not my deal. It's work, extra work, and it's a drag, IMO. Why seek out extra work? So I'll consent to follow a good lead. Hell, I'll consent to follow a bad lead, as long as nothing heavy is going down. But it is consent, and I'm giving it. And I'm not blind and I'm not stupid and I'm damn sure not willing to follow some mope off a cliff, and I can see the edge of that cliff, and I'll bring it up in a heartbeat if some "leader" is headed that direction.

And: When it comes down to it, when the shit hits the fan, I am in fact a lead, it comes out, regardless what title I've got, regardless what title you've got. Seems to me that's when real leadership shows, and you're screwing yourself if you don't pay attention to the real leader when you've been "assigned" the role, because no one will follow you in the presence of a real lead when there's shit flying everywhere, and you'll be shown as hollow as you are.

That said, I don't give a damn if you want to take credit for it, go ahead, stand up there and take that stupid ribbon or whatever, hurray for you. Big deal. Though it is an annoyance if you'll not acknowledge what came down, and who was leading the charge, and I now know you suck and so does anyone else who was around when the walls were falling down around us.

Privates can lead charges when captains are wetting their pants. And if you are that frightened captain you will take the leaders command, it's a fact of life, it's damn sure what I've seen. But that doesn't mean that captain will be afraid on every charge, or that the private will have the jam to gut up and move out into the face of it -- it passes around from person to person in each situation. The one who stands up in every situation? There's your leader. I will follow him/her through the fires of hell, and we'll be busting each others chops each and every step of that journey, laughing our asses off, we'll have just lots of fun on the way.

Short version: If you have to pose* this question, you're not the lead, most likely you're not going to be.

*and yeah, pose is the right word here
posted by dancestoblue at 1:40 PM on February 6, 2010

I don't agree with dancestoblue. You can learn to be a leader, and leadership is the main requirement if you are at all ambitious. Being able to lead people to accomplish a common goal is not easy to do, and is a very marketable skill. I would say in this economy it's almost a requirement to being successful. Some people want it and some people don't, as the answers above show. First, you need to feel confident. You need to speak up. Clearly state the goals, listen to your team, be able to make decisions for the group, and keep the group on task. Second, you need an exceptional ability to visualize. See the problem, see the solution, see the steps needed to get there. Lastly, your people skills come in, where you guide your group through the process. Learn motivation techniques and how to determine what works for different personality types.
posted by raisingsand at 3:00 PM on February 6, 2010

Speak first, and confidently, but summarise the issue followed by an open question to the group as a whole. Do not just start giving orders. If everybody is standing, sit first then speak while others start sitting for reasons they don't quite understand.

Bad: "You, go over there and do x. You two, help that guy do y."
Group: "Erm...who died and made you God?"

Good: "OK, it looks like the situation is x. Ideas for moving forward / solving this problem / reaching our objective?"
Group: "This guy is calm and has a handle on things. I feel like I'm being listened to and have a chance to contribute. Let's just see how this goes for a few minutes..."

Once ideas are in, pause for a moment as if to think (actually thinking helps here, though often just acting is more important), then gently direct people to implement their suggestions. If you need to ask people to do something they haven't suggested, sandwich it between two people who will get to do 'their thing', and instead of gently directing, persuasively ask. In all cases, show that you understand the link between people's actions and your objectives. Close by setting the stage for people to regroup under your guidance.

You: "OK.... (pause) ...OK. Jill, please do x and y as you've suggested - that will help us to z. Fred - go ahead and do a and b. Once that's helped us to c, Tom, could you help Fred wrap things up by e and f? That'll let us g and h - thanks, Tom. Boris - great idea about p and q, make a start on that. We'll get back together to review the situation once Boris has finished and (insert milestone).
Group: "Hey, I'm a part of things and doing stuff!"

There are dimensions of weaselness, of course; if you think Tom is the kind of guy who is likely to arc up because you haven't done what he suggested, put him in charge of something. So in the example above, it'd be "Tom, can I put you in charge of e and f?" Monitoring is also a good non-responsibility to 'award' somebody, especially if you want to keep them out of the way - naturally, you'll be doing your own monitoring, so they can stuff this up all they want. "Tom, I need you to be my eyes - monitor our progress and give me a debrief when we regroup."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:15 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

And when you attain that leadership position you so desire, don't also become one of those assholes who thinks it's his job to declare himself the leader because "he is that guy."
posted by digsrus at 5:02 PM on February 6, 2010

Get competent.
posted by flabdablet at 5:22 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

And never, never, never let anybody find out that you once said I want to conduct myself to maximize my authority--that is, so as many people as possible end up under my box in the formal or informal org chart, and listen to me when I say something. Because that's how pointy-haired bosses think, and everybody knows it, and you will be mercilessly mocked, not respected.
posted by flabdablet at 5:24 PM on February 6, 2010

My husband is one of those guys.

I'm trying to analyze what traits he has that make him the way he is....he's very intelligent - very! He's tall - 6'4" so, usually, among the tallest in a group. He's quiet but not shy and when he speaks he has a very good voice - low, well modulated and with quiet assurance.

He's very knowledgeable on many subjects (can discuss science, literature, politics, history, etc. with ease and confidence.)

In summary I would say his most winning feature is that he is a very nice person - that's what I first noticed about him. He's kind and approachable. He never puts people down or makes them feel stupid and, although, I've known him for almost 31 years I don't think I've ever seen him be mean or small.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 5:26 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmm... I don't think being a crappy leader and being a natural leader are mutually exclusive. There are plenty of crappy incompetent leaders who get people to follow them easily, like the leader of the Donner party or uh, certain presidents. I don't think the OP was asking about how to be a competent leader, necessarily (unfortunately).

I'd agree with that. You can be a natural leader and still be a bad leader. However, you can't learn to be a natural leader. You can learn how to get people to follow you, and you can learn how to be a good leader, but if you learn either of those things in an algorithmic rather than a heuristic or intuitive way, it will always seem a little hollow.

I think the OP needs to consider why it is that he/she wants to be a leader. It seems like this:

I want to conduct myself to maximize my authority--that is, so as many people as possible end up under my box in the formal or informal org chart, and listen to me when I say something. How do I do that?

is really the crux of the question. I would be hesitant to tell anyone with that set of desires how to achieve their goals. The world doesn't need more power-hungry people in positions of authority.

However, if that's really what you want, OP, you can start with the classic text on the matter, The Prince. I imagine you're not really interested in how to rule a 16th century Florentine principality, but Machiavelli is probably a good place to start for this sort of education.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:36 PM on February 6, 2010

Lead by example. Do your job and do it well. Be approachable. Be willing to make a decision when asked of you.
posted by little miss s at 5:49 PM on February 6, 2010

cmoj is on target with the calmness angle... it trumps anything else when things get hairy.

I'm "that one" too, but not the obvious "one." I am regularly surrounded by folks who want to be followed, and get people to follow them by actively taking charge, working at being liked and popular, using all the "right" appearance and behavior cues... the kinds of things noted in other comments. And despite all that and my open and regularly mentioned desire to NOT be put into the position so often, the moment any situation actually gets serious everyone is looking to me. I've asked (many) people why it always happens, and it's invariably come back to calm = controlled confidence in their mind -- so everyone else gets flustered as things get stressful, and for some reason I just get calmer, and before long calm and confident has trumped every other quality anyone else brought to the table.

So, you can try faking it until you make it, but to be that person for real you need to believe that you shine under pressure. If you don't know if you can, then try putting yourself in some situations to test yourself! If it is actually your thing, then you'll be calm and confident enough to get looked to from then on... but don't say nobody warned you about how little fun it can be.
posted by Pufferish at 6:40 PM on February 6, 2010

My wife is "that guy." She doesn't completely understand why, but there are some elements that are pretty clear. She's tall, good looking, calm, and she has a track record of coming up with straightforward answers to problems that had others wandering in circles. She has a remarkable intuitive understanding of people and what they want. She also practices servant leadership. She's studied how Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished what they did. She asks others to pitch in even as she's rolling up her own sleeves. If someone else has a good idea, she supports it without trying to make it her own.

This makes her popular with the folks who wanted a solution to a knotty problem; the same people go to her time and again for help and recommend her to others. It does not endear her to those with a title and turf to protect who couldn't have come up with the answer if she had written it down and slipped it to them under the table.
posted by bryon at 9:13 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

The truth of the matter is that natural leaders lead, because it comes naturally to them. I'm not sure you can fake that, any more than you can fake being cool, or fake being funny. It is a skill you can hone though.

All you have to do to try is to just stick yourself out there and lead. Then turn around and look behind you. If there aren't any followers, you probably didn't do it right.
posted by spilon at 9:34 PM on February 6, 2010

I'm not that guy, but I am the guy who will be the first one to speak up and challenge the leadership of that guy. When that guy points to me and gives instructions, I'm the one who's going to say "Actually, dickhead, I don't remember putting you in charge."

Here are situations in which I would not do this:

a) When the "leader" has already demonstrated that they know what they're doing better than anybody else.

b) When the "leader" senses that I'm not buying it, and therefore wisely doesn't try to control my actions.

Not everyone is either a sheep or a shepherd. Some of us are... kangaroos, or something. A good leader can spot the kangaroos, leave them alone unless they are doing harm, or if necessary, ask for their cooperation in a respectful way that is a genuine request, and not an order masquerading as a request.
posted by bingo at 10:06 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

...or paint you as a needlessly disruptive influence who places your own ego over achieving the group's objectives, and so have you shunned and outcast. It's not even hard to do, because people love to gang up on somebody.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:43 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

...and by the way, anonymous, try not to pay too much heed to those who've tried to paint you as a power-hungry monster who seeks control for its own sake. Even if that were true, it beats grumbling privately about some other power-hungry monster while publicly doing whatever they say, which is what most people do. True leadership needs willing followers, but being first, taking power then wielding it over resentful underlings looks almost the same to an outsider and gets pretty much the same results - you just need to do it in a way that minimises the resentment as much as possible and makes people feel like they're not underlings. People can wonder who put you in charge all they like, even try to call you out - so long as a majority of people don't, however, it doesn't make a lot of difference; it can even help you to have an enemy.

Think about it - all these people who say they'd call 'that guy' out, would never follow them in a million years - and yet 'those guys' still run just about everything. If you're not a natural charismatic leader, being 'that guy' is the next best thing.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:52 PM on February 6, 2010

You need to cultivate your in the ancient sense of the charisma of the great individual - when the ruler of a state had this in ancient China common people would flock to his lands to bask under the protective aegis of his puissant personality. To learn how to cultivate it, you should study and emulate the works of the sages and the models of history. Simple, really.
posted by Abiezer at 1:10 AM on February 7, 2010

It bears mentioning that there are a lot of situations involving groups of people which don't require a leader and trying to assume that role will only interfere with the goals or desires of the group. If you're consciously asserting yourself as a leader in a non-emergency situation you need to ask yourself whether or not that's actually a position that needs to be filled. Groups with universally high levels of competence are often hindered by someone declaring themselves "that guy." I've been in many groups where several people are all competing to be the leader. Even if these people are following the more well thought out and passive methods outlined above, the group and its goals are often done a great disservice.
posted by Locobot at 1:27 AM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

This makes me think of 'people who can run a meeting'. It's a difficult skill but it might be another way to think of the question. The skills that I see involved - calm, always keeps the big picture in mind, good at reading and defusing emotional currents, no personal horse in the race. That last one is important too, and is part of why people are pushing back against your claim that you want to be one of those people; if you care too much about the details you won't be very good at holding on to the big picture, and if you have too much invested in one outcome it'll be obvious that you aren't leading/judging fairly and you won't be turned to as the leader. That's part of how you stay calm as well.
posted by Lady Li at 3:39 AM on February 7, 2010

Interesting question. I don't know if you can become that guy or not. I'm just thinking of natural leaders I've met and trying to figure out what their qualities are. The first who comes to mind was a boy I knew very from when he was about ten until he was about fourteen and less well ever since. He entered my class in 3rd grade, so he was new to an established group. But he almost immediately became a/the leader. Qualities? Competent (he was the best at a lot of things that matter in grade school), very good looking, friendly, confident. And charismatic. You felt that he was a good guy, although I'm not sure that matters. I think the competence was a big part of his natural leadership, because when he spoke you could be fairly sure that everyone would follow, so there was no questioning of his authority. And then, I don't ever remember him being wrong, so his authority was never undermined. The one thing he wasn't was school smart but we didn't need a leader inside the classroom.

Another guy I knew in law school. Again, competence. He was brilliant in school, and equally good at random play stuff like darts and pool and paint ball and video games and cooking. He spoke with authority, often first. He was really not attractive though, so I don't think that's important. He was funny which I think helped make him liked, but wasn't essential.

I think it's the charisma + competence + confidence. Competence you could develop if you wanted to be that guy in just a particular sphere, but if you wanted to be that guy everywhere, you would have to be one of those people who are generally capable, and I don't know if you can learn that. Charisma seems to me impossible to learn, although I think you can make yourself 'cooler' or 'more likeable' by observing people who are 'cool' or 'likeable' and picking up a few of their best traits. Confidence I think should flow pretty cleanly from competence.
posted by semacd at 5:41 AM on February 7, 2010

Be a tall man.
posted by mdn at 7:22 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

follow-up from the OP
The most common question above has been "why do you want to do this?". Fair enough; I'll answer:

* Because I want to go to meetings where I'm expected to contribute, instead of just listening to the dictates from On High. (Ultimately, I want to be On High.)

* Because I want to hear the news and decisions that affect me as soon as they're available, not a week later.

* Because I want to stop getting *shit on* all the time.

* Because I want to accomplish something significant, instead of being the uncredited human appliance of someone who is accomplishing something significant.

Also: Many of the foregoing recommendations boiled down to assertiveness. My problem with this is that all the assertiveness training material I've seen (a very large sample) has boiled down to making polite but firm requests, which while not everything can get you surprisingly far. I'll allow that I haven't paid the closest attention to being assertive recently. I will renew my efforts.

My problem with assertiveness is that polite, firm requests work with polite, reasonable people, and hardly at all with others. Do you know anybody who spends all their time with polite, reasonable people? I don't, and neither do you. Most people are assholes, so most of "leadership" means "getting assholes to follow you." How can I do that?

(Am I going to be one of those selfsame assholes? I don't care--I'd much rather be an asshole people follow than a nice man they ignore. I've been the latter for years and it sucks, so much that anything would be an improvement. I'd like best to be a nice man people follow, but you know, baby steps.)

Regarding coolness in crises, I think I'm actually best in a crisis. But crises are rare, and I need to be able to jump up and demonstrate leadership in all situations.

Regarding skill in a particular area: The highest leaders, by definition, have people under them in many different fields. The leaders know something of those fields, but not as much as their lieutenants--that's why the leaders appointed them as lieutenants. So how did they get promoted, appointed, or acclaimed? I expect it's by long service in their specialty, but how does one break the "sound barrier" between leading those in which their competency is greater than their followers and leading those whose competency is in an entirely different field?
posted by jessamyn at 8:34 AM on February 7, 2010

I think most of the answers above, including mine, assumed that the OP was talking about situations in which there wasn't any official authority present, and someone naturally took charge, like in an emergency after an earthquake or a train wreck. Now it sounds like this is really moe of a question about how to get promoted to a position of authority.

Here is one practical path: start interviewing for other jobs that involve the management of the area in which you are skilled. Focus on startups or other chaotic environments, where your lack of actual management experience won't matter as much as your knowledge of your area and your willingness to work in chaos, maybe for low pay. Then, once you have the job, you... get management experience. Once you become good at delegating to, evaluating, and generally leading a group of people whose work you understand, then you will be considered a 'manager." Then you move into management jobs that involve supervising a similar process, and so on.

Or, you could just get an MBA, in which case, overwhelming evidence suggests, someone will give you a management job, whether you are qualified for it or not.
posted by bingo at 8:55 AM on February 7, 2010

Ugh. You're way ahead of yourself with those "goals" in mind. I thought you were talking more about emergency or very temporary situations. You're not going to be leader very much until you realize and really internalize that being the "leader" is really a crappy job and a big commitment. People who are good at it do it because they really believe that the group's job is important, and that if they didn't take charge, things would all go to shit. That is, they don't do it for themselves, they do it for the group.

Some "advantages" of being the leader include: having to show up earlier and stay later than everyone else, having to explain yourself to people outside the group, having everyone in your group pissed at you at one time or other for some minor disagreement, dealing with bingo above (in my experience bingo is probably one of your best assets, if you can get him on the team and to stop being a baby ;) ), being asked to do stuff by your boss that you disagree with, but have to sell to the team anyway - you can't be the "stupid boss said we have to X" guy all the time. The responsibility to be a good example for everyone else all the time is kind of a PITA - "do as I say not as I do" doesn't work for long.

It sounds to me like what you really want isn't being the leader so much as you want better leaders. Ones who would: solicit and honestly consider your input at meetings, communicate information effectively up and down the chain of command and address rumors quickly, and recognize and reward your valuable contributions to what the organization does.

Guess what? I left off the "not get shit on all the time" part, because you still do, perhaps more so, as the leader of the group. Everyone has a boss (or a half-dozen.) Just because you can't really see past your work group boundary doesn't mean your leader is kicking back playing facebook all the time and making free money. (If he is, he's a shitty leader)

You'll get there one day, brother. And you'll look at this question and cringe, I promise.
posted by ctmf at 9:09 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I write the above as having been the "leader" (often involuntary) of situations by virtue of military rank for over a decade. I can not tell you how many times I thought to myself, man, I sure wish I had a job where I just had to do what my boss told me. You get better with practice, and you get to be the kind of person who can't NOT take charge if nobody else will. That doesn't mean you revel in the advantages of being Mr. Super-boss with all your minions.
posted by ctmf at 9:15 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anonymous, it sounds like you're bitter, unhappy and most of all, feeling powerless in your life. Because of this you view leadership as a route to having power.

In short, you have shitty leaders. Think about that for a bit before deciding whether you really want to be leader.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:29 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to recommend a book to read, which I don't normally do. It's not a 'management fad of the week' book though, it really has the no-BS stuff. It's the kind of book you can only read a little at a time, and each time you read a particular part, it may mean something different to you at the time. I haven't read the whole thing cover-to-cover yet, but every time I crack it open, I read something useful to me today. The leadership I Ching, maybe, heh. Naval Leadership. Most of the stories in it are Navy related, but leadership is leadership, whether Navy, other military, or "real" life.
posted by ctmf at 9:31 AM on February 7, 2010

I wanna clarify my thoughts about the "in a crisis" thing.

I don't think I, personally, worded it so specifically, but I don't mean that this only applies when there are snipers picking off the feeble in the office and someone has to jump through a window, fall two stories and pick off the snipers with paper ninja stars before they hit, roll, and run to defuse a car bomb. Though, it's useful then too.

For many people, having someone contradict them is a small (big for others) crisis. A general disagreement about a small point gets people riled up. Some take it personally, have strong feelings about the issue, or just want to be right. It may be even more important in these situations. When arguing a point, no one sides with the guy who's sputtering and gesticulating semi-coherently.

By extension, when someone, especially someone who is unreasonable to some degree, wants to argue, they will rely (consciously or un) on drawing you into an emotional argument. If they can't do this, the argument will end with you staring at them, waiting for them to say something relavent and them walking away, probably saying something lame.
posted by cmoj at 10:13 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

OP, buddy, you need to get a new job.

I've been told probably a hundred times in twenty years that I'm a "natural leader," or as you might put it, "that guy." Except I'm a lady. I also ask people every time - why? Here are the answers I've gotten:

*I'm tall. (Six feet, two inches of lady.)
*I am always calm, even-tempered, never raise my voice.
*If I don't know the answer, I admit it, and then devote myself to finding it.
*I am very tolerant of other people's behavior. This is not because I'm a better person than other people, but because I fear conflict. However, it usually works to my advantage because I don't call people to task for being rude or petty, just ignore them or say something funny to distract from their foibles.

Mind you, I have worked for years in a mostly-female environment. In my limited experience of gender-balanced situations, everybody defers to a man before they even consider listening to a woman. So you're one up right there!

OP, dude, I'm sorry you're getting shit on, but it doesn't sound like anyone is going to stop shitting on you in your current situation. Get a new situation. If you're that miserable and off-put by other people, you need a break. Most people are not, in fact, "assholes." Most people are scared and overwhelmed and just trying to get through the day. People want to be led, but not by someone who doesn't actually like people. You need to like people before you can lead them.
posted by brittafilter at 11:50 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you know anybody who spends all their time with polite, reasonable people? I don't, and neither do you.

In fact I do spend the vast bulk of my time dealing with polite, reasonable people. If you don't, it's no wonder you've gone a bit flaily-arm and hoppitamoppita. Move.

Most people are assholes, so most of "leadership" means "getting assholes to follow you." How can I do that?

Offer them money?

Am I going to be one of those selfsame assholes? I don't care--I'd much rather be an asshole people follow than a nice man they ignore. I've been the latter for years and it sucks, so much that anything would be an improvement. I'd like best to be a nice man people follow, but you know, baby steps.

Good leaders don't take baby steps.
posted by flabdablet at 2:58 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most people are assholes, so most of "leadership" means "getting assholes to follow you." How can I do that?

I have assholes doing what I tell them all of the time. They do it because I have proven that doing as I say is less painful than the alternative. If they do as I tell them, I will go out of my way to make sure that they're taken care of in the correct way (ie, I get other assholes out of their hair).

How did I get here? Trial by fire. We fought for months tooth and nail over every single issue but we finally got to the point, through shared experience, that we are now on the same page. Should fightiness come up, I can step in decisively and folks will fall in line. This is not necessarily a process you can expedite. It is the shared history that makes this work. I also happen to treat these particular assholes rather gently, plying them with gossip and the like to enhance their trust. The carrot and stick approach works well.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:56 PM on February 7, 2010

my 2 cents. Follow this 3 point mantra.
1. Take responsibility. Assume responsibility to finish the task at hand. Responsibility, not authority, mind you.
2. Be proactive. Don't be shy to express your opinion. Be the first person to want to do whatever needs to be done. Leaders lead by example. They do it themselves first, what they want others to do, even if nobody is with them to start with.
3. Be self-confidence. Have faith/confidence in yourself. Have faith in your genuine intention to be of value to the group in question. Talk when you know what you are talking about.

How can you be a leader of already established group?
You shouldn't want to be a leader just for the sake of it. If you follow above 3 points, you will automatically be a leader, if the group already does not have one or have one who is not better (at providing leadership value to group) as you are. If the group already has a better leader, you don't need to be. Just help the group genuinely to achieve whatever they are set to achieve and you will have your own place in the group.
posted by tvjoshi at 10:42 AM on February 8, 2010

People follow someone:

1. Who seems to know what to do.
2. Who seems willing to do it themselves if no one else will.
3. Who they've followed successfully before.

In the case of an already established group, establish yourself as a valuable member of the group first; volunteer. Do stuff. Be positive, proactive, and productive. When people already see you as a strong contributor, they'll follow your lead in the future if you have a good idea.
posted by talldean at 12:53 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

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