There is a distinction that needs to be made between leaders and authority. Simply having authority does not make you a leader. Leadership encompasses so many areas. It would take a lifetime to list them all. But there is one thing that all leaders have… influence.
When I was 15, I got hit by a car walking across the street behind my high school. Ouch! The really awkward part was the individual who hit me was in my history class. Although it was not a wildly fun experience, I did get to park in the handicap spot for the remainder of the semester and had someone who carried my books from class to class. Later on in the year, I found out that I was going to be penalized as absent for the day of school that I missed after my accident. This did not sit well with my mother. After a couple of phone calls and waiting on hold she finally spoke with the principal of the school. She introduced herself as "Dr. Crane". I could almost hear them standing at attention on the other end of the line. My mother had never met the principal, but she wielded the power of influence in her introduction. They waived my absence.
Influence is simply the ability to have an effect on something. Those who can affect large groups of people hold large influence. Those who can barely get their pets to listen to them hold less influence. In my experience, there are three levels of influence.
Influence through Title
When you have a title, such as "Director", you hold a certain amount of influence. This is most commonly seen in the armed forces. When you meet a General, you understand that you are meeting someone of importance and that comes with a level of influence.
This is the weakest level of influence. It definitely gains you some ground, but ultimately the remaining two types of influences are stronger.
Influence through Words
You have probably heard the phrase "talk is cheap", and that is true to an extent. If you consistently give valuable advice, then your words have meaning and can gain influence. In order to gain influence, your words need to build up and not tear down. You can decrease your influence by being a gossip, liar, or unkind.
This is the middle level of influence. Your words matter. When coupled with the last category they can multiply your influence beyond your expectations.
Influence through Actions Over Time
Yes, I do believe actions speak louder than words. Who has more influence, the person who consistently delivers outstanding action, or the person who consistently delivers sub par actions. Obviously our actions increase our influence.
This is the holy grail of influence. If you want to gain influence quickly, you need to constantly deliver outstanding action.
When you put the three of these together, you get a magical formula for gaining rapid influence. You might not have the power or authority, but with influence, you have leadership.