A common fallacy is that leadership starts from the top. Leadership can start from anywhere and we have all been in organisations where one well led department succeeds far more than others. Great when you are part of that success but not so if you are without it. The leaders at the top of the organisation will shape the culture of the organisation and inevitably those leaders that reflect the bosses behavioural traits will succeed. But results cannot be ignored. Great leaders get great results and get noticed. Great results in the middle can cause an organisation to improve as a whole by it replicating and adopting those leadership practices throughout the organisation.
You most certainly can be an excellent leader within a mediocre organisation and get on providing you don’t become too much of a threat to the hierarchy. It is therefore a balancing act keeping the bosses sweet whilst maximising the effect of the team. Now really clever bosses will exploit good leadership to the benefit of the whole organisation and will endeavour to maintain the services of such leaders. Bosses who feel inadequate and threatened will sabotage such leaders. Walt Disney was a fine example of someone who truly valued good people and someone who enjoyed employing people who were better than him. Ronald Reagan built a fantastic team around him during his time as US President. Both shaped teams but both had great leaders below them.
Leadership doesn’t have to start at the top and that tardy excuse that I can’t be a leader in the middle of an organisation holds no truth. Leadership occurs wherever someone is responsible for inspiring and motivating others. The choice of that individual is how they do it? Well or badly; but the real ability of the successful leader is to balance the needs of superiors with those of the team whilst achieving outstanding results.