All leadership comes in one of two forms: assigned leadership and emergent leadership.
Assigned leadership is based on being appointed to a position within the organizational structure. Say, you have been in charge of a SEO or web design team within your organization. With time your company decided to launch an affiliate program, and since the higher management deemed you to be the most fit for the job (be it based on your experience with e-Commerce, or familiarity with the current marketing campaigns the company ran online, or anything else), you were been assigned a position of an affiliate program manager. Tough situation to be in, but not hopeless if you are willing to learn from others, and grow in the process.
Emergent leadership, on the other hand, is very different in nature. Northouse points out that “the person assigned to a leadership position does not always become the real leader in a particular setting.” It is emergent leaders that are most respected and most followed. Northouse carries on to clarify that “this type of leadership is not assigned by position” but rather, “it emerges over a period of time through communication” [see Leadership: Theory & Practice (4th Ed) for more details]. The key elements here are persistence (it “emerges over a period of time”) and communication. Additionally, personality plays an important role too [read my recent post on Gary Vaynerchuk for an illustration], but is certainly not deterministic.
The point I’m trying to make is that in a setting as different from any traditional management context as affiliate program management (or any leadership that involves influencing independent minds) emergent leadership is the only path to go. Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg are just a few examples of self-emerged leaders, and their stories are certainly encouraging. Armed with persistence and such communication essentials as getting involved firsthand, always staying informed, initiating new ideas and seeking others’ opinions we have significanly better chances of really succeeding than by merely relying on our formal position of leadership. The days when real influence came with the position of authority are long gone, especially in settings where people are free to choose their leaders (affiliate program management being one of the most vivid examples).