We’re used to seeing our place in terms of where we sit in an organogram. For instance, where I work I am part of a leadership layer of about 40 people, all of whom report to someone on the 7-person executive board, and as head of a large department I have 10 direct reports and overall line management responsibility for about 350 staff.
But hierarchies shift according the topic of conversation, the meeting you’re in or the situation at hand. So try thinking about your organisation more like this.
Thinking in this way fits with the traditional hierarchy approach, but is much more flexible. In particular, where people sit in the boxes changes according to what’s happening.
If you’re chairing a working group, you’re “the boss” regardless of where the others on the group sit in the normal structure. If you’ve delegated something to someone more junior than you, you usually have to behave as though they’re the boss (so you don’t undermine them). In some conversations the people who normally report to you become simply colleagues.
When you have an opportunity to lead (see this post for what this means) you have to assess where you are in this picture, noting the situation at hand and the other people involved.
Ask yourself… Do I need to lead from above, below, within or from the side?
Then adjust your approach accordingly.