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In your role as a leader, have you ever had to step outside of your formal authority to get something done?
If so, then you’ve experienced informal leadership. Informal leaders are not appointed or elected, but they wield influence through their actions and relationships.
This type of leadership can be very powerful and is often characterized by personal relationships and trust. Informal leaders may not have any official role in the group, but they often play a significant role in shaping its direction and culture.
Related: 13 Leadership Roles
What is Informal leadership?
Informal leadership is a type that does not necessarily involve authority or power. Instead, it can influence others on an interpersonal level by using your personality, not your organization’s hierarchical structure.
A person who has informal leadership skills knows how to get things done in organizations through personal connections and relationships with people around them. They can inspire, persuade, motivate, influence their peers without being in charge of them.
Informal leaders can be found in any organization, not just schools or universities. They are common within the business world. Each team has a formal leader in a company, but they also have an informal one. Informal leaders often come from people with high levels of social status, such as those who are wealthy, attractive, or well-respected for their intellectual abilities.
These individuals know how to influence others by using this status to sway others into doing what they want them to do. However, do not think that these individuals use their power negatively. On the contrary, it is for positive reasons such as motivating peers through encouragement and compliments.
Related: Affiliative Leadership
Difference between formal and informal leadership
Formal leadership can be seen in many positions around the world today. Positions such as politicians, managers at work, or even policemen provide an example for formal leadership because they all have specific duties which form their authority over others.
Formal leaders work to achieve goals and are responsible for making decisions on behalf of others, whether making sure everyone follows his rules or leading people into battle during wartime. The person who holds this position also has control over others through their roles in organizations or functions of power.
Informal leadership is a type of leadership that’s based on respect within an organization rather than just possessing a specific role that provides authority over others. It’s characterized by the support both from the leader themselves and those they lead without a hierarchical relationship between the two. These leaders don’t hold any official title or position but can still influence people to follow their orders or direction.
Why is informal leadership important?
This is a question that I get asked quite often. Without formal leadership, you may wonder how an organization can run smoothly. So why is informal leadership important?
For one thing, it’s not always possible to have formal leaders in every occupation or group.
Not everyone needs to be placed under the pressure of having someone who has to supervise their progress at all times because there are many people out there who are more than capable of directing themselves without being told what to do constantly.
There is also the case of groups that aren’t structured but function just as well without any formal leadership. For example, suppose you’re part of a group project, and your partners realize that splitting up the workload is better. In that case, everyone does an equal share instead of having one person dividing it into parts according to each person’s expertise and telling everyone else what to do. Again, a more informal leadership structure will suffice.
The more confident someone feels in themselves, the more confident they’ll be when dealing with other people. This will manifest itself as more positive behaviors that lead to solutions, often involving taking action instead of avoiding discomfort.
By modeling appropriate behavior for the group, informal leadership styles give members a sense of security and empowerment. For example, if your friend notices that you’re worried about entering a new social setting, they might give you the confidence to go in anyway.
Related: 16 Leadership Styles
9 Traits of an informal leader
Generally, informal leaders have specific characteristics in common, which are beneficial for building relationships with their employees. These traits and the efforts you make to focus on them throughout your working day might help you obtain this accolade in the future.
Keep in mind that these qualities are acquired over time and through practice.
An informal leader is a visionary, envisions a desired future, and works to make it happen. They have strong beliefs in what can be achieved through hard work.
They dare to take risks when they believe that doing so will lead to better opportunities for themselves and their team. They are not afraid of failure because they know there will always be doubt about what could have been accomplished without trying.
3) Accepts responsibility
Informal leaders tend to build on responsibility—acknowledging that one does affect others, whether good or bad. These leaders shoulder the blame when something goes wrong rather than shifting it onto someone else. They understand that everything they do is a reflection of the entire group.
Informal leaders are honest—they don’t make promises or say what they think their team wants to hear. There is no need for pretense with informal leadership, as these leaders have nothing to hide from those who follow them. You have to give unlimited access to your honesty because this will help you build genuine trust within your workplace.
An ignorantly self-sufficient leader with no empathy can be harmful to those around them and the overall success of a company or organization. For team members to feel valued and appreciated, they must relate to someone personally rather than just having a boss/employee relationship.
This is the ability to work well with others, get along with teammates and form strong, trusting relationships. An informal leader who has this characteristic will know that to achieve their group’s goal, and they must bring everyone together in a collaborative manner.
7) Makes decisions effectively
They do not waste time with extensive group meetings for more minor project details. Instead, they can promptly make critical decisions using their intuition based on what they have learned thus far.
8) Giving nature
An informal leader has a giving nature—they are not in it for personal gain. Instead, they gain fulfillment from seeing the happiness and satisfaction of those who follow them.
9) Active listeners
These leaders know how to listen and understand what their team is saying. They use active listening, which means they take in the presented information and then respond with an open mind based on what they think rather than giving a quick answer before thinking about all factors involved.
Effective Tips on How to become an Informal leader
Following are the best practice you can follow to become an informal leader for the success of your entire organization;
1) Improve your reputation
Your colleagues might not know much about you when you start to lead informally. One way to change this is to try and build a “good name.”
Have high standards for working quality and quantity, punctuality, having a helpful attitude, being practical in the office, and being available when colleagues need your support. This will build up the informal leader reputation you want to have.
2) Learn more about people in your office
To earn trust with some colleagues, help them out without expecting anything in return—be generous. However, some people might be more hesitant than others at first, so take things slowly with these people. Make sure each person feels respected and valued and focuses on what they can do for their team rather than how to get something from them.
Informal leaders put care into choosing the right words to fit situations, and it’s not enough to show kindness by holding a door open or helping a colleague who is struggling—take time to think about how your actions impact other people and the best way to approach a situation.
3) Lead with empathy
Informal leaders can be creative about building unity in their team, leading by example and encouraging others to support each other rather than competing for promotion. This can be done through casual chats, getting to know your colleagues better so that you understand them better too—everyone is different!
4) Stay focused
To be an effective informal leader, you need to stay focused on your goals and objectives. This means setting priorities and making decisions that will benefit the team. You also need to be consistent with your actions and lead by example. If you start making exceptions or wavering in your commitment, people will lose trust in you.
5) Act as an informal leader outside of work
Make sure your actions show people what being a great partner/parent/friend looks like, too—this can also help you be an excellent informal leader in the office. For example, if you’re finding it challenging to juggle your work and personal lives, being organized so that you have time for both is something to think about.
Related: 5 Levels of Leadership
Undoubtedly, an informal leader may have more sway over organizational members than formal leaders. However, you can still be an informal leader. The key is to develop trust and mutual respect relationships and give freedom to maintain employees’ mental health.
By being helpful and supportive, listening more than you talk, and exhibiting integrity and character, you can become known as someone people want to follow. And that can be a very powerful position to hold.
Related: Contingency Theory