Informal Leadership

As we start our careers it’s unlikely that our first job will be a leadership position, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot look to become informal leaders.

Being an Informal Leader is a key part of our growth and an important part of the leadership development process.

How do we become Informal Leaders?

Well, we achieve this is through the use of informal rather than formal authority, in order to lead people.

So what’s the difference between formal and informal authority, and why do I feel it is important.

Whenever someone is promoted to a Leadership position, there’s usually a formal level of authority that comes with the role.

So someone senior usually gives this authority, so it invariably comes from above.

This authority is associated with the position, e.g. in the Head of Architecture position, the role holder usually has authority over such things as the Architecture decisions, direction, and all of the staff within the Architecture team. They have the power and control over this area.

With informal authority, this is not something that comes from being nominated to a formal position.

The people within an organization usually bestow this authority, i.e. it comes from below rather than above.

Informal authority can be granted for any number of reasons: level of trust; level of expertise; personality; charisma; authenticity, or strength of character; etc.

With informal authority, the holder becomes an Informal Leader within an organization. They play a critical role in the effectiveness of the organization, as they may, at times, wield more power than the formal authorities.

So why do I feel mastering informal authority is important.

That’s because, if you wait until you become a leader before you to start to lead, or earn the respect of people, you may have a long wait before becoming a leader.

Showing leadership skills and traits, and mastering informal authority will increase your influence and help you improve your results, all of which will help you stand out.

I always remember a line from the movie Braveheart, when William Wallace talks Robert the Bruce about leadership.

Wallace says “Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don’t follow titles, they follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble, and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they’d follow you. And so would I”.

I agree with this statement, people don’t follow titles, they might do what they are told to do, but they are just following orders, and this is not the same as really following a leader.

With informal leadership people had a choice and they chose to follow you.

With formal leadership, it’s not really the same, and if given the choice, then the teams may choose not to follow you.

I would encourage anyone who wants to be a leader to focus on developing informal leadership skills, if you can do that, then you will show that, not only are you are ready to be a leader, but that people are ready to follow you.

This is why, wherever possible, I try to implement leadership training at all levels, so that people can start to learn leadership skills and put them into practice in their current roles, where no formal authority exists.

I am always wary of people who wait to be appointed to a leadership position before they start leading. I tend to see them as people who are more interested in power and authority, than actually leading.

In my experience, these types of leaders do not attract many followers.

Personally, I would only look to appoint Informal Leaders to Formal Leadership positions.

These people have already shown that they have what it takes to lead, they already have the respect of their peers, and they have experience of leading.

Gordon Tredgold