Who are they: Informal leaders are those involved in leadership even though they have no official authority. For example, they do not hold official positions in company management. However, they have some power to influence those around them.
Examples of informal leaders are wise, proficient in certain fields, and have interpersonal qualities. Coworkers often come to them for advice, opinions, or to discuss problems at work or even personal problems.
Informal leaders may not intend to be leaders for coworkers. However, coworkers view them as having a strong reputation and credibility. Thus, they deem it worthy of listening to and following them. In other words, informal leadership comes from recognition and respect from coworkers.
Then, unlike formal leaders, informal leaders have no formal rules to follow. They also do not force coworkers to obey. That’s because they don’t hold official positions within the company. Despite this, they can still influence those around them. Their actions and words have a huge impact on coworkers. And coworkers follow them voluntarily.
Because they strongly influence the work environment, management often approaches formal leaders, for example, to communicate new policies or company visions. Such an approach is often more effective at increasing acceptance among employees.
Why are informal leaders important?
Formal leaders are important for several reasons. First, they have a strong influence on their coworkers. So, for example, they don’t agree with the company’s new policies. It will affect their coworkers and increase resistance to the policy. Vice versa, when they agree with the policy, colleagues will follow without much reason.
For this reason, management often approaches formal leaders in the workplace when launching new rules, policies, visions, or other changes. This method is considered more effective for successful change and reduces employee resistance.
Encouragement by informal leaders not only reduces resistance among employees. But, it is also the key to influencing other employees to be the key to encourage consensus and increasing employee commitment.
Second, leaders can act as mediators when conflicts in the workplace arise. Because of trust, those in conflict obey every decision or suggestion from the leader. Finally, it defuses the conflict before it gets any worse.
Third, the formal leader becomes the spokesperson for coworkers. Coworkers may not have the confidence to, for example, speak directly to management about certain issues such as a raise or career path. And in this case, they act as spokespersons.
What is the difference between formal and informal leaders?
The difference between formal leaders and informal leaders can be seen in several aspects.
Formal leaders come from official appointments. For example, shareholders appoint directors to operate the company. Likewise, the company appoints an employee to occupy the position of manager.
- Informal leaders are recognized by those around them. Even if there are no official appointments, they can influence coworkers. And coworkers voluntarily follow them because they have a strong trust in them.
Formal leaders have the authority and power to govern and expect obedience from others as long as they are in the chain of command and are in lower positions. They can order subordinates to do what they decide.
- Informal leaders do not have authority and power over others, although they have influence. Thus, they cannot command or expect others to comply with their decisions.
Formal leaders have extensive influence and networks. But, it is tiered. Higher levels have higher authority and, therefore, wider influence.
The top managers have the strongest authority. They are at the top of the organizational chart. They hold the highest positions in the organization. And they have the ultimate power to make decisions. Meanwhile, those in lower positions have weaker authority. As a result, those in higher positions can command and expect obedience from those in lower positions, but not the other way around.
- Informal leadership does not involve hierarchies. While it is true that leaders can develop networks with people at various levels, it is often those who are at the same level.
Formal leaders can develop informal networks with people outside their chain of command. But, it may be less flexible, for example, due to company rules.
- Informal leaders cannot develop formal networks within the organization unless they are appointed by management. However, they can develop a wide informal network without being bound by company rules.
Formal leaders work to achieve organizational goals. They influence people to work hard to achieve those goals.
- Informal leaders seek to achieve common goals with those around them, which may go against what management wants. Say, they, together with coworkers, may protest to management to voice their interests because they think the company’s new policies are detrimental to employees.
An authoritarian style can thrive under formal leadership. Leaders make decisions based on their judgment with little or no input from subordinates.
- An authoritarian style is almost impossible or difficult to develop in informal leadership. Instead, the leader puts forward a democratic style. They often invite members to contribute to the decision-making process. Leaders solicit their input and encourage them to ask questions. Finally, they feel involved in the decision, encouraging them to voluntarily comply with the decision even though it is not mandatory.
How to become an informal leader?
Formal leaders have strong personal qualities, which motivate others to trust and follow them. What are these qualities, four of which are:
- Good at building interpersonal relationships
- Competent in their field
- Problem solver
- Helping selflessly
Good at building interpersonal relationships. Informal leaders can be good friends with people from various backgrounds and positions. Proficiency in communication becomes a reinforcing factor for them to build networks.
Competent in their field. They build credibility, for one thing, from what they have. And in this case, for example, is the expertise in their work area. Thus, coworkers may often ask for their opinion on a problem at work. Besides being important for building credibility, their competence also accelerates their career in the formal path.
Problem solver. Formal leaders like to help solve other people’s problems. They build networks and credibility through it. They employ their expertise and knowledge to provide input to others. When their help is successful, they earn the trust of others. These qualities are usually also supported by creativity and thinking outside the box.
Helping selflessly. Informal leaders may prioritize shared goals over personal goals. They make decisions by involving members because these decisions concern their interests. Helping selflessly makes them trusted by members.
On the other hand, formal leaders make decisions in their favor, which is to gain power. They influence and force others to perform their orders and decisions for superior performance. So, when successful, they can occupy a higher position.
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