What’s it mean to be an “informal leader”?

Yesterday I came across an article in Strategy and Business called “How to Find and Engage Authentic Informal Leaders.”

It sucked me in right away because I’m all about honing my leadership chops — whether I’m serving as an instructor, a teammate, a 30-something seeking to network, or just a part of society.  I find, however, that I’m most comfortable thinking of myself as a leader in one realm: the classroom.

It makes sense, right? I’m “qualified” to be at the “head” of the class, as the instructor, so I am a leader there.  That makes me a “formal” leader.

In my 9-5 job (writing/editing, not teaching), I think of myself as an informal leader, because I do have opportunities to take the lead and direct projects there. But not on the level I see in the classroom, and perhaps not at the level I think I’m capable of.

So all of this got me thinking. Is “informal” leadership something we (as informal leaders) set for ourselves, or are we deemed informal by the constraints and context of the situation?

Reid Carpenter, the author, defines “authentic informal leaders” as people who “possess and exhibit certain leadership strengths such as the ability to do something important well and showing others how to do it (exemplars), or they demonstrate the skill of connecting people across the organization (networkers).”

She goes one to list four points that can help formal leaders work with and capitalize on the strengths of their informal leaders.

I’ll let you read the article, but the one that stood out to me was point No. 2.

Informal leaders …”behave as their authentic selves. Doing so makes them incredibly attractive to others and, accordingly, an important source of influence. But it also means they won’t simply take your talking points and repeat them as gospel. While you can provide AILs with information, they need to — and will — tell the story in their own words.”

This stood out to me because that is a statement I can proudly see as a truth I live up to… and perhaps is the reason I don’t have a formal leadership title in an conventional work space. But I’m OK with that. My students appreciate my “informal” attitude there, and so even when I am leading in some small way, I’ve still found a way to be authentic and push others to find their own path for growth. And to me, that’s what ie means to be a leader — informal or otherwise.

How about you? What kind of informal leadership role do you hold?



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