Informal Leadership: Definition and How To Become an Informal Leader

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 18, 2021 | Published January 22, 2021

Updated March 18, 2021

Published January 22, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

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Even if you don't have a position of authority at your workplace, you still have the opportunity to earn your designation as an informal leader. Understanding what an informal leader is, their importance and how to become an informal leader can help you become a more respected individual in your workplace. In this article, we define informal leadership, list the traits of an informal leader, explain their importance and provide you with the steps for becoming an informal leader.

Related: How To Be a Leader

What is informal leadership?

Informal leadership refers to an individual's ability to be perceived as a leader because of their reputation, credibility and influence in the workplace. Individuals within an organization view informal leaders as worthy of following or listening to. While informal leaders don't hold a position of power within their organization and don't control who follows them, they can still influence those around them. Their ability to lead is based on the level of respect, confidence and trust others in the workplace place on them. Their ability to wield influence comes from them helping their peers reach their goals and satisfying their needs.

Keep in mind that unlike formal leadership roles within an organization, informal leaders aren't trying to lead with intention. While formal leaders have important positions within their organization, informal leaders don't have to follow certain rules. Despite this, individuals recognize them as leaders within the workplace.

Traits of an informal leader

Typically, informal leaders have a certain set of traits that help them earn this title. Knowing these traits and focusing on them throughout your workday can increase your chances of receiving this designation in the future. Keep in mind that informal leaders develop these traits over time. Here are some common traits of an informal leader:

  • Giving nature: Informal leaders offer their assistance without an ulterior motive. They recognize what needs to be done and do it — even if it comes with no benefit to them. In other words, they're not looking to gain anything from the help they offer.

  • Deep understanding of the company: Informal leaders know the company's policies, its goals, its culture, its history and its leaders. Having this knowledge allows them to share it with others.

  • Good at building relationships: Rather than only interacting with a small group of people, informal leaders get to know many people within their organization. Making friends and building rapport with different people helps them build trust and loyalty among their peers. This trust and loyalty then lead to respect.

  • Active listeners: Informal leaders often listen to all viewpoints before deciding on the workplace. This shows their peers that they care about everyone involved and not just their own interests.

Related: 15 Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Why are informal leaders important?

Informal leaders provide many benefits to a company's organization and its employees, no matter the industry they work in. Informal leaders typically have a group of people they informally influence or control within their organization. Their influence gives them the ability to make a positive impact the company can benefit from. For example, if they influence their peers to work harder, they can improve their productivity which can then help the company achieve its goals at a quicker pace. In other words, they have the ability to increase the efficiency of all the groups they lead.

Therefore, when organizations recognize informal leaders, they can use them to their advantage. Also, showing your informal leadership skills may influence your employer's decision to promote you to a real leadership position within your company. If your employer or supervisor recognizes your leadership qualities, they may find you worthy of a formal leadership position within their organization.

Related: Advancing Your Career With Leadership Development

How to become an informal leader

While becoming an informal leader takes time, following a certain set of steps helps you achieve this designation with greater success. From developing your skills to collaborating with others, you have many opportunities to improve your traits as an informal leader. Use these steps to become an informal leader:

1. Improve your reputation

To become an informal leader, you need to boost your credibility so people find you worth listening to. While it takes time to build your reputation, your credibility can help boost your reputation. You can also improve your reputation by being accurate, being authentic, showcasing your problem-solving skills and building trust within your workplace relationships. Incorporating these traits into your daily activities can ultimately help improve how others perceive you.

2. Assess your strengths

Spend time evaluating your strengths as an informal leader. Make a list of these strengths and choose a few you want to improve on. For example, you can work on setting goals, taking responsibility or building your relationships. Assessing your strengths and focusing on a few at a time allows you to steadily improve your reputation as an informal leader without becoming overwhelmed.

3. Make friends

While it's important to know about your company's policies and deadlines, getting to know everyone personally can help you gain greater respect and admiration. Instead of only building relationships with people you work with closely, establish friendships with as many people as you can within your company. Intentionally making friends can help you develop more meaningful relationships as you receive information you can use to succeed and improve your status within the company.

It's also important to build a rapport with people whose support you need to complete a task and achieve a result. This can include both stakeholders and influencers. Therefore, knowing everyone within your organization can help you become a better informal leader.

4. Give and receive help

If you're always willing to help a colleague, they're apt to want to help you in return. Reach out to your colleagues to see if they need help. Doing this can create a more collaborative environment, can help increase productivity and help you gain their favor.

5. Stay humble

Instead of reflecting on your talents or accomplishments, focus on the work you need to complete. Whether you're discussing your latest work or your latest projects, show your humility. Make sure others know you're concerned with the greater good rather than your own achievements.

6. Ask for ideas and opinions

One way to show humility is to seek advice and ideas from others. You can also ask for feedback regarding your own ideas. This shows you don't believe you're above anyone else. Asking for feedback and asking good questions can make everyone feel involved, while also showing that you care.

7. Credit your colleagues

Instead of recognizing every success as your own, give credit where it's due. Sell every team success as a team success rather than one you accomplished on your own. This shows respect for your colleagues and helps them appreciate you.

8. Stay focused

Consider what you want to accomplish within the next year and the next five years. Knowing your short- and long-term goals can help you stay focused as you work your way toward becoming an informal leader.

9. Continue learning

As an informal leader, it's important to continue your personal development. Continue to learn new things each day, whether it's from your colleagues, supervisor or your experience in the workplace. Continuing to learn ensures your personal and professional development.

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