Informal Leadership: Steps to Becoming an Informal Leader

Updated July 7, 2023

Even if you're an entry-level employee or have an individual contributor role in the workplace, you can still exhibit leadership in your position. Employers appreciate employees who show leadership, as this trait can help employees increase productivity, reduce work-related mistakes and improve overall communication. Understanding what informal leadership is can help you perform your job better and experience greater success in the workplace.

In this article, we define informal leadership, look at the traits of an informal leader, discover why informal leaders are important and provide steps on how to become one at work.

What is informal leadership?

Informal leadership refers to an individual's ability to influence other employees positively because of their reputation and credibility in the workplace. Employees within an organization view informal leaders as worthy of following. While informal leaders don't hold a position of power within their organization and don't dictate who follows them, they can still affect the actions and thoughts of those around them.

Their ability to lead depends on the level of respect, confidence and trust others in the workplace see in them. Their ability to maintain influence comes from them helping their peers reach their goals and satisfy their needs. Note that individuals who participate in informal leadership don't have specific managerial duties as part of their formal job descriptions. They still lead with intention, as they strive to optimize organizational processes and create a productive work environment, but they don't have the obligations that formal leaders have.

Related: How To Become a Strong Leader in 10 Steps

Traits of an informal leader

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

  • A giving nature: Informal leaders offer their assistance without ulterior motives. They recognize what an organization needs and complete the relevant tasks even if they don't receive a direct benefit or incentive.

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

  • A strong ability to build relationships: Instead of only interacting with a small group of people, informal leaders get to know many people within their place of employment. Making friends and building rapport with different people helps them build trust and loyalty among their peers, which can help them gain their respect.

  • A capacity to listen to others: Informal leaders often listen to all viewpoints before making impactful decisions. This shows their peers that they care about everyone who the decision affects instead of just their own interests.

Related: 20 Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader (With Tips)

Why are informal leaders important?

Informal leaders provide many benefits to a company's organization and its employees, no matter the industry. Informal leaders typically have a group of people they informally influence or affect within their organization. Their influence gives them the ability to make a positive impact from which the company can benefit. 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.

If you learn to develop informal leadership skills, you can become an asset to your organization by helping others become better at their jobs. Also, showing your informal leadership skills may influence your employer's decision to promote you to a formal leadership position within a company. You may spend the first couple of years of your professional career in an entry-level position. If you show initiative and natural leadership abilities while still recognizing current authority figures, you may qualify for a future managerial, supervisory or executive position.

Related: Advancing Your Career With Leadership Development

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How to become an informal leader

While becoming an informal leader takes time, following certain steps can help you develop your skills as a respected leader 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 can boost your credibility so other employees can understand the value of listening to what you have to say. 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.

Related: 17 Ways To Build a Reputation

2. Assess your strengths

Spend time evaluating your strengths as an informal leader and choose a few for focused improvement. 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 improve your reputation steadily as an informal leader without overwhelming yourself.

Related: 10 Key Strengths To Develop for Career Advancement

3. Make friends

While it's important to know about your employer's policies and practices, 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 place of employment. 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, and building broad-based relationships can give you more opportunities to exhibit informal leadership and impress others.

Related: 14 Ways To Make Friends at Work (And To Do So Professionally)

4. Give and receive help

If you're always willing to help a colleague, they may be more willing to help you in return. Reach out to your colleagues to see if they need help. Doing this can create a more collaborative environment, and you can contribute to increased productivity in the workplace all while gaining their approval.

Related: How To Ask for Feedback at the Workplace in 7 Steps

5. Stay humble

Instead of reflecting on your talents or accomplishments, consider the work you want to complete. Whether you're discussing your daily tasks or your latest large-scale projects, show your humility. Commit to advancing the greater good of the company instead of concerning yourself with your own achievements. You can also seek advice and ideas from others and request feedback about ideas of your own. This can show that you care about others' input and ensure everyone feels like they can contribute to the organization.

Related: Humility in the Workplace and the Benefits It Brings

6. Credit your fellow employees

Instead of recognizing every success as your own, give credit accordingly. Portray every success as a team success rather than one you accomplished on your own. This shows respect for your colleagues and helps them appreciate you.

Related: How To Gain Respect at Every Stage of Your Career: 100 Ways

7. Continue learning

As an informal leader, it's important to continue your personal development. Learn new things each day, whether it's from your colleagues, your supervisor or your general experience in the workplace. You can also sign up for a college class or a certification course to develop a specific skill. When you commit to learning and apply what you learn in your role successfully, you can lead by example.

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