Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Informal leader

Informal leaders within an organization are in general the individuals considered worth of credibility by their peers and who are followed by these by virtue of the way these are actually perceived.

An informal leader has no formal authority over colleagues and his power to influence others simply rests on his capability to inspire the other individuals respect, confidence and trust. A leader is indeed supposed to lead naturally and not because this is trying intentionally, or even making some particular efforts, to do so.

How can organisations benefit from informal leaders
Informal leaders can indeed effectually contribute to the success of an organization and of its formal leaders. They can, for instance, help managers to achieve their objectives and lighten the workload associated with their position considerably. Acting in a different way compared to a formal leader they can, for instance, say things that a formal leaders for different reasons cannot or that whether said by a formal leader might produce a different outcome. Whether, for example, is an informal leader who says a colleague that he has made a mistake, the effects would be different than that produced by this activity being performed directly by the formal leader. An employee is likely to be more willing to accept a remark from a colleague he appreciates and trusts, rather than from a manager who acts on the basis of his formal authority and makes decisions on his pay and career prospects.

Informal leaders have the innate capabilities to influence in different ways the people who establish and maintain relationships with them and this is actually why they are essentially perceived differently.


Individuals recognized as informal leaders do not habitually intentionally assume this role; they just "emerge" simply because others have and show great respect for them.

Whilst informal leaders can definitely reveal to be important employers allies for the attainment of the organizational success, these can also turn to be particularly harmful to this extent in the event these should pull in the opposite direction set by the formal leaders.

Albeit it may seem that promoting informal leaders to formal positions could be a good move, in practice giving formal authority to these individuals might in some cases be the cause for informal leaders abruptly becoming ineffective leaders. This may happen because the formal authority they receive may alter the quality of the relationships these have built and developed over time with their peers.

Care needs invariably to be taken when trying to harness the power of informal leaders. Informal leaders clearly derive their influence from the perception that the other employees have of them as individuals completely independent of the management power and influence, for their integrity and for standing up for what they believe in. These employee convictions are actually developed on the basis of the practical behaviour exhibited by informal leaders over time. Whether formal leaders should try and manipulate informal leaders, the risk is that these would rebel or "stand against" the formal leaders. Attempting to coerce or put under pressure an informal leader may thus have severe backlashes and has to be invariably averted.

Longo, R., (2009), Informal leader, HR Professionals, [online].

Related article in this website
Can informal leaders help employers to develop and shape organizational culture?