Becoming an Extraordinary Informal Leader
What is an informal leader? Whether you think leaders are born or made, we all are leaders and can develop leadership skills throughout our career lifecycles. Being in a position of authority has nothing to do with being a leader. I was an informal leader and in fact, only held a management position for 1-1/2 years of my 27-year Federal Government career.
Why would anyone choose to follow me, when someone else within the organization was responsible for managing their performance? To best answer that question, we first need to define the term “informal leader.”
An informal leader is an individual within an organization who is worth listening to because of their perceived experience and reputation among peers. They influence the decisions of others, although they hold no formal position of authority and have no power over those who choose to follow their lead.
I built my informal leadership skills over time, and so can you. Informal leadership is all about credibility and influence that can be developed over time. I was able to successfully lead department- and agency-wide workgroups, teams, and task forces without an official position of authority using informal leadership skills.
Boost Your Reputation
It starts with being seen as credible – the reason people consider you to be worth listening to. Please take a moment to write a list of words that you associate with the word “credible.”
Seriously, do it now before reading any further.
Here are a few that pop into my mind: accurate, authentic, solution-focused, results-driven, trustworthy, creative, ethical, innovative, and knowledgeable. Did any of those words appear on your list?
It takes time – but you can build credibility – which, in turn, fuels your reputation by focusing on these five essentials:
- Be accurate. Ensure that your emails, memos, presentations, etc., are error-free and based on facts and data.
- Be authentic and willing to learn. When you appear to be a ‘know-it-all,’ you are sure to lose credibility. No one knows everything, so at some point, you’re bound to be wrong. If you present yourself as a person who is always willing to learn (because you know that you don’t know everything), you will walk with authenticity.
- Focus on solutions to problems. Informal leaders are problem solvers. They are great at uncovering problems and at seeking solutions to address them.
- Demonstrate creativity and innovation. A typical problem solver considers the use of existing resources. A creative and innovative problem solver thinks about ideas, concepts, and resources that may not currently exist. They think ‘outside the box.’
- Establish collaborative relationships built on trust. Ensure that you are building reciprocal relationships that work toward a shared goal. People have to believe what you say, and your actions have to be aligned with your message.
Incorporating the above five essentials into your day-to-day activities will boost your reputation and your competence as an informal leader. In addition, it will help you create a roadmap that intentionally broadens your informal leadership capacity.
Start from Where You Are
The first step is to assess your informal leadership strengths and areas for improvement. Below are ten competencies from Kevin Eikenberry’s book, Remarkable Leadership that you need to master to be a more effective informal leader. Assess your strengths in each of these areas and choose two to enhance. Once you’ve identified your strengths, assess areas for improvement, and choose three to develop.
- Learning Continually
- Champion Change
- Communicate Powerfully
- Build Relationships
- Set Goals and Support Goal Setting
- Value Collaboration and Teamwork
- Influence with Impact
- Think and Act Innovatively
- Develop Others
- Solve Problems and Make Decisions
- Take Responsibly/Accountability
- Focus on Customers
To avoid being overwhelmed, focus on no more than five list items at a time.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Now that you have your two strengths and three areas for improvement think about where you see yourself in in the next year, and the next five years. Write your short-term and long-term goals to keep you grounded as you build your competencies as an informal leader. When you have goals, you can stay focused.
By setting goals for yourself, you will become a better informal leader. It’s one of the competencies.
Do Your Math
You need to do more than develop your competencies to become an extraordinary informal leader. You will always need other people to help you as you grow during the career lifecycle. Here’s an equation to help you get to where you need to be as an extraordinary informal leader.
An Extraordinary Informal Leader
5 = 2+1+1
Let’s Break it Down:
- 5 – This is where creating a sound plan in place to enhance your two strengths and develop your areas of improvement. You need to identify specific experiential, relationship, and instructional activities that you enable you to grow continuously.
- 2 – You need at least two mentors to help you stay balanced during your career journey. You will experience difficulties and times when things are rolling along as planned. Your mentors help you to navigate challenges and celebrate successes.
- 1 – You need at least one coach. Your coach will push you to close your skill gaps and move you along when you plateau and will hold you accountable for achieving your goals and focusing on your development.
- 1 – You need at least one connector who already has influence, credibility, and lots of experience in areas and positions where you aspire to be. Your connector will introduce you to people who can propel you to higher levels in your career.
Never Stop Learning
Last, but never least is to learn something new every day! You owe it to yourself to take charge of your development. Continual learning isn’t optional if you Don’t Want to Get Left Behind. Extraordinary informal and formal leaders are always learning!
Deadra Welcome is the Founder and CEO of Concerning Learning LLC. She is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP), Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM), and a Kirkpatrick Bronze Level Certification credential holder.