A Path to Leadership: Informal to Formal

A Path to LeadershipDo you lack a formal leadership title in your organization? Is someone who’s not going anywhere standing between you and a vice-president or director position? Are you frustrated with the limitations of your current role?

Don’t let these obstacles stop you from being a leader! I’ve got good news for you: even if you don’t occupy a formally defined leadership role in your organization, you can still lead. An informal leader can be just as (if not more) effective than an “official” leader. An informal leadership role is definitely within your grasp—and can pave the way to more formally defined opportunities within the organization.

What Is an Informal Leader?

You’re probably most familiar with the formal leadership roles that are clearly spelled out in a company’s organizational charts. People are assigned to these roles based on their positions within a group. Formal leaders have the job of organizing and directing group members to meet the goals of the organization or team.

On the other hand, informal leaders are people whose peers (or other colleagues in the organization) regard them as worth paying attention to or following. Informal leaders don’t hold defined or formal positions of power or authority over those who choose to follow them. In fact, they often fall unintentionally into leadership roles without actively striving for them.

But what if you want to be an informal leader? Can cultivating your informal leadership skills help you attain formal leadership status? The short answer is yes!

When I conduct workshops on informal leadership, I first ask the participants to list the traits that define an informal leader. They typically respond with “passionate,” “inspirational,” “persistent,” “forward-thinking,” and “charismatic”—to name just a few of the many characteristics they list.

These traits are found among both formal leaders and informal leaders, along with a healthy dose of self-awareness. To be a good leader, you must fully understand how you truly measure up in each of these traits—and you must not overestimate your abilities. Your coworkers will surely see through any unsupported bravado and opt not to follow you.

Leaders of all stripes exhibit these seven core competencies. Take a look at this list and see if (and how) these traits apply to you:

1) Visionary

  • Create a clear picture of what must be accomplished
  • Translate goals into clear expectations for yourself and for those you work with
  • Seek input on goals and company vision to gain broad support throughout the organization

2) Inspirational

  • Communicate in an exciting, compelling way what needs to be done
  • Rally support and enthusiasm from your fellow employees for your ideas and company goals
  • Promote open, honest communication in all directions
  • Identify and overcome barriers to open communication and trust beyond your day-to-day responsibilities

3) Strategic

  • Balance short-term and long-term opportunities (and threats) by assessing situations, risks, costs, and benefits
  • Think imaginatively and intuitively—and grasp new ideas quickly
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your department, then develop creative solutions to overcome problems

4) Tactical

  • Get stuff done!
  • See projects through to their successful completion through extraordinary commitment and unflagging focus on the bottom line
  • Possess superior knowledge about what it takes to succeed (and how external forces can affect that success)
  • Review and assess all the variables to define key issues and options for solving problems
  • Encourage and leverage the experience, expertise, and work of others without fear or hesitation

5) Persuasive

  • PersuasiveOvercome resistance to new ideas and convey the necessity for constructive change and disruption
  • Use logic, reason, emotion, and the force of your conviction to bring others to your point of view
  • Show creativity and innovation in presenting ideas
  • Hone interpersonal skills to promote teamwork
  • Ensure that ideas are well-rounded and thought out before presenting them

6) Decisive

  • Make the right decisions quickly (but not rashly) without waiting for every single piece of information to come in
  • Formulate bold strategic plans
  • Understand the big picture and how you can affect it
  • Identify trends while maintaining a grounding in reality

7) Ethical

  • Feel comfortable admitting “I don’t know” instead of claiming knowledge or skills you don’t actually have
  • Set challenging goals and high standards for yourself and others—and hold everyone accountable
  • Demonstrate and uphold values and principals that create a climate of trust and integrity
  • Speak the truth, even in the unknown

Once you’ve used this list to identify your strengths and shortcomings, you’re ready for the next step: play your strengths and mitigate your shortcomings. In other words, work with what you have—and work to get what you don’t have yet.

So rather than bemoan the absence of a formal leadership title in your current position, think long term. If you take the right approach, you can transform yourself into an informal leader. And by demonstrating your capabilities in that role, you’ll achieve recognition from your colleagues and be well on your way to a formal leadership position!

Tune in next blog for secrets to a successful path change.

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