Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.
What Is Informal Leadership?
Informal leadership is the ability of a person to influence the behavior of others by means other than formal authority conferred by the organization through its rules and procedures. Informal leadership is basically any type of leadership that is not based upon formal authority. Formal leaders are able to exert both informal and formal power, but no informal leader has formal organizational authority to lead. Nevertheless, informal leaders do influence members of an organization and can be even more effective than formal leaders in certain circumstances.
Informal leaders have several bases of power. They are able to use referent power; in other words, they lead by example. An informal leader can also use expert power: others seek them out for knowledge and skills no one else in the organization possesses. They can also use reward power where they may praise and recognize members of the organization for a job well done.
On the other hand, they can't use legitimate, or formal, power because their authority has not been formally sanctioned by the organization. Moreover, they cannot use coercive power much because effective use of coercive power tends to require that it be wielded by someone with legitimate authority to carry out the rewards or punishments sanctioned by the organization. One exception to this general rule may be the ability of an informal group leader to apply peer pressure to a misbehaving group member to conform to group norms by the threat of ostracism.
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Let's say that you are a senior member of a development team in the research and development division of a biotech company. You and your team are formally supervised by a young MBA hotshot who doesn't know an ionic bond from a covalent bond. While he has the power to oversee the team, and the team members follow his directions to the extent absolutely necessary, they do not look to him for leadership.
Instead, they turn to you. You have cultivated a team environment for years by encouraging and mentoring most of the members of the team. They look to you as a model and seek your help regarding knowledge and skills they do not possess, but you do, given your advanced education and decades of experience. You have demonstrated a high degree of informal leadership over the team.
Let's review. Informal leadership is the ability of a person to influence the behavior of others by means other than formal authority granted by the organization. There are several types of power that an informal leader can tap such as reward power, referent power, expert power and even coercive power in certain limited circumstances. In fact, it is possible for an informal leader to have a greater amount of influence over organizational members than its formal leaders.
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Informal Leadership: Definition & Explanation
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