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Informal Leadership: Definition & Explanation

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Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Employees who influence their co-workers regardless of their position within an organization are informal leaders. Explore a definition and explanation of informal leadership and learn more about it through an example. Updated: 09/14/2021

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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  • 0:01 What Is Informal Leadership?
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