They may fly under the radar, but these people have knowledge, influence, skills, and power that you should be seeking to harness. It’s a classic win-win.
Look around your organization. You are likely to observe people who self-identify as agents of positive change, but they may not see themselves as leaders. It is important to identify those individuals who have leadership potential and help them grow and thrive.
This requires seeking out those people who may not have management or supervisory titles but who are informal leaders. These individuals are seen by others as experts, and they have knowledge to share. They have strong social skills, and they inspire others to go along with them. They have internal qualities that others respect and admire. These are the people you go to when you want to find out what is really happening.
There are various ways to identify these informal leaders:
- You may notice them when you walk around the organization. They may have people clustered at their desk or station, or you may see people going to them with questions.
- They volunteer for special projects and activities or extra work; and/or they seek out lots of training and education.
- They are the ones who read and respond to memos or surveys.
- They know everyone—not just their names but information about them as individuals.
- When these people are around, others seem happy; they’re a positive influence.
- Others often come to these individuals for help. They are natural teachers.
- They come to meetings prepared; they ask questions and listen to others.
Grooming or nurturing informal leaders should start by determining each person’s leadership goals and desires. Not everyone wants to be a manager or supervisor. If someone wants to move up the ladder, consider giving them additional responsibilities over time and tracking their progress. Connecting promising leaders with formal mentors also can help them develop gradually.
Another possibility is to put the person in a new position temporarily. If an employee tries a new role and doesn’t like it, let them go back to their previous job. If they have leadership aspirations but are struggling in their new role, try to provide the additional training they need to succeed. Whatever you do, you don’t want to lose a good employee because that individual can’t handle or doesn’t want a formal leadership role.
Of course, everyone can’t be a manager or supervisor; so don’t underestimate the value of informal leaders who are happy in their current job. These employees:
- Can help encourage others to embrace new ideas.
- Model loyalty internally and are great recruiters externally.
- Are good mentors for new employees.
- Can help take the “temperature” of your organization from day to day.
- Can help identify employees who are struggling and need help.
Whether your informal leaders move up the ladder or stay where they are, they are powerful allies in your organization; and it’s important to identify and nurture them according to their individual needs, talents, and desires.