Using the Strategy of Informal Leadership


Do you have informal leaders in your organization?  Someone that can either pull a team together or tear it apart?  You probably already know who it is–the one employee who can persuade and influence your staff, department, or organization because of their knowledge, charisma, and/or strong personality.  It doesn’t matter what your decision is, the team will wait for this informal leader’s response before deciding whether they will support or oppose your direction.  If you think these informal leaders don’t exist within your organization, then you are either the only person working there or you need to take a closer look.

The informal leaders, those who possess great influence over your staff even though they don’t hold formal executive leadership or management positions, appear in every organization.  Whether we are discussing a corporation, school, office, sports team, or church, these informal leaders are everywhere.  So why do many formal leaders choose to fight these unacknowledged opinion-makers rather than harness their influence to work in the best strategic interests of the organization?

Strategic thinking is a tool for moving your organization forward.  An important thing to consider when thinking strategically, is to look at your organization to identify the key players that either help get things done or influence things to not get done.  This includes those that your staff follows, respects, and listens to among their own ranks.    Are all of these key players on your side?  Is everyone moving in the same direction?  Is there someone in the background affecting the implementation of your new system?

Several years ago, I had a client that owned a Fortune 500 collection agency.  The staff consisted of collectors, lead collectors, supervisors, and managers.  The supervisors and managers were fairly new to their roles and, although they were accomplished collectors, they didn’t know how to get the team from A to Z to reach monthly revenue goals.  Collectors were paid hourly and relied on their commissions to make the majority of their income; however, money is not always a sufficient motivator if the work environment does not satisfy employees’ needs.

After assessing this organization, I was able to identify two informal leaders that did not work well together.  These two were creating mass chaos in the call center as a side effect of their interpersonal conflict.  Both employees were excellent collectors, consistently met their individual goals, and contributed significantly to their team’s goals, so they were valuable to the organization.  But their animosity was causing significant dissatisfaction and tension among their co-workers, who had effectively gravitated into two opposing groups.

Having recognized the problem, upper management was able to implement a plan of action to create a synergy between the two informal leaders and further develop and mentor the formal leaders.  This resulted in a work environment with low turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and better trained managers.  In the end, this group exceeded the financial expectations established in their strategic goals.