Informal leaders make a difference

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Are you taking advantage of the leadership opportunities in front of you? Do you pick up the ball and run with it when it comes to taking care of issues that impact your work center?

I'm talking about that individual who has no formal title or authority, but influences everyone around them. We've all seen this person. They're knowledgeable, trusted and respected due to their abilities and personality. They are the high performers within your unit. There are informal leaders, commanders, chiefs and supervisors can reap huge benefits from encouraging and supporting informal leadership as long as vision and goals are clearly understood.

When informal leaders work toward achieving the same goals and vision as leadership, it can be highly effective. These members can take a tremendous burden off the backs of leadership, freeing them to focus on larger strategic issues facing the organization.

Informal leaders have the unique ability to accomplish things formal leadership cannot, simply because they do not hold a position of designated authority. They can say things that a person in an official management role cannot. They can influence the team in different ways because they're perceived differently than formal leaders.

Take a sports team for example; imagine if the owner were to go down to the locker room after a poor team performance to criticize specific players and the whole team in general for not playing well.

How would this be perceived by the team? We cannot predict if this tactic would be successful in improving the performance, but we can assume the message will be received negatively by most players.

Imagine the same message being delivered by the informal leader of the team.

This person is seen as coming from a different motivation than the owner. The informal leader is also seen as a trusted and respected team member, but also a peer with no official authority over the team. This changes the way the message is received simply because of the difference in relationship of the messenger.

This difference gives the informal leader an opportunity to influence the team because the other players are seeing the commitment, the level of integrity and the performance level of the teammate. Many times people are equally inspired by informal leaders because they are peers and set the example of a committed, competent and hardworking teammate.

Not all informal leaders have intentionally worked toward this status. Many times they emerge simply because others in the unit have great respect for them, and they require mentoring and support from supervision to ensure their mission, vision and goals are in line with the organizations.

So, take a look around your unit and find those members that are stepping up to make improvements and taking time to pick up the ball and run with it. These are the members the team goes to when they don't want to talk to the "boss" about an issue.

If you're that "take charge" person who wants to make a difference, recognize it and apply your talents.

If you're a supervisor, find your informal leaders and mentor them, because they're going to be our formal leaders of the future.