Who is a valuable employee at your organization? Any good list will include informal leaders, because even though these colleagues lead without a title, they are more vital than ever before. In our data-hungry workplaces, managers have to get more done with less.
They are asked to be agile, respond to global movements and increase productivity. But we also know managers can be roadblocks to moving forward due to their workload and clunky corporate management.
Enter the informal leaders who have a wide sphere of influence, aren’t afraid to share knowledge and are able to build deep networks in all levels of the organization.
With a rapidly changing workplace and more than 70% of organizations undergoing digital transformation, it’s clear that change is going to be present for some time. We need people who can flex with the twists and turns of a morphing global economy. Informal leaders excel at this skill, and we should do more to support and encourage them.
Here’s how to sidestep tedious hierarchies and support informal leaders in your organization.
Tip #1: Offer learning opportunities
Employees crave training and career mobility, but our organizations aren’t very good at giving them those opportunities.
In the war for talent, it’s imperative that we offer employees opportunities to learn. They know that skill building, re-skilling and career planning are mindset shifts professionals must take if they are to remain competitive.
Companies, too, must consider how appealing their learning and performance management programs are to prospective employees. If your organization competes with a commitment to growing its people, there’s no limit to where they can go with recruiting and development.
Consider your talent management technology platform (if you have one). Informal leaders can share their expertise with a wider audience with online Q&As, webinars, video messages and virtual classes. By allowing wider dissemination of their knowledge, informal leaders can grow their influence while furthering business goals at the same time.
Tip #2: Encourage exploration
Self-discovery is a treasure, and something we could all do more of during our workday. Enable self-learning by making sure that informal leaders can schedule blocks of time to pay attention to their own interests, goals and personal development.
Depending on the technology available, you may point them to additional skills development, internal job postings, thought leadership articles and mentoring opportunities.
Managers should help informal leaders know more about the “business” and forces that influence their particular industry. Since these folks are seldom involved in high-level decision making – or even the meetings where decisions are made – it is helpful to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges, opportunities and global drivers the business faces.
Assist informal leaders by connecting the dots between the organization’s high-level goals and how they dovetail into their personal goals.
Tip #3: Help build leadership skills with frequent feedback
Your informal leaders may be operating in a bit of a vacuum as they move between groups and expand their circle of influence. The Human Capital Institute found that less than 50% of employees know what is expected of them at work. And busy managers who have their hands full may not stop and consider that these valuable employees need coaching and feedback.
HR expert and speaker Susan Mazza says that taking on leadership roles without authority is the “best training ground for developing … leadership skills.” Why? “Because authority can actually mask whether you are leading through the power of your authority or through your influence. Without direct authority over others, you must learn to influence others if you want to succeed,” Susan notes.
Receiving feedback from others on how we perform is one of the best ways to develop leadership skills. With feedback, informal leaders can enjoy increased responsibility and exposure in the organization.
Of course, the manager is the first stop on the road to feedback, but seeking out others, including peers, executives and even customers for feedback can be enlightening.
Informal leaders need your support
Our workplaces flourish with the help of informal leaders who influence others, even as they lack a title. Offering these valuable employees more support and encouragement matters as we all struggle to compete in the war for talent.
By offering informal leaders learning opportunities, encouraging exploration and building their leadership skills through authentic feedback, organizations signal to all employees that development matters. Here’s to the informal leaders: may they always learn, develop and help take our organizations into the future.