There are only so many spaces for people with official leadership titles, but there is infinite room for informal leaders to make an impact. Teammates look to informal leaders to learn team culture and how things work. They influence the team and are respected teammates.
If you don’t have an official leadership title and you want one, these upgrades could open those doors for you. Admittedly, not everyone wants an official leadership role. The demands, pressure or lack of freedom can keep people from seeking or pursuing those opportunities.
If you’re not seeking a formal leadership role, upgrading your informal leadership can make your current position more pleasant and exciting (and help your team along the way).
Here are three ways to upgrade your informal leadership:
1. Build your expertise. Beyond the motivation you get from improving your skills, building your expertise in your role allows you to expand your network and build strong professional relationships. Getting better at your current position can feel satisfying and make you the go-to person for new opportunities.
If you’ve maxed out your expertise in your role, build your knowledge of nearby roles or organizational processes. One way to develop your expertise is to seek out mentorship from peer experts. Your teammates have skills and perspectives you might be missing, and learning from them can be intellectually stimulating and build strong bonds.
2. Mentor teammates. Informal leaders can be excellent mentors. Build your mentorship capabilities by starting small. Work with a friend to hone your feedback skills by deciding on a specific topic for mentorship. For example: clearly stating ideas during the next staff meeting. After the meeting, share what your friend did well and offer ideas for improvements.
Make sure to coordinate with your mentee so they know what topics you will be mentoring on (perhaps you’ll mentor on one of your areas of expertise that you see your mentee needing), or you could come off as condescending or egotistical.
3. Take initiative. Informal leaders can see issues and take action to move toward solutions. The trick is to have the tact to take the initiative and make things easier for the team without causing disruptions that distract teammates from their goals.
Depending on your organizational culture, you may need to propose solutions to your direct supervisor first, or you may be in a situation where you can take the initiative to solve problems and notify the team and leadership later. Streamline a process or step up and resolve a conflict. Make sure your enterprise solves more problems than it creates! Informal leaders who solve problems are heroes to their teammates.
Informal leaders can be champions of team culture and sought-after problem-solvers. Working on your informal leadership skills is one way to inject enthusiasm into your work. Not sure of your first step? Look around your team and identify the informal leaders who have expertise, mentor, or take the initiative and use them as a model.
Who knows where informal leadership can take you.