People who are not in formal leadership position often underestimate their potential to create change. Yet, informal leaders are very powerful.  Formal leaders are more effective when they have both formal and informal sources of influence.

The power is in their relationships

“Internal networkers, or community builders, are the “seed carriers” of the new culture, who can move freely about the organization to find those who are predisposed to bringing about change, help out in organizational experiments, and aid in the diffusion of new learnings.”1

Peter M. Senge, director of the Center for Organizational Learning at MIT’s Sloan School of Management

Tips for making positive connections:

 

  • Ask for help.

    • A personal introduction helps. If you’re a first-timer at an event and nervous, ask the host or an influential contact to introduce you to others. Most people will gladly introduce you.

  • Give a sincere compliment.

      • Everyone is happy to receive a compliment, Think of an accomplishment or attribute about the person you genuently admire or feel positively about. Consider what you know about social position – conveying respect is important to people belonging to undervalued categories.  Avoid stereotypical compliments or physical attributes.

  • Share opportunities.

      • When you start a conversation, ask industry-specific questions. Invite the person to share their opinion and then communicate your perspective. Offer to connect them to others.

  •  Listen

      • Focus on learning about the other person.  Listen to what they have to say.  Ask questions – learn their story. You could say something like, “Who is a special person in your life who influenced who you are today?” It’s a personal question and will help others to open up.

  • Learn to tell a story. 

      • We connect best through stories so learn how to tell yours.

But what if I am not very social? 

We get it!  It can be hard to get out there and connect with people. You don’t necessarily need to have a large network yourself – but you WILL need to develop relationships with others who do. Look for people who are generally respected and whose opinions matter to others.

10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation (TED Talk by Celeste Headlee)

Further readings

Informal Leadership Status and Individual Performance: The Roles of Political Skill and Political Will. Brooke A. Shaughnessy1, Darren C. Treadway2, Jacob W. Breland3,
and Pamela L. Perrewé. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 2017, Vol. 24(1) 83– 94

A Grounded Theory Exploration of Informal Leadership Qualities as Perceived by Employees and Managers in Small Organizations. Elizabeth Stincelli, D.M. et al | International Journal of Business Management and Economic Research(IJBMER), Vol 5(1),2014, 1- 8

“The Network Secrets of Great Change Agents” Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro tracked 68 change initiatives in the UK’s National Health Service(a very large, complex and traditional organization) to find out what factors predicted success.  They did discover several predictors of success.  All of them emphasized the importance of social networks – networks of personal relationships.

 

  1. Leading Learning Organizations: The Bold, the Powerful, and the Invisible, in Goldsmith and F. Hesselbein, Eds. The Leader of the Future 2: Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the New Era, Jossey-Bass, 1996
Definitions
What is an Informal Leader?
Informal leadership is basically any type of leadership that is not based upon formal authority.
Formal leaders influence people in an organization through formal authority conferred by the organization through its rules and procedure, Depending on their relationships, formal leaders can also exert informal power. Informal leaders do not have formal organizational authority to lead. Nevertheless, informal leaders do influence members of an organization and can be even more effective than formal leaders.