9 Ways to Lead as an Informal Leader

By Jonathan Emmen

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

As informal leaders, there are times in our personal and professional careers when we need to lead people or projects, even though we’re not the boss.

This happens all the time. No one made Martin Luther King the boss. He just started to lead people, and they followed.

Informal Leadership

Here are a few tips to help you lead the way, even though no one ‘made’ you the boss:

1. Be Flexible

Being flexible is one of the great qualities of a leader. Things are not always going to go according to plan. Sometimes disasters happen. You need to roll with the punches and be able to adapt.

You’re not the boss, and usually, when things go wrong, people need a leader the most. This is a great way to be viewed as a leader without being the boss.

2. Don’t Judge

This is the hardest part. You can’t go around judging people and their work, as it’s not your place. You have to learn to guide them without judging. When you’re not the boss, you don’t get to wield the stick in the same way. You need to treat people like colleagues with a common goal.

3. Communication is Key

Learning to communicate with a group is fundamental to being a leader. When you’re not the boss, you can’t just hand instructions down. You need to communicate with people as their equals. It’s vital to offer constant feedback and, more importantly, to accept it.

4. Don’t Be a Pushover

If you’re not the boss, there’s always the chance that they’ll treat you differently than a boss. They may take liberties with you that they wouldn’t work with a boss. You can’t let them use you as a doormat.

You need to be firm when they try to push work back on you. This is where leadership really comes in handy. You want people to follow without pushback. Don’t let them tell you how to lead. Use their input, but realize ultimately, you’re the leader.

5. Take Responsibility

If you make a mistake, the people you’re trying to lead will know it. Trying to pretend like it didn’t happen or acting like you never make mistakes isn’t the right approach.

Taking responsibility is a staple of a great leader. If you’re not the boss, this is extra important. The people you’re trying to lead will respect you more if you take responsibility for your actions and are likely to keep following.

6. Be a Good Listener

All ideas are important. If you just try to ignore what the team is trying to say, they’ll even begin to question, “who made you the boss?” It means you’ve lost them. Solicit ideas. Make the team part of the solution.

It’s much easier to get buy-in as a leader if they feel like you got your ideas with their help. You’re no longer above them, and you’re bringing their thoughts to fruition. They’ll know they’re valued.

7. Make Connections

Connections are important, whether you’re a boss or not. They can help you become a better leader. Not only mentoring and offering advice but just the simple act of interacting with them can help you become a more effective leader.

Learning how other leaders do things, learning how to talk to them, and learning what makes them tick will all make you a better leader.

8. You’re Not Special

Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re better than your colleagues. You’re not the boss, and acting like you’re special is a surefire way to have a revolt. Keep in mind that you’re all equals.

Don’t give yourself the best perks, the most swag, or the fanciest lunch – spread the wealth. You succeed as a team; you fail as a team. They’re more likely to follow you if you share the benefits.

9. Help People

It’s important that you help people and offer your services, even if they don’t need them. It’s a great way to show them that you’re interested in their success and want to help. If you help them, they’re also more likely to help you.

If you’re a bit of an introvert, you’re not doomed when it comes to opening up and helping people; you just need to learn to lead as an introvert.

Can You Handle It?

Being a leader isn’t for everyone. You need thick skin. Sometimes people will hate your ideas. They may even resent you personally.

They’ll push back on things you want them to do. If you can’t handle these aspects, you need to find a way, or you’ll feel bad every day and hate work. When you’re not the boss, these things can be magnified.

Ultimately being a leader when you’re not the boss can be a little more difficult than if you were the boss.

However, good leadership is good leadership, no matter what your title. As you read at the top, some of the world’s greatest leaders were not appointed. They were given titles because they were leaders first.

How Do You Lead as an Informal Leader?

If you have ideas for informal leadership that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Jonathan Emmen
Jonathan Emmen
Jonathan Emmen is a student and inspired blogger from Copenhagen. His passion is writing and he finds inspiration in travelling, books and movies. You can follow him on @JonnyEmmen or you can also follow him on Kinja.
  • Phuong Callaway says:

    Before you lead others, lead yourself first!

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