The word ‘leader’, especially in traditional organizations, typically refers to a coveted role or position and evokes visions of authority, control and status.
Leadership is forever evolving. While formal leadership roles within an organization are clearly visible and usually an intended outcome, informal leadership emerges organically as a result of strong interpersonal skills and traits.
“There are leaders who influence through earned authority, and those that affect change through the trust and respect that coworkers place on them because of who they are, not what their title is,” according to Stacy Cowan, founder of Urban Legal Recruitment. “Informal leaders may not purposefully pursue a formal leadership role but there’s no question they have a significant impact on organizational outcomes.”
Law firms are unique and complex organizations, and a failure of leadership can result in reputational cost, malpractice, and ultimately the demise of the firm. Like all other organizations, however, legal firms can benefit from strong formal and informal leadership working together to inspire and motivate people towards a common goal.
Informal leaders not only contribute to the success of a firm by inspiring their coworkers, but they can also be of great benefit to formal leaders by visibly and actively supporting their visions and strategies. Associates will often look to their informal leaders to validate corporate messages and initiatives.
Here are some common characteristics and actions of informal leaders.
Trust is the foundation of all leadership, including informal, and is developed through consistently behaving with integrity, showing respect, and demonstrating a deep knowledge of the organization and the work. “Trust is earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.” ― Brene Brown
A selfless and giving nature is another attribute of an informal leader. Informal leaders are not driven by personal gain but rather inspired by helping others succeed. “Leadership is not about being in charge—leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” Simon Sinek
Informal leaders demonstrate courage and act with the best interests of their teams at heart. They focus on the potential benefits to others more than the potential risks to their reputations.
Inspiration is another critical element of leading. Napoleon Bonaparte described the quality of good leaders as “dealers in hope.”
Taking responsibility by shouldering the blame when something goes wrong, and humbly sharing the credit when t hings go well is another requisite of informal leadership. “There is no end to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Colin Powell
Actively listening with the intent to understand. Informal leaders keep an open mind and can interpret both verbal and non-verbal messages.
It’s hard to imagine a time we needed informal leadership as much as we do today. As firms face the aftermath of the pandemic, enlisting, engaging and empowering informal leaders will go a long way in easing the transition for workers returning after two years of disruption and uncertainty.
Life. Career. Opportunity Awaits. If you have any questions, are considering a change, or just want to chat, we would love to hear from you.
At Urban Legal Recruitment, we have experienced, along with our clients, the impacts of COVID-19. We’ve made the necessary adjustments to ensure the safety of our team members and our clients.