Authentic Informal Leaders

Authentic informal leadersAuthentic Informal Leaders or AILs as they are called is a new term that I think is important to the workplace, especially with the millennial generation. Reid Carpenter writes about them for strategy + business here.

AILs are described as those who do not have a formal leadership role or title but rise up and “show up” as leaders in certain situations. She describes 4 things to remember when thinking about AILs:

  1. They are not always your superstars or star performers
  2. They won’t stay on message for long
  3. AILs should not be required to submit project status reports
  4. AILs may only be involved for a short period of time

To illustrate the concept, Carpenter uses the viral video of one guy dancing and slowly but surely everyone in the vicinity is dancing. The AIL is not the one who starts the dance, they are the second and third one. These are your early adopters or first or second followers. The ones crucial to a project or movement gaining ground. Critically, they follow not because they are told but because they want to. They see value or interest in something and get on board. Without these AILs, projects or movements are dead on arrival.

Understanding Authentic Informal Leaders

By understanding how the AIL thinks, you can identify and encourage them in the workplace. I often hear comments from leaders I work with that they can’t understand why more employees don’t want to step into leadership positions or have such a “short term” mindset. Today’s workforce does not have the loyalty that the baby boomer generation did to an organization. And workplaces don’t offer the types of things that would keep someone loyal like pensions and benefits that make it hard to leave.

The current workforce values flexibility and learning and looks for different opportunities to learn and in some cases, lead. The more you, as an employer, recognize these leaders for who they are and the role they play, the more you will have adoption of new ideas and projects. Don’t promote them or expect them to take on the project, they are simply lending support, albeit very powerful support. And if they act as an AIL for one idea or project and not another, don’t be disappointed. They will rise up when they feel authentic about it, which is why it works.

To some degree, the Holacracy movement, which I’ve spoken about before, is trying to tap into these AILs. The concept of Holacracy is that there is no hierarchy or authority, that all are equals and we band together to get the job done. The problem is that AILs don’t want to be permanent leaders, they want to support a very specific movement. So Holacracy falls down because ultimately, no one is in charge and it’s hard to get things done.

Embracing your AILs, acknowledging their contribution and importance can be the key to the success or failure of a project. Who are yours?