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Your Ace in the Hole

Have you noticed a member of your team who everyone seems to gravitate to. This is the man or woman who seems to be able to get others to do things and when there’s a big success, they are probably involved.

This is your group’s informal leader. They don’t have an official title but they are a leader non-the-less. There are three ways you can deal with this informal leader.

  1. Ignore them. If you do, they will continue to be an informal leader. Some informal leaders appreciate this approach and are happy where they are and don’t want added responsibility. Unless your informal leader is a bad influence, this is a safe, but not very smart approach.
  2. Shut them down. Unfortunately, some formal leaders are threatened by an informal leader. They make it very clear to that person, and the whole team, who is in charge and who is not. They secure their position but also alienate the person who can help them the most. The informal leader is not going to stop just because the boss said so. They will continue to have influence on the team, but now they aren’t happy. How do you think that’s going to work out? While this is normally not a good idea, it may be necessary in the case of an informal leader who does not share the companies’ values or has a consistently negative or hostile attitude.
  3. Embrace the informal leader. They are your ace in the hole. When you need a project done quickly, this person will help you move the team along. When change is necessary, the informal leader can help the team adapt.

What’s the best way to play that ace?

It takes a bit of finesse. While some will appreciate public recognition, others will not, feeling it would jeopardize their status as outside the administration. However, they most likely will appreciate a private pat on the back indicating that you know what they are doing.

Make sure you understand them. Do they have a desire to move up or are they happy where they are? Consider these people for leading upcoming projects. If they are willing, these are your future formal leaders.

Use them. I know that sounds bad but you should capitalize on their leadership talents just as you would with someone who has an ability to track details or master a complex machine. Suppose you have a change coming that will not be popular with your team. Give the informal leader a head’s up about the change, explain how you want to implement it, and ask for their input. Then when you inform the entire team, your informal leader will have already had some time to consider it.

Leaders inside teams are not necessarily ordained with a title or position. That doesn’t mean they can’t help your team succeed.

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