Formal vs. Informal Leader and Why Does A Federal Workplace Need Both

Leadership is a significant factor that influences the performance of federal agencies. Leaders in a federal workplace follow a specific strategy and help create a corporate culture that is conducive to success. They also significantly impact the culture of their agencies, and their attitudes and behaviors can influence the behavior of their employees. Effective leaders can create a positive and productive work environment encouraging innovation, collaboration, and engagement.

A federal workplace may have two types of leaders – a formal leader and an informal leader. A formal leader is given authority by the organization or agency and is officially recognized as the head of the institution. On the other hand, an informal leader leads the organization but doesn’t have the official powers to act as a leader. Both formal and informal leaders are essential to the success of a federal organization. So why do federal agencies need both types of leaders?

Formal Leadership Alone Isn’t Enough

Formal leadership structures may be less conducive to fostering creativity and innovation since these leaders focus more on maintaining the status quo and adhering to established guidelines. This can be challenging in fast-changing environments where adaptability and innovation are crucial for success.

A major problem with formal leadership is that it merely involves checking boxes. Leadership is not about checking boxes, and anyone who thinks leadership can be reduced to task management is deeply mistaken.

Great leadership extends beyond limitations and constraints. It resides outside the norm. Real leaders remove boxes, and they reshape and reinvent procedures and practices. They refuse to just check boxes.

True leadership shows itself by exceeding expectations. Extraordinary leaders look past the obvious and embrace the challenge of seeking the extraordinary. They dare to step out of their comfort zone.

In a federal workplace, formal leadership limits innovation. Formal leaders become so accustomed to checking the boxes that they simply do what is expected. These leaders adopt a maintenance mindset. As a result, they don’t focus their efforts on disruption, improvement, creation, discovery, and growth.

How Informal Leadership Can Help Federal Agencies

Informal leadership can be a practical approach for federal agencies to complement formal leadership structures and help address some of their challenges.

Encouraging Innovation and Creativity

When federal agencies undergo major challenges, such as operational transformation, informal leaders can help the organization accomplish its goals without significant employee resistance. Informal leaders are trusted individuals whose opinions can guide the senior management at every stage. These leaders are influential because of their dedication to the organization’s aims and visions.

Informal leaders are not on the executive team or highly placed on the hierarchy chart, but they adopt an ambassador role to communicate administrative messages to the staff members. It is not a one-way communication mechanism. These leaders can also share feedback from employees and help formal leaders understand any skepticism lurking at the lower levels.

Informal leaders can help the executive members of a federal workplace understand organizational traits and behaviors. It allows them to focus on changing a few critical behaviors, which helps get the flywheel moving and make progress on transforming the culture to encourage innovation and creativity.

Fostering Collaboration and Teamwork

Informal leaders interact with many people within the workplace. Making connections and building rapport with different people effectively builds trust among peers. This trust can lead to respect.

Moreover, it can also help foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork, bringing together employees from different departments and backgrounds to work towards common goals. This can improve communication and coordination within federal agencies, leading to better outcomes.

An informal leader also plays a crucial role in keeping the team focused on the goal, allocating micro tasks to each member, ensuring everyone understands their responsibilities, and clarifying those particularities that a formal leader is likely to miss.

Providing Mentorship and Guidance

In a federal institution, informal leaders can mentor others who require specific guidelines to complete a particular task. These leaders use their communication skills and knowledge to explain complicated information that others can comprehend.

Informal leaders can also provide regular feedback and support to their team members, helping them identify areas for improvement and providing them with the resources and support they need to succeed.

This can include providing training opportunities, connecting employees with mentors or coaches, and providing constructive feedback on their performance. Informal mentors can lead by example, demonstrating the behaviors and attitudes critical to federal agencies’ success.

By modeling integrity, professionalism, and a commitment to excellence, informal leaders can inspire their team members to strive for the same high standards.

Federal Agencies Still Have Certain Criteria for Leaders

While we support the concept of informal leadership in federal agencies, it doesn’t mean that formal leadership can be ignored. Formal leaders are still important for a federal workplace because they are bound by different aspects, including customers, procedures, and rules. These aspects define the authority of formal leadership. Simply put, the federal organization’s rules and procedures define formal leadership’s scope, limitations, and behavior.

Organizational procedures are fixed and not flexible and exist above the formal leader. A formal leader must follow organizational procedures. The rules and procedures of the federal organization determine what actions a formal leader can take and what they can do to those who violate the agency’s policies.

In a nutshell, a federal institution cannot function adequately without a formal leader. When there are no established procedures and rules, an executive leader cannot decide the right action that must be taken depending on the circumstances. Therefore, formal leadership is just as crucial as informal leadership.

Formal leadership establishes a clear hierarchy of authority, which helps to avoid confusion and ensure that everyone in the organization knows who is in charge. This clarity is especially important in large federal organizations with multiple levels of management. These leaders also have the authority to make essential decisions that influence the whole institution. This help ensures that the decisions are made efficiently and effectively, focusing on the organization’s goals.

Final Thoughts

Formal and informal leaders must work in tandem to promote the effectiveness of federal institutions. Formal leaders alone are not sufficient to promote creativity and innovation and foster collaboration and teamwork.

A federal institution must encourage informal leaders to step up and contribute towards the organization’s mission by assisting staff members, fostering creativity, and promoting teamwork.

These leaders can act as role models to lead by example and provide feedback to executive bodies to understand the perspectives of federal employees.

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Management Concepts
Leadership & Management
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