Agile, Formal and Informal Leaders in the same arena

LEADERSHIP SKILLS: the “lucky corner” Spring 2021
(Second article elected by the class. Ten project-based practice papers were prepared and voted by the students of the Basic Leadership Skills course Spring 2021 for the co-creative educational project: School of Human Transformative Leadership©)

Student-Authors of the course Basic Leadership Skills – Spring 2021

Community 3 ”Prestige Community “

Camille Collenot-Guerrin (France), Selena Pierson D’Autrey (France), Elena Kotelevitc (Russia), Inaya Madi (France), Josh Marcel (France), Paula Sánchez (Spain), Gautier Touffet (France), Marcella Zoccoli (JAMK University of Applied Sciences)

Student Editor-in-chief Spring 2021Elena Kotelevitc

Introduction

“Agile leadership” is a term recurrently used in most of today’s start-ups. We associate “agile” with the ability to be flexible, being adaptable, and being reactive to change. Companies like to flaunt their agile organization because it is a synonym of competitive advantage in the market. However, agile leadership is filled with many intricacies and little details that are easy to miss at first glance. One does not easily become an “agile company” simply by being able to change its course of action on the get-go. Implementing an “agile organization” takes time, effort, and many other processes in order to be effective.

In the first part of this article, we are going to take a closer look at the term “agility & flexibility” and what it means in the context of a work setting. Nowadays, companies, young and old alike, aspire to become and remain “agile” but, what does it really imply to be flexible? And finally, what does it take for a company to become agile? 

Aside from “agile leadership”, we often forget the meaning of “formal” and “informal” leadership. Many leaders and managers embody a certain type of leadership without even being aware of it. Often, they do not realize that being a leader goes beyond managing human resources in order to achieve objectives. There are many layers of leadership managers can work on.

It is why the second part of this article will aim to thoroughly explain both “informal” and “formal” leadership with the help of academic theories and visual examples. Our community – Prestige Community 3 – during the course path at Basic Leadership Skills tried to draw the line between the two concepts while also delving into the “grey area” it creates.

This essay will focus on these two sets of topics carefully intertwined with each other. Emphasizing management as a flexible organization leads to the expression of the tendency of leaders to reflect on their management style and adapt accordingly in order to make the most of this leadership.

The agility of a company

What is agility?

“An agile leader is someone who invites, nurtures, and develops flexibility in their organization. In other words, it is how we inspire and influence people, carried out by evaluating the personality of the leader, focusing on the quality and performance of her / his work, in collaboration with other leaders, and always with an open mind, ready for change.”

Expert Panel, Forbes Coaches Council

Agility is expressed as adaptation in the form of the ability to work on the basis of changing situations, so it is very important to note that the agile concept is based on achieving continuous adaptation of the company to the circumstances that arise around it. (Forbes Coach Council. 2018). A flexible approach, allows you to form teams that are productive and most focused on the needs of customers, increasing the stability of the organization to achieve better results. Thus, flexibility can be applied to any field of management, whether it is the business industry, the tourism sector, or the healthcare sector.

 An agile leader is a culture shaper, through his behaviors he teaches people to interact with each other. Agile leader services are aligned with the values of agility. In his way of understanding the world, people and their interactions are more important than processes and tools.  Delivers value to his team early and frequently, he is open to collaborating by generating spaces of trust.

It also implies leading from the shadows, giving prominence to people. It is being one of the team, eliminating impediments, inspiring others, and thinking about the common good. The agile leader helps his team to achieve its maximum performance by promoting the development of competencies, empowerment, self-organization.

What are the benefits?

Organizational benefits:

Autonomous operation. As Cvetkovic (2019) noted, the pace of change in the market is slow and yet organizations are in a disruptive environment, and only to create a successful format, flexible leadership must cover all departments and industries. Therefore, in flexible organizations, autonomy gives flexibility and stability, while allowing the flexible leader to constantly monitor the intermediate goal and monitor all possible ways to achieve it.

Improving collaboration between teams. Agile leaders build respectful and trusting communities with significant working relationships that allow them to find a balance between organizational needs and their strains.

More inspirational leadership. According to Jansen (2019), agile leaders create highly reliable relationships that meet the needs of the organization and their capacity to stimulate development and learning, as well as a continuous flow of creativity. Collaborative communities can achieve much more than individuals.

Strategic benefits:

Improved risk management. According to an article written by Federman (2020), agile leaders promote team collaboration that functions in times of uncertainty. The most important quality of a flexible leader is his ability to promote a safe environment for taking informed risks through clarity of direction, transparency, and role modeling of appropriate behavior.

Accelerated product adaptation to market realities. Agile leaders know, are not fixated on one paradigm of action, and are always focused on testing new opportunities. Because openness to new solutions gives the prospect of business prosperity.

Flexible business culture. Demographics, technology, and changes in the workforce require flexible leadership, willingness to change strategies to compete.

Several other potential beneficiaries can be identified for agile workplace:

Short cycles

Short implementation cycles to keep teams motivated: instead of setting distant objectives, the idea is to proceed by stages and to set short-term objectives: as soon as one of them is achieved, the team can then work on the next one. Proceeding in this way by successive iterations helps to maintain the mobilization and motivation of the teams and to highlight the progress of the project on a regular basis.

Close to the customer

Integrating the customer into the project team to reduce the time-to-market: as the customer sees the project’s progress after each iteration, it is prioritizing needs and avoid developing features that will never be used. The objective is to obtain feedback on a regular basis to highlight the changes and corrections required while anticipating the scope of the next work iterations.

Lower costs

As pointed out by Gruessner (2020), project costs are better controlled since the implementation of a mini-project allows you to determine the budget needed to achieve the ultimate goal. The continuation or termination of the project in accordance with its means will be decided by the project manager.

The right to change one’s mind

In agility, change is welcome, and adaptation is the rule! Customers can change their minds; their needs can evolve, and technical teams can evolve their technology choices. At any time, you can stop the project if you consider that you are in a dead-end situation.

The concept of the agile workplace is totally different from the much more structured work environments of the past. Today, employees need more autonomy and independence than before. Agile organizations will allow a certain fluidity in the exchange of information between the different components of the company but will allow a certain freedom of action and thought to each employee. Team members will be able to express their thoughts loud and clear in this democratic structure and even encouraging them to enrich the work provided.

How can a company become more agile?

While respecting the principles listed above, the agile leader will be able to create an overall vision of a project and to unite his team around this general idea. But he/she has to be careful not to fall into the opposite extreme and thus be in a “no rules” dynamic. The agile type of organization asks for a certain flexibility and adaptability but can drift towards a disorderly situation if the team does not remain welded behind the same leader and thus, the same way of thinking.

According to the research of Rigby, Sutherland, & Takeuchi (2017), Create small teams with multidisciplinary and complementary profiles in the management of a project. Divide the time into short, fixed duration steps to focus on the minimum uses with a usable result at the end of each step. Welcome change as an opportunity to encourage creativity and innovation. Encourage collective intelligence through collaboration and the self-organization of teams.

Informal Leadership

“Not all managers are leaders, but all leaders are managers.”
Kayode Oladipupo

Definition

According to Vercillo (2020), leaders are not always designated to be called “leaders”. The fact that the leader is officially designated or not is mostly what makes the difference between formal and informal leaders.

An informal leader is a person who is leading but who, at the same time, doesn’t have the official powers to lead the group. The formal leader, on the contrary, has been given authority based on their position in the group. According to Johnston (2020), it is possible for a team to have formal and informal leaders simultaneously because companies have different goals in a raw.

Values, Characteristics, Behaviour, Work

As we have seen, an informal leader is an ordinary employee of the company, but at the same time a leader that the team is ready to follow. This person attracts people because of his charisma, not because of his position in the service. Emphasizing the fact that this is not just a goal-to please, but a highly honed skill that breaks off a lot of roads.
(Lahey 2019).

Therefore, the main features of an informal leader include:

  • They are good at building relationships. They establish good relations with absolutely everyone. Informal leaders aren’t just focused on managing and communicating from above or below; they know that everyone contributes differently.
  • They have a deep understanding of the organization. They analyze information well, understanding the general culture, leaders, and unspoken rules. After that, they generously share their knowledge.
  • They help without ulterior motives. They shape the work, not for the purpose of remuneration, and the emphasis on offering help is not for the purpose of gaining power.
  • They are the first to learn about new tools and technologies.

Working with informal leader depends on the behaviour of the CEO. Informal leader can become both a necessary asset in the work, and a big problem. Therefore, the first thing you should pay attention to is to evaluate the quality of the team’s interaction. For example, the survey may be conducted with similar questions:

  • Which of your colleagues could give you competent advice?
  • With whom could you transfer to another company?
  • Which of your colleagues would you like to spend your vacation with?

After analysing the answers, the result will be a more extensive picture of interpersonal relationships in the team, and the nodal vertices will show the informal leader. And in this way, it will be possible to understand the type of informal leader. (Katz 2018).

According to Strukova (2018) notes, we can build a favourable chain of interactions of informal leader and team based on the characteristics of behaviour. She categorized styles into several main types:

  • In order to build a normal relationship with the organizer, it is necessary to give logical arguments. In order to make it clear from a rational point of view that not all paths are for the benefit of the company, and sometimes it is worth giving up something that at first glance is of great benefit.
  • As the initiator of the resistance of the collective, the synthesizer acts. In order to reach a general consensus, there is nothing better than to agree on the border of compromises, because otherwise there will be a conflict not only with the informal leader but also with the entire team as a whole.
  • The next type is an idea generator. The main thing is to interest and motivate, and build a chain of benefits that will be provided to him and his team.
  • Not the most difficult, but a very responsible type – a paternalist. Because it is on him that the emotions and expectations of the team are projected, which should later be forwarded to the management.

The most unapproachable type is the tyrant. Trying to convert to your side is just a waste of time. But you can try the carrot-and-stick method, or not try to defend yourself, and take it like an expert.

Grey area between formal and informal leadership

It is important to understand that formal and informal leaders can work well together. In fact, there are usually not seeking the exact same goals, so they are not in a competition. The best thing to do is to create a positive balance between the leaders and their different roles. If leaders can do that, this is what will make them more powerful while working jointly and it depends on trust between leaders. It’s of importance that the informal leader trusts the formal one. They will then be able to work envisioning the same goals.

It is also important to know that usually, informal leaders appear in groups where there is already a formal leader because he/she is going to have a different kind of relationship with the team. Formal Leaders are usually more respected and recognized. Let’s take the example of a sports team. The team can usually accept the advice from the best player of their team, or the one who gives a 100% of himself rather than the owner of the team that has never played the sport in his/her life.

Conclusion

In conclusion, being “agile” offers many advantages to companies ranging from organizational benefits like better autonomy and better teamwork & cooperation to strategic benefits like better overall risk management and reactivity to flux. But being agile can only be achieved when a state of mutual trust is created between the leader and his team members.

As for Informal and Formal leadership, “Informal leadership” is best described as a type of leadership without an official leadership position.The role of an informal leadership is difficult to distinguish as managers can be great leaders, but outstanding leaders are not necessarily managers. An informal leader at any given point in time can become a leader, even if it just for a short period. Whereas the formal leader is given this position and authority over the other members prior to the beginning of the project, making it clear to everyone and delivering the goals to the groups.

However, with these elements in mind, we can ask ourselves: How will these types of leadership evolve through time and how will leaders, managers and employees overcome organizational difficulties? With the rise of technology and better artificial intelligence in companies, they will have more equipment to face rapid changes and predict outcomes. But what does that mean to informal and formal leadership? With more and more tasks being delegated to machines and robots, team will be in dire need of communication and interactions with leaders more than ever. It will befall to leaders to help their employees being aware of the changes and find a balance between the two leaderships.  Maintaining social interactions is more necessary than ever to form a cohesive team. In modern conditions, with the rapid pace of technology development, leadership is not inferior in importance. Even when working remotely with their colleagues, the leader must be flexible and understand how domestic factors can affect employees, as well as remember to structure the flow of information in more complex environments. Technology, on the contrary, helps the leader to correct the gaps. Allowing he/she to quickly analyze situations and respond to feedback. Leadership tries to keep the focus on simplification, putting the human factor as a priority.

References

Federman, B. 2020. “Agile leadership”: 13 Definitions of a successful professional. Accessed on 10 April 2021. Retrieved from: https://performancepointllc.com/agile-leadership-13-definitions-of-a-successful-professional/

Forbes Coach Council. 2018. “What does it mean to be an Agile Leader?”. Accessed on 10 April 102021. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/06/29/what-does-it-mean-to-be-an-agile-leader/

Gruessner, V. 2020. “Using Agile Methodology to Improve Business Management”. Accessed on 26 March 2021. Retrieved from: https://blog.runrun.it/en/agile-methodology/

Katz, H. 2018. “Informal Leadership: Leading Without Authority”. Accessed on 13 April 2021 Retrieved from: https://medium.com/@harry_katz/informal-leadership-leading-without-authority-6373ff4e0a51

Jansen, P.,  Cvetkovic, M., Wilson, J., Federman, B. 2019. “Agile Leadership’: 13 Definitions Of A Successful Professional”. Accessed on 13 April , 2021 Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/06/06/agile-leadership-13-definitions-of-a-successful-professional/?sh=6a5b1f435d8b

Johnston, K. 2020. “A Comparative Analysis of Formal Vs. Informal Leading”. Accessed on 13 April,2021. Retrieved from: https://smallbusiness.chron.com/comparative-analysis-formal-vs-informal-leading-35372.html

Lahey, S. 2019. “Informal leadership: Be the person at work that others look up to”. Accessed on 11 April,2021. Retrieved from: https://www.zendesk.com/blog/informal-leadership-person-work-others-look/

Rigby D.K., Sutherland J., Takeuchi H. 2017. “Adopt agile methods Harvard Review”. Accessed on 23 March 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.hbrfrance.fr/magazine/2017/07/16087-adoptez-methodes-agiles/

Strukova, I. 2018. “Informal Leader”. Accessed on 13 April 2021 Retrieved from: https://master-class.spb.ru/artleadership/neformalnyj-lider/

Vercillo, K. 2020. “Best Leadership: Formal vs. Informal Leaders”. Accessed on 11 April ,2021. Retrieved from: https://toughnickel.com/business/Formal-vs-Informal-Leaders

URN

http://urn.fi/urn:nbn:fi:jamk-issn-2669-9060-10

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