What Makes Informal Leaders Tick? An Examination of Their Leadership Experience

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informal leader
informal leadership
formal leader
formal leadership
distributed leadership
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Although research about informal leadership continues to expand, there is still a lack of understanding about the role of the informal leader and their leadership experience. This Capstone seeks to understand informal leadership directly from informal leaders, which is currently a gap in the literature. My research question, “How do informal leaders view and understand their role as informal leaders?” is examined in this exploratory study. A qualitative research methodology was used as the framework for 18 semi-structured interviews of the informal leader participants. Purposeful sampling was used to select participants for the study. Thematic coding was used to analyze the interview data. The prominent themes from the data indicated that formal leaders exert influence on informal leaders in ways that informal leaders consider to be at times supportive and positive, and at other times undermining. Informal leaders are motivated by feeling that they are contributing to the greater good of the organization. Informal leaders are often viewed as the “go-to” person and this can be satisfying, risky, or both. The study found that although informal leaders find aspects of informal leadership challenging, in some cases due to lack of support for or clarity about their role, they also want to learn more about this form of leadership. Curiosity about this form of leadership from informal leaders is spurred by their interest in knowing more about their leadership style, as well as the ability to identify other informal leaders. Additionally, informal leaders often play a central and positive role in organizations due to their ability to collaborate, form relationships, and work across multiple levels of the enterprise.

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Submitted to the Program of Organizational Dynamics, College of Liberal and Professional Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania Advisor: Dana Kaminstein
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