Unofficial Leaders in the Workplace

A natural leader in the workplace is a godsend so it's important to appreciate how much of an asset they are. Is it time for a much deserved promotion?

In every social setting you will find that some people are natural leaders. They are likeable, they get things done and when in doubt it’s this person that gets looked to for support. All being well it’s this employee that eventually gets the official status of manager or team leader, but until a promotion is viable they become your unofficial managers and this can be a tricky line for you as a business to walk.

Obviously, this type of natural leader is a godsend, but if you don’t keep tabs on their influence and appreciate how much of an asset they really are you may find that you lose a really good future manager who has become tired of waiting for that much deserved promotion.

How to spot a Natural Leader

Natural leaders are usually easy to spot and are not to be confused with overbearing employees. A natural leader tends to be well liked within their team because they do not push their non-existent authority on the team (as generally overbearing people will) and they know the business well, very well. It is this knowledge, combined with a confident and helpful air which makes the rest of the team naturally look towards them when in doubt. Often, employees don’t want to keep going to their manager to resolve issues, but if they know that Debbie across the way has a good handle on most things and seems happy to help, well, problem solved.

A natural leader is also happy to be the one who brings the team together during discussions on how to approach a task. Whilst everyone else can fall into the habit of spending too long wondering and worrying about what to do, those unofficial leaders will be the ones to chime in with ‘Ok, how about we do A, B and C?’.

A Natural Leader versus an Overbearing Employee

A Natural Leader is:

  • Polite and considerate of others ideas.
  • Only gets involved when there is a clear need.
  • Very open and welcoming. They are less likely to use phrases like ‘I think’ and a greater use of phrases like ‘We could…’ or ‘How about we…’
  • Respected within the team, sought out independently for advice.
  • Knowledgeable about the company and its workings very well.
  • Not condescending when offering advice.
  • Sure to not let their helping of others impede their own workload.

An Overbearing Employee:

  • Gets involved in situations where there is no need or that are already on their way to being resolved.
  • Does not tend to be approached by other colleagues for help.
  • Has trouble expressing their ideas in a way that does not come across as domineering.
  • Will often let their own workload slide as they are more interested in the ‘drama’ of other issues arising in the office.

Pros & Cons


People who naturally gravitate towards leadership even without a title are wonderful additions to your business. They can be brilliant at bridging the gap between what truly needs to be brought to management’s attention and what doesn’t, they get things done and they make sure others get things done too.

Management can often be stretched and the day to day issues can get unaddressed, which is often where your unofficial leader will step up and salvage the situation before it snowballs. They’re reliable, likable and an actual managers dream.


It can very easily turn into a situation where this employee become over relied upon by their team. Their natural helpfulness means they can struggle to say no and in this instance it is important to step in and redefine the boundaries.

It is also all too easy to take this kind of person for granted. Everyone wants to be recognised for their achievements and if you consistently benefit from this unofficial help without acknowledgement, it’s only a matter of time before this person moves on.

So what do you do?

The simple truth is that just because you have someone who is predisposed to management, does not necessarily mean that you have a management role open for them. Whilst this can frustrating for that employee, it is not nearly as frustrating as not being acknowledged at all. With that in mind it’s important during review meetings that you let them know how appreciative you are of their influence on the team and specify that should a role become available they will be among the first considered.

Natural leaders are one of the greatest assets to your team and can make your company run that much smoother. So be aware of who those individuals are and keep them motivated, or you may find they move on to pastures new.

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