Ferris Bueller on Informal Leadership

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In 1986, a young man had a dream. He wanted to take a day off. We could discuss the leadership abilities he displayed in persuading his best friend to “borrow” his father’s expense car or how he managed to lead a parade down the streets of Chicago. More interesting, from a leadership perspective anyway, is what we learn when Ferris Bueller is not around.

If you haven’t seen the movie, the basic rundown is the Ferris fakes an illness so he can skip school. Word gets out quickly and we soon learn that Ferris is basically the de facto ruler of his community. He receives gift baskets at his home from teachers. Every kid in school is taking about how sick he is. Even convicts in the police station are concerned.

How does Ferris do it? He holds no position of authority. He is not rich and/or powerful nor is he related to anyone who is. Whether it’s his charisma, caring nature, or overall personality, Ferris has the “it” factor. If he offers an opinion, people will listen and follow.

Those in a leadership position must be mindful of who their informal leaders. To identify these informal leaders, Jon Katzenbach suggests spending time throughout the organization. A personnel file will not list the information you need; it’s with the people. “Informal leaders who are the outstanding ones,” Jon states, “are actually easy to identify because everyone knows who they are.”

Once you’ve identified the informal leaders, determine the extent of influence they possess. Do they support you or are they an adversary? If they are working against you, can you salvage the relationship or are they harmful to the workplace?

You will be more successful if you work with your informal leaders. Put them on committees to help improve the workplace. Give them the opportunity to weigh in new programs before they roll out.

These leaders have their pulse on the culture of your workplace. Their input can help you craft a message that others will be receptive to hearing. And, when others see that you have these informal leaders’ support, everyone else will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.

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